Facebook's Sandberg Stirs Debate Among Women in IT

Sheryl Sandberg's belief that the women's revolution has "stalled" and that "men still run the world" may be true for the tech industry. Women are rejecting IT as a career.

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Fri, March 15, 2013

Computerworld — Sheryl Sandberg's belief that the women's revolution has "stalled" and that "men still run the world" may be true for IT.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook
Credit: Drew Altizer

Women are rejecting IT as a career. In the early 1980s, around the time Apple issued its IPO and Time magazine named the PC its Machine of the Year, women accounted for just over 37% of the students earning bachelor's degrees in computer science. By 2010, that percentage had fallen to a little more than 17%, according to latest available data from the National Science Foundation.

Sandberg argues that women have to be more assertive, to "lean in," as she writes in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

But women are under-represented in IT, something that's been obvious for years at male-dominated tech conferences. U.S. labor data backs this up.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook, women in computer science

Last year, women held only 26% of the jobs in computer-related occupations. That represented a one-percentage-point increase from 2011, but that slight uptick wasn't enough to counter an overall decline in the number of female IT professionals since 2000, when women's share of the computer-related jobs pool hit its peak, at nearly 30%, according labor data analyzed by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).

Tammi Pirri, vice president of human resources at Black Duck Software, an open-source software services and development firm, sees what's going on first hand. She said that in her eight years at Black Duck, "we've only had one female engineering intern, but we've had 10 male engineering interns."

The decline in women studying computer science in college aside, Pirri believes that Sandberg is right: "Women must find a way to ask for what they want without being perceived in a negative way," she said. "That's the challenge and where women need to lean in and not just assert what they want but show it's deserved."

Jenny Slade, the communications director at NCWIT, noted that many people have criticized Sandberg for her focus on "changing the women rather than changing the system."

"But, frankly, if she'd written a polemic on institutional bias in the workplace, she'd have been criticized for painting women as victims," said Slade, who argues that "changing the status quo starts with a conversation that leads people to take action."

That discussion might include people such as Kim Stevenson, the vice president and CIO of Intel, one of 24 female CIOs in Fortune 100 companies.

Stevenson said Intel has done things to help women advance their careers. Among other things, the company offers mentoring programs and opportunities for network-building -- an activity that Sandberg champions. The chip maker's Women at Intel Network has 22 chapters.

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