Why women lag men in high-tech

High-tech is a relatively young industry, one whose major growth spurts postdate the birth of the women’s movement. So it might be reasonable to assume that the industry would escape some of the gender inequities that infect the management of industries that have been around for a century or two. And it might be reasonable to assume that, in an industry such as high-tech, in which workers are allegedly promoted on merit, we would see a greater percentage of women at the top than we see in more traditional companies. But in fact, we do not see that.

What we do see, according to a new study by Catalyst, a nonprofit advisory group that works for the advancement of women in industry, is fewer, not more, women in the higher ranks of high-tech. Among Fortune 500 companies of all kinds, the study reports, women account for 15.7 per cent of corporate officers. Among Fortune 500 companies in the high-tech industry, however, that number is stuck at 11.1 per cent. Similarly, the percentage of women on the boards of directors of all Fortune 500 companies is 12.4, but the percentage of women on the boards of directors of high-tech Fortune 500 companies is only 9.0.

What’s going on? Why can’t women compete with men in an industry that prides itself on innovation and agility? Catalyst wanted to find out, so the organization held roundtable discussions with 73 business unit leaders from 27 high tech companies. Those meetings, which included men and women managers, persuaded the researchers that women in high-tech often find their upward progress blocked by four major barriers.

1. The corporate culture at many high-tech companies is exclusionary and does not support women’s advancement.

2. Companies don’t strategically and objectively identify and develop talent.

3. Women feel isolated because they lack role models, networks and mentors.

4. The demands of work and career are at odds with having a commitment to family and personal responsibilities.

At press time, Catalyst had released only an executive summary of the report, with the promise that the full text will be published shortly. In the meantime, we’d like to hear about barriers that women run up against at your company. Are they the same as those identified, or are there other boulders blocking women’s paths? Why can’t women keep up with men in high tech?

Comments to: cioeditor@itworldcanada.com

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