Techs Glass Ceiling Shows Some Cracks

More women are staking their claim on the tech world, aided by an improved economy, advocacy groups and a broad range of perk and flex plans offered by employers.

Despite considerable progress, industry leaders and gender advocates make no bones about stating that women are still largely underrepresented in technology, put off by uneven salaries, difficulties balancing home life with the long hours demanded, and a perception that IT is still very much an all boys environment.

Yet, much of this is changing as more women stake their claim on the tech world each year, aided by an improved economy, advocacy groups, recruitment programs and the explosion in the range of perk and flex plans offered by employers.

"Tech companies can be very challenging for women, especially in areas of auto, finance and other typically male-dominated industries. Yet, while women are challenged, they have tremendous opportunities to transform themselves," Carolyn Leighton, CEO, founder and chairwoman of WITI (Women in Technology International), a trade association for professional women in technology, told eWEEK.

Indeed, women fall well behind their male counterparts in assuming IT leadership roles. A study released in February by the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis found that only four of the 200 largest public companies in California had women serving as CIOs, and that women accounted for only 8.2 percent of the of the highest paid executive officers in these companies.

"Theres a perception, a certainty among women in IT that theyre making less than the guy in the next cube. Theres also a perception that they have to work twice as hard to get ahead," said Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of WorldWIT (Women, Insights and Technology), a network for women in business and technology.

A UK-based IT study released in May revealed that nearly half the women working in IT believe that they face gender pay discrimination, with more than six in 10 respondents believing that their company did not have a transparent pay structure.

Yet, not all advocates believe the system is at fault for income disparity.

"The biggest challenge for women across the board is to figure out what theyre worth and stop taking less. To position themselves where they are taken seriously and thats something that has to come from the inside out," said Leighton.

"For a long time, this disparity in pay was due to built-in biases; Ive now reached the conclusion that women are accepting less than they deserve. The worst thing we can do to ourselves is to stay in this victim mentality."

Signals of changing tides among women in technology are greatly understated as IT trades in its macho image for a gender-irrelevant one.

/zimages/5/28571.gifDespite decelerating market, IT boasts growth. Click here to read more.

Membership in professional associations for women in technology is on the rise. WorldWIT boasts 40,000 members worldwide and yearly growth, and WITI membership is 100,000.

"Women are actually better represented in IT than most parts of technology. IT definitely has from our perspective the greatest representation for women, because every business incorporates some aspect of it," said Leighton.

Salaries, too, are showing signs of rebounding from the dot-com bust era, when women were seen by many as the hardest hit by the slowed economy.

"In the recession, there were big seniority issues, and issues of the skill sets companies chose to retain versus let go of," Ryan said.

"The women who had negotiated family-friendlier deals for themselves experienced that those things were the first to go."

These days, the lack of women in tech fields is considered a top-tier issue, with industry leaders from Microsoft to Google aggressively advocating the need for more women engineers.

More large tech companies are instituting a slew of programs and perks aimed at keeping women on board, well-represented and satisfied in their work. Some are even gaining reputations as ideal work environments for female techies.

Next Page: Company perks and programs.