High-Tech Industry Has Old-Time Mentality
Many Women See Glass Ceiling Blocking Their Quest for Success
- By Gail Repsher Emery
- Jul 03, 2001
Women aren't finding the high-tech industry as friendly as they thought it would be.
A recent survey found 60 percent of the women working in technology would pursue a different career path if they could start over, compared to 45 percent of male tech workers. Many women said they don't think they have the same opportunities for advancement as men.
Moreover, only 9 percent of all high-tech workers surveyed said the leader of their company was a woman, compared to 17 percent of respondents in other industries.
"We thought we would find that the tech industry was much more open, that anyone could enter and be successful and move up quickly, and we'd find women in leadership positions. Unfortunately, from what we heard, that's not the case," said Sue Molina, tax partner with Deloitte & Touche LLP of New York and national director of the company's Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women.
Deloitte sponsored the survey as part of the company's "Vision 2005" initiative, which aims to increase the number of female partners and directors within the firm to 1,000 by 2005, up from 486 today.
"What we heard," Molina said, "was there does seem to be a glass ceiling for women, and even though this is a new economy, we are dealing with some of the old mentality and obstacles, such as women being perceived as less knowledgeable and less qualified."
The survey, released June 5, included 500 men and 1,000 women working full time. Forty-seven percent worked in high tech, and 38 percent of those working in high tech were women, according to the polling firm Roper Starch Worldwide Inc. of New York, which conducted the survey for Deloitte.
Fifty-one percent of the women surveyed believe men have greater opportunities for advancement in high technology than women do. Sixty-nine percent of men said the sexes have equal chances of advancing.
Of the women surveyed who work in high tech, 59 percent said the playing field is more level in their industry than in other fields, but nevertheless, 72 percent said men have an advantage in getting ahead.
"There is a glass ceiling, no doubt about it. [Advancement] depends on your ability to see through it," said Sonia Bhanot, president and chief executive officer of Verano Inc., an e-business software company in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Bhanot said she still walks into meetings in which she's the only woman. "You have to go in and prove yourself more," she said. "You really have to tell yourself you're not only an equal, you know what's going on even better."
On the bright side, the perception of those surveyed was that once a woman achieves a leadership position, she is just as successful or unsuccessful as a male, Molina said.
Bhanot agreed. "It does take more work, but after you've actually proven yourself, there are a lot of opportunities," she said.
Women traditionally have been channeled into administrative and support positions, even in the relatively new high-tech field, and that has kept them away from the corner office, said Veronica Boaz, a
vice president of Women in Technology International, an Encino, Calif., organization dedicated to the advancement of women in technology.
"You have to get close to the operation of the business to hit that upper level," Boaz said. "Clearly, what happens is that men, because they have traditionally been funneled into more operational positions, get skill development opportunities that women in other areas of the company may not get as often."
Suzanne Peck, chief technology officer of the District of Columbia, said she sees obstacles in the path to the highest level of company leadership, but they aren't gender-related.
"It isn't particularly a female glass ceiling," she said. "Not too many [chief technology officers] rise to CEO, because the company is typically looking for someone with specific strategic planning and marketing skills, and I think it's much more typical for CEOs to come from those ranks than from the ranks of technologists."
Carol Gallagher, a senior principal at systems integrator American Management Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va., also said leaders need experience in a variety of areas, not just with the company's technology.
"You look at leaders: They have been in sales, finance, marketing and technology. They are diversified in their thinking and experiences," she said. "Oftentimes, women are not moving over into the profit and loss areas. I think that's the biggest problem. Some people call that a glass wall."
Several women in technology's upper echelon said they simply don't see the glass ceiling.
"My advice to women is that tech companies would be very attractive to them," said M.L. Krakauer, vice president of
global services in North America for computer manufacturer Compaq Computer Corp. of Houston.
"Your smarts, brains, ability to work together are very valued in this kind of environment," she said. "Bringing teams together and producing results will pull you forward in your career. There is not so much of an old boy's network in this industry as much as in others."
Linda Drumright, vice president of technology for DigitalThink Inc., a San Francisco e-learning firm, said she hasn't hit a ceiling but often thinks about it.
"Some of the women I've encountered have this real sense of a glass ceiling," she said. "I think there must be nuggets of truth in that, but I wonder how much they contributed to that by not asking for what they wanted. I think, in general, that men are better at asking for what they want."
Drumright said she would like to "take this study to the next level, and ask, 'Were you working with your boss, making sure they were responsible for helping you to grow your career?' "
Gallagher said she'd rather focus on what women have done to reach the top rather than the barriers to getting there. She is president of American Management Systems' Executive Women's Alliance, which works to increase the number of executive women at AMS and other companies.
And instead of trying to crash through the glass ceiling, women should find a window to the next level, and then find people to help them get through it ? people above them, next to them and below them, she said.
"[Women] tend to have a small group of people that we have a set of solid relationships with, but people who are really successful have solid relationships at all levels within the company and outside it," said Gallagher, author of "Going to the Top: A Road Map for Success from America's Leading Women Executives."
Women must also think differently, she said.
"Women have to truly believe that they can," Gallagher said. "I find so many women who are asked to take on another job want to learn how to do it first. Then the window of opportunity closes. Men have a greater ability to take on something new to them. Women need to say, 'I belong at the table, I am going to get the job done.' "