by L.G. Paul

Why It Matters That Women Make Up a Small Percentage of Today’s IT Leaders, Tomorrow’s CEOs

Sep 15, 20012 mins
IT Leadership

For starters, it hurts the bottom line, says Judy Rosener, professor at the Graduate School of Management of the University of California at Irvine. Women bring special skills that add value, particu-larly in these uncertain economic times. They excel at collaboration, juggling multiple tasks and prioritizing projects, studies show. “Women have a very different way of looking at problems. Research suggests they see problems in a holistic way with a lot of nuances. Men are very linear. You need both styles to be complete,” says Rosener, who elaborates on that in her book America’s Competitive Secret: Women Managers (Oxford University Press, 1997).

Companies that don’t have women at the highest levels of IT (and elsewhere) also pay a tremendous opportunity cost, according to researchers who have studied the gender divide. “It’s really about talent. It’s about having more people in the talent pool for leadership positions,” says Janet Perna, general manager of data management solutions for IBM in Somers, N.Y. Then there’s the cost of having female middle managers depart because they are not getting rewarded. “The loss of a professional costs about 200 percent of their annual salary. That’s just the visible costs. It doesn’t include the momentum you lose on projects, the cost to morale, the legal exposure,” says Mary Mattis, senior research fellow for Catalyst in New York City.

So how do you make your IT organization more female friendly? Make sure you have reasonable work and family policies and programs, such as telecommuting, flextime and help with child care. If your company’s culture has not traditionally been very flexible, it might be worthwhile to do a quality-of-life survey to gather support from staff for such programs without it being seen as a gender issue. The CIO for one governmental agency is using this approach. “Women still have the burden of family issues,” he says.

If CIO’s survey results are any indicator, companies that provide more flexibility will be rewarded with the greater retention of topflight men (as well as women).