Women in tech say they're more likely to be isolated and cut out
of decisions, and that experience is driving women from the
By the Bureau of Labor Statistics' own count, women hold 27 percent, just
over a quarter, of jobs in computer-related and mathematical occupations. As a
result of IT's numerical dominance by men, it has long been viewed as
unreceptive to women. Even among women working in technology, dissatisfaction
and disenchantment is high.
By many accounts, an uninviting
workplace is to blame.
A 2007 report published by the trade association
WITI (Women in Technology International) found that only 52 percent of female
tech workers said their organizations offered a favorable climate for women.
These women said they felt that their voices weren't being heard, and it was
causing them to question whether the technology workplace was an environment
they wished to stay in.
A new report looking at the climate for women working in technological and
technical fields echoes these findings. "Women in Technology: Maximizing
the Talent, Minimizing Barriers," sponsored by IBM
and by Catalyst, a nonprofit promoting women in business, found that although
technology companies were making progress, substantial gaps still emerged in
the experiences of women employed in technology versus those that were not.
"One of the key things that came out of this was that while women have
progressed overall, there has been less progress for women who work in the tech
industry," Maria Ferris, director of Global Workforce Diversity Programs
at IBM and a contributor to the report, told
Women working in technical roles were less satisfied with their companies'
approaches to fairness than women in nontechnical roles and men in both
technical and nontechnical roles. They were also less satisfied with their
supervisory relationships than women in nontechnical roles.
The report noted that the number of women in specific technical fields has
remained flat or declined since the dot-com bust. Though tech employment
numbers as a whole have rebounded from the 2001 to 2002 downturn, women have
not benefited from it, the report said.
Several factors were seen as driving women away, the first being an
exclusionary culture that didn't support their advancement.
"Women don't feel included. Maybe they're the only woman in the
department or the organization. Maybe it is that the numbers in tech are so
skewed toward men. But it's important to be inclusive, and to train managers on
becoming more inclusive. It's not that difficult to ensure that all people who
report to you participate in decisions that are made, to call on them and get
their input," Ferris said.
Women also felt isolated in technology-focused workplaces due to a lack of
role models, networks and mentors. The percentage that said they were provided
with regular feedback, good communication or general availability by
supervisors was consistently lower among women in technology than men in
technology and both women and men in nontechnical fields.
"It may be more exaggerated in technology than with women in general
because the numbers just aren't there. This is why mentoring and networking and
having role models is so important. If you're a woman in an organization, you
need to be able to look up and see people like you. If you can't see yourself
there, you can't see yourself in
there," Ferris said.
Finally, companies in the high-tech sector were taken to task for failing to
strategically and objectively develop talent. IBM,
one of the sponsors of the study, said it is taking steps to stem this trend,
and noted that its number of female executives has increased nearly fourfold in
the past 10 years.
Through several programs, IBM works with
women to help them achieve a strong leadership presence in any and all
workplace situations, from board rooms to phone calls, the company said.
"We found that men spent more time networking than women, and forming
relationships that they'd need as they progressed in their career. So, we
worked to get women to network with other women," said Sandy Carter, IBM
vice president of WebSphere strategy and a founder of its Super Women's Group,
a team aiming to connect female professionals.