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Women in IT Delay Family for Careers, Still Miss Top Jobs

Women in IT Delay Family for Careers, Still Miss Top Jobs

One-third of technical women wait to start families in order to advance their IT careers, according to new research on mid-career technical women. Nearly 10 percent forgo having children altogether--and despite these moves, women are still struggling to win executive roles in IT.

Risk, but Little Reward

Unfortunately, the sacrifices and compromises women make to advance their careers may not guarantee their success, the research authors concluded. The survey found that technical men are nearly three times more likely than technical women to hold an executive-level position in their companies.

One of the reasons women get passed up for promotions is because some men view them as less technically competent, according to the research. In an environment where leaders must have a technical background to earn the respect of their direct reports, this gender stereotype presents a real obstacle for women.

Because women aren't seen as technically proficient, they're often given low-visibility tasks that are stereotypically feminine, such as support, the authors say. Their lack of visibility in their organizations makes it even harder for them to move up; women interviewed for the study said that as much as their companies like to think of themselves as meritocracies, visibility, power and influence are as important to earning promotions as merit and accomplishment.

"I had general expectations that I'd be evaluated on my merits alone and not necessarily on my gender. That was the case earlier in my career," said one high-level technical woman who responded to the study. "But [to] progress through the ranks to get past middle management, is it based on your individual merit, or is it based upon who you know and being in the right place at the right time? Other factors definitely come into play the more senior you become...It becomes a club. The connections seem to count quite a bit."

Another barrier to women's success in IT that the study identifies is a workplace culture that rewards self-promotion, assertiveness and ambition. Women and men interviewed for the study noted that women have to be assertive to, at a minimum, survive in IT.

Against that backdrop of gender barriers, perhaps it's no wonder that 56 percent of mid-career women decide to leave their organizations to pursue new opportunities.

The study, Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Women in Technology, surveyed 1,795 male and female tech workers employed at high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Researchers followed-up the survey by conducting in-depth interviews with 112 survey respondents. The report was released on October 3, 2008.

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