I read with interest this Quora post (http://www.quora.com/Computer-Science/What-are-the-disadvantages-of-being-a-female-in-a-male-dominated-CS-engineering-university#ans1240624) and it reminded me that in reality, we haven’t made much progress regarding women in IT in the 15 years or so that I’ve been involved in it.
There is definitely an IT stereotype – geeky male, muttering to himself as he clicks furiously away at the cheeto-stained keyboard, pausing only to drain what’s left in the Mountain Dew mug on top of his PC. He may be a wizard of Dark Arts, but socially, fugheddaboutit, and women-folk are only seen on r/gonewild.
*That* stereotype *has* changed in 15 years. As IT has matured, and become more integral to business operations (and business success), CIOs have become leaders that walk political tightropes with social skills far removed from that pocket-protected toner jockey. The best example of this, that I’ve worked with, is Larry Rocha at WATG. His adroitness at walking the political tightrope has manifested itself in his election as Chairman of the Board for WATG for several years now. How many other CIOs have, or can, be a Chairman of the Board?
However, women in IT haven’t seem to make as much progress as one would expect, or hope. Part of it may be because of the social awkwardness associated with IT, but that’s a rather flimsy excuse. The vast majority of women in IT that I’ve been able to work with have been sales reps; whom better to send in to pitch some tech than a very good-looking female to a bunch of slavering geeks?
But that role, while not exactly denigrating (good salespeople are hard to find!), tends to shoehorn women into that expectation. Do you like tech? Acronyms? Great, you speak their language, get out there and sell.
One of the best managers I ever had was female, and her technical knowledge was next to nothing. But she was effectively the CIO (although they called her a director) of 8000 users and 80 branches across the US. She was *constantly* terrified that her lack of technical knowledge would be her undoing, but it never was. She was brilliant at personnel management and motivation, and surrounded herself with smart people that she trusted to make the technical decisions. I don’t think I believed it before her, but you *can* be a leader in IT, without deep technical skills, if you’re simply excellent on the personnel/management side.
Again, I’ve been lucky enough over the years to see into a very large number of other firms, and the one consistent amongst the senior levels (C-level execs) was that they were, almost without exception, white males. Silicon Valley tends to be a bit of an exception (See Whitman, Fiorina, et al.), but for the most part, females in support roles drift towards Admin, HR and Accounting.
I don’t have an explanation other than that other than it’s not right. We, in IT, shouldn’t be “bringing up the rear” in terms of creating equal opportunities for women. I don’t think pay is an issue as much as it is making IT seem like an attractive career path for smart women considering their options.
And the biggest hurdle – I assume – is that when women think about IT, their first thought is “male-dominated”. The only way to overcome that is to aggressively attempt to hire, retain and promote women into IT. We have a lot of catching up to do.