GHC08: Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Technical Women

Caroline Simard (Anita Borg Institute of Technology) and Andrea Henderson (CalState Northridge) presented a new study done by ABI and the Clayman Institute at Stanford University on men and women in the high tech industry in the Silicon Valley at 7 hight tech companies.

Ms. Simard started off the presentation with the broad statement that diversity is good for business and social tasks, which has been backed up by research study after research study.  And while it has been shown that women control 80% of the consumer spending, men are still designing 90% of technical products.  More frighteningly, women only make up 13% of the board of directors of Fortune 500 companies and less than 5% of the executives.

The research study they did found that men are more likely to be in a senior postion than women (24% vs 10%), even though men and women surveyed had nearly the same distribution of higher level degrees.

Ms. Henderson then continued the talk to let us know that women are more likely to make decisions like delaying having children (30% of women vs 18% of men) in order to advance their careers, or forgo having children all together (9% of women vs 3.5% of men).  Another odd statistic out of this study was that the majority of women in high tech careers also have a partner in high tech (68.5%).

The presentation then went on to perceptions of success, covering what men and women considered to be the top attributes of success and then self assessment of how many of those attributes they think they have. One big noted attribute is that women believe you must work long hours in order to be successful (a belief that the men in the survey did not agree with), but don't believe they can meet those needs. Such self discrepencies can actually be a big barrier to success all on its own.

Women in high tech companies really want to see more investment by the company in corporate development on the job (as opposed to relying on the employee to do it in their "spare time"), make mentoring a part of the corporate culture and fix the wage gap.  Ms. Simard notes that it is just not true that women don't care about financial rewards and being paid fairly for their work. Their survey showed that women care just as much about health benefits, financial rewards and salary as their male counterparts.

The survey showed that some of the most important things to high tech women was for the company to invest in professional development on the job, mentoring to be a part of the corporate culture and to see the wage gap corrected.

Discussion came around one of my favorite books, Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Apparently the authors did a follow up study and discovered that women who negotiated were more likely to be seen in a negative light by both men and women. Ms. Henderson & Ms. Simard noted that there was a lot of research finding that gender bias is very ingraned in both men and women, so as women we actually need to work at this ourselves and make sure we are aware when we are making such judgements.  Ms. Simard noted that women who are most successful are able to "tune" their assertiveness depending on the situation and whom they are talking to.

Valerie Fenwick
 

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Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at http://bubbva.blogspot.com/

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