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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Women Not Welcomed in Technology--and What to Do About It

Kids like technology when it helps them do what they want to do—which often includes subverting parents. Women, on the other hand, don't feel welcome in the technology world. The number of women entering the field has dropped substantially in recent years.

No, I'm not making this up. The information came from two champions of women in the workplace: Claudia Morrell, Director of the Center for Women and Information Technology, University of Maryland–Baltimore Campus, and Heather Foust-Cummings, Director of Research at Catalyst, Inc. Morrell and Foust-Cummings spoke at the April W.I.T. Connect, held at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, VA: Will Girls in Technology Become Women in Technology?

Women don't feel welcome in the technology sector for several reasons, Foust-Cummings said: the need for mentoring is not being met, companies are not recruiting and developing their talent, and this field that more than any other allows a virtual workplace is still not offering the flexible work hours that todays' employees want and need.

Some of these things will change eventually, Foust-Cummings said—and the changes will need to be initiated by top management. In the meantime, here's her advice for women who want to forge ahead:

1. Take individual responsibility for your own advancement, but understand that there are real, systemic barriers working against you (rather than blaming yourself if you don't move up as fast as you'd like).

2. Get P&L (profit and loss) experience. This is a key attribute of women on the move.

3. Stay informed. Find ways to work within the system.

4. Create your own networks, for example, through organizations like Women in Technology and MentorNet.

5. Finally, put up with the discomfort.

"The challenge is we have to feel uncomfortable," Morrell said. "You can't create change without discomfort."


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