Technology women dissect the Marissa Mayer hire

Technology women may not think Marissa Mayer's pregnancy is news, but a tech group whose mantra is "leave no woman standing alone" can't hurt.

The technology women at the Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar & Grill in Framingham, a Boston suburb, seemed pleased that...

Marissa Mayer had been named CEO at Yahoo. Brilliant woman. Employee No. 20 at Google, you know. Tough job. She's probably going to have to do some massive restructuring right away. But it would be stretching the point to say Yahoo's new female CEO was the buzz at the Women In Technology International (WITI) gathering, billed as a "fun night out" networking event -- business cards mandatory!

Linda TucciLinda Tucci

While my motive was to get reaction from this group of tech-savvy women to this big tech news, many of them had other things on their minds: social media, mobile computing, bring your own device (BYOD). They were talking about the pace of technology change: Two years ago, if someone said employees would be bringing their own phones to work, you would have told them to have their head examined, said a woman from AT&T.

When I pressed the issue -- what does it mean that Mayer is not only the new Yahoo CEO, but was also hired when seven months pregnant? -- the response was quick and curt. "Her pregnancy should not have been on the table," said a woman CIO at a large design firm. The news is that she deserves the job, the news is that she brings fresh breath to a troubled company -- not that she is pregnant. Think of a man in that position whose wife was pregnant, she added. There would be no media mention of "a baby on the way."

This is not a gender issue; it's about the difference between the newer and older companies, a former IBM employee told me. At old-guard companies where the old hierarchies are intact, it's a different story. She said I should just ask IBM President and CEO Ginni Rommety about her relationship with the all-male Masters golf club. The woman sitting next to me also confided that gender remains an issue at traditional tech companies. She told me she was passed over for a promotion at a venerable technology consultancy because she was pregnant. "I guess I could have sued," she said. Instead, she went to work for a startup.

WITI is a professional trade association for technology women, started 23 years ago by Carolyn Leighton. In a 2004 video on the WITI site, Leighton explains that her interest in forming a support organization for tech women grew out of her work as a consultant in the aerospace and defense industry in the 1980s. Many of the brilliant women she met -- people with the goods to really change how things get done -- were being held back by work cultures that were "toxic" to females. The skills and personalities of these women were diverse enough to suggest this was a complex issue, she recalls. Thus, WITI was formed to help tech women help themselves.

Other CIO Matters columns by Linda Tucci

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A mobile strategy that puts customers first and employees in limbo

In the rush to mobile IT, 'access is not a panacea'

CIO role through the lens of MIT: Agile rebel or company dishwasher?

WITI's Boston Regional Director Deborah Stark told the group at Uno's one of Leighton's mantras is: "No woman should be left standing alone in a room" at a WITI event. If WITI members see a fellow technologist standing alone they should make it their business to join her. Stark brought up another mantra: Speakers at a WITI event are asked not to talk just about their company or about themselves, but about the "bumps and bruises they've gotten along the way," and to impart advice based on that experience. "We look for storytellers," she said.

If there is a newsflash on the fact that Mayer is both a woman and pregnant, the women at Uno's told me, it's that it just doesn't matter at these younger technology companies -- it's all about hiring the best person for the job. Listening to these women, I gather that's true for more women than just the Stanford Engineering-educated, first-female-Google-engineer and now fabulously wealthy Marissa Mayer.

As it turns out, Mayer was the keynote speaker at a WITI annual conference in San Jose last year. In the part I watched online, she talked a lot about Google and voiced what has become a signature statement: "I am not a woman at Google; I am a geek at Google." Yup. Tech-savvy women are engineers first and women second, just as men engineers are engineers first and men second. So, Mayer's pregnancy should not be news. Still, a group whose mantra is "leave no woman standing alone," and prefers sincere advice over sales pitches from experienced technologists, can't hurt.

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Is gender no longer an issue for technology women?
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I agree that gender-based promotions/lack there of is still an issue at the veteran (old guard) IT companies. I also believe there is a difference for women working for computer hardware companies (old guard) and software companies (younger management style).
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Gender is still very much a factor for advancement in the IT field. Although, I already work in IT (have for over 20 years) I recently got my degree and found myself to be one of a very few women in my IT Network Engineering/Network Management Bachelor’s program.
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No longer an issue.
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until more women start forcing the issue it will be an issue,
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In the technology domain for the public sector, it is still an issue.
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I would have concurred with all of the No,’s up until last Fall. My new CIO commented that his wife had tried to work while their children were small but incompetent au’ pair after incompetent au’ pair (I’m sure I’m spelling that incorrectly), his wife quit to take care of them. I have 2 small twins at home. The impression I got was that he felt, I too, should be home with my children.
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I think it is still an issue, probably needs to take generations to accept the fact, women and men are able to perform the same in IT field. I am a female enterprise architect. I have worked harder to reach this position starting from a programmer. I am trying to change my kids’ view, because of my proved capability in this field.
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Until we have equal reprsentation at the top and the leadership of companies reflect their workforce and customers, gender will continue to be an issue.
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There are many levels of women in high performing tech jobs that are still impacted by a majority of men in the same role. There usually is one woman (minimum of 2) standing alone with an entire department of male peers. I still have men talking right past me despite having the experience. It is always good news to hear of a woman succeeding in a top IT position regardless of the size and age of the enterprise....and no her pregnancy should not have factored into any decisions.
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We've come such a long way - And given the amount of change an IT professional will experience in their career, it is no wonder that embracing any type of diversity isn't very hard, institutionally.
This may not be true in upper management, where business still looks like business and there is still a tremendous old guard and good-old boy network. But down in the trenches, It's one of the most progressive career fields out there.

The biggest reason we don't see women in IT is there are very few in the educational pipeline for this field. I couldn't speak to cultural influences or how curricula are incentivised - But something seems like it is not correct there.


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The fact is the pregnancy was mentioned when the news broke. Most men will continue to feel threatened by women whose knowledge matches their own and think pregnant women should be at home. In my opinion, Yahoo set a precedence.
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Appreciation of the style and approach of women is still not recognised. It is often seen as weakness vs macho male style. Good to great proved that more modest leaders often bring the most sustainable high performance.
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