Chasing down the IT gender gap: Women executives needed in technology

With few women executives in IT leadership, one study offers a possible solution to help close the tech gender gap.

Wendy Schuchart, Site EditorWendy Schuchart, Site Editor

Before I was the site editor for SearchCIO-Midmarket.com, I spent more than a decade in IT and application development at a Fortune 500 company. My former employer was apparently somewhat rare as IT shops go -- specifically, it wasn't unusual to find women in the IT department. In fact, one office had so many women executives that they actually removed a men's restroom and replaced it with a second women's restroom to serve one area of the building.

However, as I attend IT conferences and events around the country, I'm constantly surprised by how few women executives there truly are in technology leadership.

One common theory I've heard expressed is that women are less likely to apply to or value higher-paying jobs. However, a recent study by management professors Matthew Bidwell and Roxana Barbulescu found no conclusive evidence that women aren't every bit as concerned about their paychecks as their male counterparts.  Another theory I've heard is that women value their home life and take jobs with less responsibility to support that goal. However, that same study found that women between the ages of 30 and 40 are no more likely than men to apply to jobs that promised a positive work-life balance, and highly educated women are more likely than their male peers to take jobs that promised a lot of laptop hours after dinner. In fact, the only concrete piece of evidence the study gleaned was that women were more likely to apply to jobs where there was a high percentage of women already employed.

It's critical that we showcase women succeeding and innovating in the IT space to help shine a light for the IT talent of the future.

So, basically, there aren't a lot of women working in technology because there aren't a lot of women working in technology -- not exactly helpful for CIOs who are pondering how to bring more ladies to the table. The findings do explain, however, why I found myself in an IT shop that was dominated by female staffers.

In an effort to shine a light on exceptional women in technology, we're in the midst of delivering a "Women in Tech" editorial series. We've already talked with Carolyn Leighton of Women in Technology International fame, and this week, our editorial assistant, Miki Onwudinjo, conducted a fascinating podcast with Pamela Goldberg, CEO at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Goldberg revealed easy ways CIOs can help drive an innovative culture that welcomes and supports female contributors.

But it's not enough to simply talk about why there aren't enough women in IT. Taking a page from the Bidwell and Barbulescu study, it's critical that we showcase women succeeding and innovating in the IT space to help shine a light for the IT talent of the future. Here are just a few we've brought you this year:

  1. It's not often that the pain points a CIO aims to remove are physically painful, but CIO Nicole Bradberry's role at Rise Health was directly connected to the physical well-being of patients.  Bradberry's custom web application not only improved customer satisfaction but actually resulted in a decreased number of hospitalizations and an increasing number of lives saved. Earlier this year, we awarded Bradberry our SearchCIO-Midmarket.com Business Harmonization IT Leadership award.
  2. Catherine Bruno is another CIO rocking the health care space, leveraging electronic health records to improve medical outcomes for people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma.  In the six months since implementation, her project has helped reduce hospital admissions by 46%. Her three lessons in IT leadership are not to be missed.
  3. Take Janet Claggett as an example of a CIO making a difference by thinking outside the IT box. The CIO of Richland County, S.C., has been driving environmentally sustainable business practices throughout her career. Now, with the help of a U.S. Department of Energy grant, she implemented a new e-recording system and estimates that the saved fuel and paper alone has saved the county almost $200,000, along with a serious reduction in greenhouse gases. Her next project aims to reduce energy use in county buildings by 30%.

More on how women executives in tech drive innovation

U.S. Golf Association IT director's collaboration is above par

How one CIO saved her job after a major corporate buyout

Why your emotional intelligence quotient is holding you back

CIO excels at getting outsourcing partners to play nice

Our readers talk back about IT gender roles

As an old advertisement suggested, women executives have come a long way, baby -- but there are certainly miles to go before we sleep. Mentorship programs and highly visible women in technology, such as Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, are crucial to developing balanced and diverse viewpoints in the IT department.

Over the next several weeks, we'll be bringing you more insight on this gender gap in information technology, including video interviews conducted during the Gartner Symposium/ITXpo in Orlando last month, as well as podcasts examining the opportunity of a balanced viewpoint that benefits everyone -- male and female -- in the IT organization.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Wendy Schuchart, Site Editor.For midmarket IT news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ciomidmarket.

This was first published in November 2012

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