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Towards Equality in the High Tech Workplace

Another Perspective on the "Women in Technology" Survey

Beverly Woods - 2001.06.20 - Tip Jar

My curiosity was piqued by Charles W. Moore's column Female Dissatisfaction in the IT Industry. Moore uses the recent Women In Technology survey as a starting point for a column expounding on what he sees as the inherent differences between men and women regarding their relationship to technology. I went to the sites of the companies who commissioned and carried out the survey in order to look at the results in more detail.

The survey was commissioned by a company called Deloitte and Touche. Their approach is quite encouraging for those of us (57% of men, 84% of women) who would like to see more women leaders in the industry. From their news release:

"The findings from the Women in Technology survey clearly demonstrate that much more progress needs to be made before women and men are perceived as equals in the workplace," said James E. Copeland, Jr., chief executive officer of Deloitte & Touche and its global parent, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. "The research findings provide a compelling reason for business leaders to identify and promote new opportunities for women to become technology leaders."

Deloitte & Touche are taking their own advice. "This is an opportune time for the industry to step up its commitment to women. Deloitte & Touche encountered similar statistics with our female employee retention rates, and we responded with our Vision 2005 initiative to advance more women into leadership positions. We found ways to create work environments that promote equality and advancement for everyone, regardless of gender."

Sounds good to me - and to Fortune magazine, which rates them as among the 100 best companies to work for.

The survey was conducted by Roper Starch, and there is a detailed report of the results available on their website in PDF. On reading through it, the first thing that struck me was how small the differences are between the men's answers and the women's answers to many of the questions. The survey has a margin of error of 3%, and many gender discrepancies were 6% or less.

Most of the online professionals questioned agreed with the statement, I find the technology exciting and use it as much as I can: 80% of men and 74% of women. Of the rest, those who felt "It must be mastered if one is to remain up-to-date" numbered 17% of men and 22% of women, and those who felt "It's a bit beyond me" were 3% of men and 4% of women.

The survey report also states, "Virtually all online professionals (96%) are very or somewhat confident that they can keep up with rapidly changing technology. Women are slightly more likely than men to say they are 'very confident' in their ability to keep pace (61% vs. 57%)."

It would appear that the men and women surveyed are close to equal in their interest in new technology and their confidence in their technical abilities. However, when it comes to the part of the survey asking why respondents think there are not more women in the high tech field, 32% of men say, "Women are generally less inclined to be interested in issues related to high tech." Only 23% of women agree with that statement. That leaves 77% of women respondents who feel women are at least as interested in high tech as men, and nearly a third of the men who apparently don't know the women feel that way.

Now on to the less pleasant parts of the picture. Fewer than half of the online professionals surveyed feel that women receive equal pay for equal work in the industry: 55% of men, vs. 29% of women. 38% of men perceive a "glass ceiling" hampering women's advancement, while 62% of women do.

Of course, the definition of a glass ceiling is a barrier that is difficult to see until you run into it. We may extrapolate that a number of women have experienced the existence of this barrier. The widespread perception that there is not equal pay for equal work in the industry bespeaks a lower valuation of women, a circumstance consistent with the glass ceiling effect.

I would point out that being paid less than men are paid for the same work probably does not increase women's enthusiasm for the job. Only 56% of women were "very interested" in continuing with their careers, vs. 69% of the men.

Only 33% of women say they would pursue a high-tech career if starting over today. Also, only 47% of men say they would. That means that more than half the men and 2/3 of women in the industry feel in hindsight that it was a less than optimal career choice.

It looks like the industry has a ways to go before it becomes a satisfying career choice for a good many of its workers. It is an industry whose business is information and whose proudest boast is its innovative approach. Let's see what use is made of the information in this survey and hope that more companies are willing to follow the lead of companies like Deloitte & Touche towards one of the most valuable innovations of all: equality. LEM

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