news / press room

Women in tech

by Randi Weinstein
American City Business Journals Inc.

Think of the top executives in the Valley's technology industry. Names like Craig Barrett, Roy Vallee and Steve Sanghi quickly come to mind.

Now, think of the top female executives in the technology industry.

A little tougher, right?

That's because there are not as many. In fact, there are very few.

Despite big increases in the number of technology companies and a lot more women business owners and entrepreneurs, females still represent a significant minority in tech leadership roles.

A national survey last month by Deloitte & Touche found that seven in 10 professionals say there are not enough female leaders in the tech industry.

A handful of women technology leaders in the Valley agree, and they cite a variety of reasons.

Some say a glass ceiling prevents women from moving into top positions. Others say it's simply a numbers game -- that there are fewer women going into tech and, therefore, fewer women at the top.

Joanne Carthey, president and chief executive of NetPro Computing, says women often face a credibility issue because men think "women aren't supposed to be technical."

According to Tracie McGill, president and chief executive of Computer Management Technologies, "there is a glass ceiling, but I hate to cite that and blame that."

"We have to take responsibility for ourselves and our careers and do something to change it," says McGill, who also is president of the Phoenix chapter of Women in Technology International.

Laraine Rodgers, who has served as vice president and chief information officer at companies such as CitiBank and Xerox Corp., says women have to work three times as hard to move ahead.

"I was told I was on the path to be a senior vice president, I went through all the training, and I was told, `We're just not ready for a woman to be senior VP,' " says Rodgers, who currently runs her own consulting business, The LR Group. "I would say, looking at my career, that what took me 20 years to do, I would have done in eight years if I were a man in terms of what I've accomplished, promoted and moved on."

Rodgers also said that once women reach the top, they often don't make as much money as their male counterparts.

She isn't alone in that view.

"If you look at the salary surveys, one of the reasons women are making it is because they are paid less," Carthey says.

Just 29 percent of the 1,000 women polled in the Deloitte & Touche survey said women generally receive equal pay for equal work in high tech, indicating that the vast majority think otherwise.

Of the 500 men surveyed, 55 percent said women do receive equal pay.

Teri Spencer, president and chief executive of Tucson-based Ephibian, a Web development firm, doesn't believe in glass ceilings and stereotypes.

"I would say that, in general, I never felt there was something I couldn't do because I was a woman. I never felt that I was discriminated against or that I wasn't getting a fair shot," says Spencer, who spent several years as a civilian engineer in the Army before starting her own company.

"Women, as well as men, just need to focus on their job and getting the job done well, and promotion will come," she says.

Linda Meissner, chair of the Arizona Telecommunications & Information Council, a former employee of the Government Information Technology Agency and president of her own consulting company, i-Tropez, says women face a glass ceiling, but she would never use that as an excuse for failure.

"I'm used to the fact that women have to prove themselves before people will listen," she says.

Despite its inequalities, Meissner says the tech industry is probably more gender-neutral than most other professions.

"To say that there are fewer women at the top (of tech) paints a skew because there are fewer women attracted to the industry," she says.

In fall 2000, women made up only 21 percent of the undergraduate students enrolled at Arizona State University's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The percentage of women entering the college has increased slowly, but steadily, for the past five years, says Mary Anderson Roland, associate dean for student affairs and special programs at CEAS.

But university officials want those numbers to be even higher and have created several programs to reach that goal.

The ASU Women in Engineering and Applied Sciences program office is in the third year of a three-year grant designed to help high school teachers encourage girls to pursue technical careers. The program provides $300,000 a year to bring the teachers on campus for engineering labs and gender-equality training.

Another program that recruits minority students has attracted 30 percent minority women, Roland said.

Tracking the success of these efforts is difficult because they target young girls that, for the most part, have yet to move on to college, she says.

Even Congress is taking the situation seriously. In 1998, it established the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development. It's an agency charged with increasing the number of women and minorities in technical careers.

According to the commission's informational brochure, unless the tech labor market becomes more representative of the overall work force, the nation may face severe shortages in tech workers.

Some of the biggest corporations have recognized the need to bring more women into technical positions as well.

Jeannie Forbis, media relations manager for Intel Corp., says her company is doing a lot with mentoring and internships for high school and college-age students "so they can see what the industry is like, be less intimidated by it and be more interested in coming to work for us."

Many women say successful female role models in technology are a necessity to increase the number of women in the industry. Others say women mentors also are key.

They all agree, however, that hard work and professionalism ultimately pay off.

"It's a promising industry that has lots of opportunity, but you don't succeed without the hard work and commitment," McGill says.

"As long as people don't get hung up on the fact that it's a woman thing or a technical thing," Spencer says, "and they just focus on being successful ... success will come."