Report: Women execs hold their own in some but not all IT sectors

When it comes to software and services, women are certainly holding their own in senior executive positions. But when it comes to Australia's hardware industry, female executives are still far and few between.

The results of the annual Census of Women in Leadership study released by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) this month is further evidence of how fragmented the IT industry is when it comes to women holding executive positions.

For example, telecommunications is one industry where women have the most prominence in the boardroom whereas the hardware equipment industry is still a boys' club with the lowest female representation.

Incredibly of the 200 ASX listed companies in Australia women account for only four CEO positions.

While the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) said there has been a 100 percent increase (from 25 percent to 50 percent) of female participation in the ICT industry, representation is still too low.

Women may be equal users of technology but this does not translate into senior executive positions in the industry which is why companies like IBM run training programs to try and bolster numbers.

In partnership with the NSW Department of Education and Training, IBM is set to launch the Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering (EXITE) camp, which teaches girls between 13 and 15 years about up and coming technologies.

Gartner research director Greta James said the traditional engineering culture of hardware companies tends to exclude women.

"However, in software you will find that the junior representation of women is much higher, and these women will move up over time," James said.

James also believes that the age of the software and hardware industries plays a part in the EOWA findings.

"The hardware companies have been around for a long time and are saturated with men, while software companies are a more recent development," James said.

"I do think things are changing slowly but surely. And organizations like FITT (Females in Information Technology & Telecommunications) are very good at nurturing women and providing good female role models."

But interestingly, one woman who is working in hardware Toshiba national marketing manager Lesley MacLennan says she isn't interested in these groups for women.

"I read about the fact that there are separate organizations for women, like the one with the AIIA, but it just doesn't interest me to take part," MacLennan said, adding that opportunities for promotion have never been closed to her as a result of gender.

MacLennan has just been recognized for 15 years of service to Toshiba and said she has an extensive network of both men and women in the industry.

She does notice, however, there are always a lot more men at conferences and industry events than females.

Citrix marketing director Glynis Marks entered the software industry a year ago and expected it to be a male dominated field, but hasn't found this to be the case.

However, Marks admits that when you split the software industry into different roles, patterns emerge in senior management.

"Obviously females are going to be very strong in the marketing areas, But I haven't found them to have a strong presence in sales," Marks said. "And certainly in our organization the technical roles are dominated by males."

Microsoft director of business and marketing operations Tracey Fellows was actually hired into a management position while pregnant.

"We're all aware of some of the inhibitors to women in the workplace gaining management roles, and different companies that are reluctant to take on pregnant women, so this was unusual," Fellows said.

"I guess if you look about companies that sustain women in their organization and promote them it really comes down to the culture of that company and their approach to issues like this."

Fellows wasn't surprised that there are more women in software than hardware, and believes there has been an increase in women in the industry over the last decade.

"When I first started in the IT industry 17 years ago I was the only woman in my department," Fellows said.

"But software has really come along in the past 10 years, and software also relies on more types of vertical knowledge, so women that have different professional backgrounds, other than technical, can bring this sort of knowledge to the industry."

Surprisingly, Hayes personnel services IT manager Susan Billington believes there were more women in the ICT industry 10 years ago than today.

"I wouldn't say us females are the odd ones out, but when I'm recruiting there seems to be a lot fewer females around now; it's probably about 75 percent male."

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