Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.
Charlotte Whitton, Canada Month, June 1963
The software industry is widely thought of as a meritocracy. Race, color, gender, and even formal education need play no role in the level of success one might achieve under the banner of Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat, or Apple (just look at the famous college drop-out, Bill Gates). Indeed, when one considers the tremendous success that people of relatively humble backgrounds have achieved, it is an image many are willing to accept. Many, especially budding computer science students, truly believe that "software-land" is a utopian existence -- a place where anyone with a love of computers, an innovative mind, and more of their share of natural intelligence can make their way to the pinnacle of success. Indeed, a part of that belief may be true...Unless that is, that innovative mind belongs to a woman.
Many women within the software industry have long known that if one aspires to high management it will be a tough road, indeed. As a woman in the software industry, one must work harder than a man to get the same respect, and be willing to make, in many cases, significantly less pay for the same work -- all the wile acutely aware of a shiny, glass ceiling placed just above their heads.
This past November, the woman's business advocacy group, Catalyst, in partnership with such high-hitters as Microsoft, Dell, IBM, and Intel, published a study entitled Bit by Bit: Catalyst's Guide to Advancing Women in High Tech Companies. In the study, they came to the conclusion that:
The corporate culture at many high tech companies is exclusionary and does not support women's advancement.
Companies don't strategically and objectively identify and develop talent.
Women feel isolated because they lack role models, networks, and mentors.
The demands of work and career are at odds with having a commitment to family and personal responsibilities.
On one hand, the fact that the software technology industry is not as progressive in its advancement, salary, and lifestyle-support programs is hardly surprising. After all, technology advances exponentially faster than gender-role perceptions and prejudices. Yet it is frustrating nonetheless for women who buy into the common assumption that Software is the leveling industry. Laraine Rodgers, a former vice president and chief information officer for Citibank and Xerox, comments on this feeling:
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'...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 (Weinstein).
In evaluating a companies' level of success in providing maximum equality for its female employees, the first place many look is position advancement. Unfortunately, as in the case of Laraine Rodgers, the prospects for women in this area are hardly favorable.
Although many assume that this fact is due to the disproportionate amount of male graduates of software related programs to female, this is not the case. According to the Catalyst study, women are highly represented and visible members of the industry, "...yet their representation in leadership roles continues to lag. The number of women drops dramatically as professionals move up the organizational pipeline" (Catalyst). In addition, the women who do make it to executive positions still fulfill "support" positions for the most part, as Keith Hammonds writes in Business Week:
The few women who do attain the executive suite...still occupy mostly staff positions -- corporate marketing, human resources, and the like. They hold just 6.2% of the line posts that, with profit-and-loss responsibility are viewed as more critical within organizations. And at the top, women still earn substantially less than their male counterparts (Hammond).
D.J. Young, a software quality assurance manager at the Intuit Corporation echoes Hammond's observation. She observes:
More women are getting into the pipeline and reaching that first level of management, but the hurdle is being raised higher with every step. It's like playing computer games -- the higher you go, the harder it is to get to the next level (Bee).
Although there are quite a few examples of upper-management in the software industry, the sad thing remains that many women feel that they are not only the exception, but that, "...one of the reasons women are making it is because they are paid less"(Weinstein) This view may seem cynical. Unfortunately, however, it is far from uncommon.
According to one a 2001 Deloitte & Touche survey, conducted nationally among the technical industry, "only twenty-nine percent of the one thousand women polled thought women generally receive equal pay for equal work in high tech (Deloitte).
If inequality in advancement and salary are both daunting realities for women in Software, no less troublesome is the difficulty women experience in perception of their capacity to work in a "traditionally male" (in the sense that software, technical, and management are stereotypically considered to be male fields) realm. Women often feel the need to "prove themselves," more than their male counterparts.
Joanne Carthey, president and chief executive of NetPro says that women often face a credibility issue, and believes that many men in the industry think, "women aren't supposed to be technical." Still, another woman, chief executive of the company, AutoDesk, relates, "You'd be amazed at the number of people who still ask me, 'What's your background?' They really want to know if I'm valid. As soon as I say 'computer science,' there's this little wash of relief that comes over their face like, 'Oh, OK, you're OK then.'"
Finally, the last challenge women face in the tech-industry mirrors the difficulty many women experience in all career paths, namely the extreme lack of a flexible work environment.
Although many software companies, most notably, the Microsoft Corporation, spend a great deal of thought and resources in the development of "women-friendly" programs, including extended maternity and paternity leaves, accommodation for emergency leaves, and superior benefits, virtually all lag behind in the issue of childcare and accommodation of real family life. Motherhood is still seen as a liability for women's advancement, and the pay of women continues to suffer if they do have children -- so much that, on average, women are paid, about 2.5% less than there female counterparts without children, while men earn approximately 2% more after becoming fathers (WomenOf.com).
Although these difficulties are quite daunting for women in the software industry, the fact remains that the issue is getting increased attention, especially from the larger corporations. Microsoft, Apple, and Dell are putting a considerable amount of energy and resources into the investigation of the problem of gender inequality in their companies. In fact, they, under the guidance of women's advocacy groups, are working to implement positive change -- change that could be the model for companies nation wide. These changes, as proposed by the Catalyst study, include:
instituting inclusive approaches to talent identification and development, providing opportunities for mentoring and networking, and creating effective approaches to flexibility and work-life support. Effective change in terms of recruiting, retaining and advancing women also requires a commitment from company and industry leaders to gather relevant information, educate leaders, move women into positions of authority, and pay special attention to the organizational pipeline.
The real question remains whether the software and other technical industries will expend the effort it takes to institute significant change in the opportunities they afford women. One can only hope that they will. The software industry is an exciting…