informa
/
Commentary

Women In Tech: Facing Roadblocks, Finding Solutions

Female tech execs discuss the obstacles facing women in technology and what they're doing to bridge the gender gap.

working to increase the numbers of women executives who have P&L responsibility, both within and outside of tech.

Wieck said encouraging diversity in the workplace is "an innovation imperative in this economy." She added: "At a time when everthing is digital, how do you stay competitive in this market if you don't have skills in diverse enough quantities to drive change?"

New employees across all industries have to pay their dues before moving up the ladder. Technology is no different. Encouraging women to stay throughout the difficult and time-consuming "burn-in" period, which often requires valuable nighttime and weekend hours, is a challenge many businesses face.

During her conversations with female IT execs who moved up within the ranks, Doherty observed that most fell into one of three categories: They delayed motherhood, didn't have children, or were married to an employed spouse who could balance their unconventional schedules.

Many women can't afford the time flexibility that their male colleagues can. "As a woman, you're still the primary childcare person at home," Doherty admitted. "We pretend it's fifty-fifty, but it's not."

Now in a position of influence, Doherty is working to change the culture at AARP to better accommodate women who crave that elusive work-life balance. Team dinners and happy hours have been replaced with lunches. System deployments are scheduled for weekdays, not weekends. Many deadlines are arbitrary, and so developing realistic timelines is priority.

[Google Pledges Diversity In Its Workforce]

"We walk back expectations when they need to be walked back," she explained. "You don't remember when you made a deadline, but you'll remember you missed a kindergarten graduation."

Peritus Partner's Bo-Linn, who previously served as VP at IBM, said she found her success by integrating professional and personal priorities. Achieving equal balance between the two would have been impossible, she admitted. Instead, Bo-Linn prioritized her time to include occasions like her children's sporting events and debate competitions, and outsourced what she could.

"You have to define your own success in life," she said. "You can't be everything to everybody."

Times Are Changing

Many business struggle with innovation, but how can they achieve progress if they only leverage half the population?

"The majority of people understand that we have a problem in diversity," Bo-Linn admitted. "There has been a lot of research. Now we need to focus on execution. Doherty agrees: Progress has "gotten a lot better," but there is more to be done.

After attending a tech conference with virtually no female speakers, Doherty was inspired to do more to empower women in tech. She serves as a mentor to both men and women, and encourages men to advocate for the women on their teams. During her "protégé lunches," Doherty gathers executive women and encourages them to invite exceptional junior women for the purpose of building a stronger female network.

Bo-Linn has narrowed her focus on educational programs designed to inspire girls to enter the field. One such initiative, TechGYRLS, is a YWCA program that aims to help young women from marginalized communities through STEM education. Girls ages 9-14 learn about fields like computer programming and mechanical engineering in an environment where they feel comfortable.

"We need more effective programs, resources, qualified people, and STEM education investments, while monitoring to ensure positive impact," said Bo-Linn. "We need the human touch."

The girls are actually using technology, Bo-Linn emphasized. It's not just about looking at it or talking about it. The program helps them research, ask questions, and create their own projects. To become excited about the tech field, she explained, they need exposure first.

Not all women aspire to become programmers or engineers, but that doesn’t mean they can't have tech careers. Doherty acknowledges the potential for women who can combine business acumen with tech savvy.

"It would be interesting if we could help women understand the value of having an education in technology that bridges business and tech," she said. "That's where I think women can really excel."

It's common to acknowledge the need for women in engineering and programming roles. While this is undoubtedly important, few people mention the customer-facing side of technology. CIOs and VPs don't come through engineering, Doherty noted. They come through business relationship management, where they learn to discuss IT as a value proposition and not just to code.

"I don't think we talk to young women about how exciting a career that is," she said. "I really think that's where it's at."

Additional reporting for this article was provided by Susan Nunziata.