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Women have made a mark in the field, but there's more to do

Patricia Brown

October 13, 2004

3 Min Read

25 Years Of InformationWeekIt turns out that technology has offered a relatively nurturing environment for upwardly mobile female executives. While only eight women head up companies listed in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index, three of them are CEOs of high-tech companies: Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, and Patricia Russo of Lucent Technologies. And the CIO many regard as one of the most powerful figures in the industry also is a woman: Linda Dillman of Wal-Mart Stores.

Many of the female executives interviewed for this story indicate that they've benefited from the fast pace at which technology has evolved in the past 20 years, which makes what you know--your qualifications and knowledge--count more than who you know. In fact, says Tama Olver, CIO of biotech company Applera Corp., qualifications counted more than gender even in the late 1960s, when she started her career as a computer programmer at Control Data Corp. "I was always given a choice of projects to work on and given opportunities to get into leadership at a young age," she says. True, women were hired one grade lower than men and had to abide by a dress code that didn't exist for men, but "they needed our talent," Olver says. In 1968, the company hired 48 college graduates, four of them women, into a group that had previously consisted of just 18 employees. "That's how fast the field was growing," she says. Still, for all the success women have had in the field, there's no denying the numbers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2003, men held 69% of the 347,000 computer and information-systems manager jobs in the United States. Women's advancement in high-tech isn't keeping up with the fast pace of technological change, says Ilene Lang, founding CEO of AltaVista and currently the CEO of Catalyst, an organization working to advance women in business. Among the barriers cited for women in the high-tech industry in a Catalyst 2003 study are that companies don't strategically and objectively identify and develop talent, and women often lack role models and access to informal networks.
Women have an advantage because they tend to have good communications skills, Ceasar's Pride says.
Women have an advantage because they tend to have good communications skills, Ceasar's Pride says. Roundtable discussions conducted by Catalyst with senior executives reveal that in the high-tech industry, which "thinks of itself as a meritocracy, women and men both perceive a lack of acceptance of women," Lang says. She concedes, though, that the larger the company, the more support there is of women's leadership, since diversity is needed to support global organizations with customers worldwide. That rings true for Carol Pride, the newly appointed CIO of Ceasar's Entertainment Inc. with 28 properties on four continents. Women's communication skills give them an advantage in an environment that puts a premium on presenting ideas clearly, adds Pride, who has a background in engineering and technical sales. But what hinders many of them from moving forward in the IT field is a lack of line-of-business experience, which disqualifies them from advancing to those roles where "feet meet the street." Photograph by Sacha Lecca Return to: 25 Years Of InformationWeek

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