Careers: Why IT Hates Women (and the Women Who Stay Anyway)

By Lauren Gibbons Paul
Sat, September 15, 2001

CIO — Karen Hogan understood what she was up against from the get-go. It was 1978, and even though she had scored 100 on the federal government entrance exam, qualifying her to be an entry-level programmer, she was given a job as a keypunch operator. After a few months of that, she applied for a computer-training program, but her boss didn’t approve. "He just decided I should keep keypunching for a while, and he would tell me when I could move along," says Hogan, now 53. Undeterred, she went over his head and ended up before a governmental panel of real old-time bureaucrats, she recalls. They asked her to explain what she had ever done to show she knew how to arrange material logically. Hogan calmly explained the Dewey decimal system, which the panel had apparently never heard of. After only nine months in data entry, she got the nod to attend the training program.

Today, Hogan is acting deputy CIO of the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Like many high-ranking women in public and private sector IT, she has succeeded despite a culture that remains resoundingly male and is frequently hostile to ambitious women. The statistics tell the tale; according to several recent surveys, women CIOs remain a small fraction of those who populate the executive suite. For example, out of the CIOs or CIO-equivalents at 300 Fortune 1000 companies and the 100 fastest-growing companies recently surveyed by Amsterdam, N.Y.-based Sheila Greco Associates, there were only 41 women (13.7 percent), compared with 259 men (86.3 percent). Greco says the percentage of women CIOs has not changed since her research consultancy began its annual survey in 1998.

"If IT were a meritocracy, we would have seen higher representation of women by now," says Mary Mattis, senior research fellow for Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization in New York City. "It seems the IT lifestyle and the work environment are not very attractive to women." According to another recent survey, more than 60 percent of women say the glass ceiling is a reality in IT. They cite a variety of factors: gender bias, stereotypes and the perception that women are less knowledgeable than their male counterparts.

OK, so the glass ceiling still exists. But women are moving up the IT ladder anyway, slowly and through a myriad of different paths. Some say they have been helped along at places by mentors who understand the need for diversity and the special skills that women often bring to the table. (See "What’s the Big Deal?" Page 120.)

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