A Millennium Agenda for Women in IT

FRAMINGHAM (03/13/2000) - The start of the new millennium (or the close of the old one, if you prefer) seems to be a good time to take stock of where women in IT are and where they'd like to go. So I rephrased the old Freudian question and asked a cross-section of readers: What do IT women want?

Responses came from programmers, project managers, systems managers, technicians, academics and consultants. Most responses were the all-too-familiar complaints of a minority that still sees itself as undervalued - and is getting pretty darn tired of it. As a project-manager-turned-teacher put it: "After 30 years in the industry, I am a little tired of seeing the same problems."

But looking at the list of responses, I'm convinced that a lot of the things IT women want are the same things IT men want. And if people want the same things, at least some of those wishes are more likely to become reality.

Herewith, an IT women's agenda for the millennium:

Aretha had it right: R-E-S-P-E-C-T is No. 1 on IT women's wish lists. This is nicely illustrated by a man who wrote to say that his wife, an engineer, was expected to keep up on her design work while answering the office phone and filling in when the secretary was at lunch.

Hard to believe that kind of stuff is still going on, but a depressing amount of what IT women want is the same stuff they wanted five, 10, 20 years ago. One presented a laundry list of familiar complaints: "not being taken seriously, lack of respect, lack of role models, lower pay, long hours, being passed over for promotions and bonuses and fighting the uphill battle constantly."

Can't you just feel the fatigue?

That's why another reader, "at the risk of sounding sexist," wants "more women!

Women co-workers. Women managers. Women programmers. They are just as technically capable as men [but] so much easier to get along with!" she says.

"They communicate better. They listen."

The dearth of women in IT - and the subsequent isolation that many women in IT feel - may be why another reader's wish list includes some mentoring. "I would love to talk to [someone about] the pros and cons of pursing the technical career ladder," she says.

The best things in life may be free, but women want money. "Financial parity," says one. "Compliments and high performance ratings no longer cut it: Show me the promotion."

Women in IT want to reduce the stress in their lives (can men relate?), so they'd like to see more flexibility. "A mix of telecommuting and office hours would make it easier for me," says one. She says she would even be willing to give up some salary for reduced working hours.

Women would also like to see their companies help with the work/life balance by bringing some services, such as banking and basic health care, onto the corporate campus. "That would help me accomplish some of the other many things I have to do in a day besides work," a reader says.

Many feel undervalued, and some are willing to put their paychecks on the line to prove it. "Wouldn't it be nice to get paid by the amount of quality work you produce?" a woman asks. "I would like to see a company pay for output."

A project manager would like to say good-bye to those worst aspects of corporate culture that she says are exacerbated in the IT world: "The overreliance on jargon to keep others outside of the charmed circle; the singular approach to all problem solving with a logical, rational, Western, insular style; the belief that the organization exists to keep the hardware busy; and women not [being] viewed as professionals."

She's also had more than enough of corporate warfare. "I have seen project managers approaching projects as a war metaphor, with the clear expectation that there will be a winner and many losers, intent on taking no prisoners, accepting casualties as acceptable losses, and executing anyone questioning the ‘plan,' since that must be insubordination," she says.

Women would like to see more recognition for peaceable projects that go right and fewer kudos for cleaning up war-torn disasters. I suspect men would agree.

Finally, IT women would love to see the end of Ms. MIS. Says one: "I would like to see that you don't have to write this column in the future, because it won't be such a rarity for women to be in IT!"

Kathleen Melymuka is a Computerworld features writer. Contact her at kathleen_melymuka@computerworld.com.

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