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Business Scene: Why aren't more women in tech fields?
Thursday, April 03, 2003

Opportunities in technology companies abound, yet few women pursue them. A panel assembled last week by the Pittsburgh Technology Council that included some of the region's most successful women discussed why.

Post-gazette files
Marlee Myers, left, and Joan Hooper

A lack of training was identified as a key stumbling block. But it also was suggested that, similar to factors behind the paucity of female entrepreneurs, it may be a case of personal priorities.

"It might be an issue of self-selection -- women might not be risk takers,'' said Robbin Steif, chief financial officer of Maya Design. "It might also have something to do with the work/family issue, because entrepreneurs work way more than 40 hours per week.''

Acknowledging that women seeking careers in technology industries faced barriers, there was no consensus that those roadblocks were any greater than those encountered by minorities or even by men.

"I think there is certainly a glass ceiling," said Joy Evans, a management consulting partner at Deloitte & Touche. "But I tend to think of the business world as a pyramid which also limits everyone, including men, as you make your way to the top."

Evans, who is not only a woman in a technology related field but also is African American, said she did not view herself as a victim.

"I certainly don't wake up in the morning and think, 'How am I going to be victimized today because I am a woman, or because I am African?' " she said.

Chris Gabriel, vice provost and chief technology officer at Carnegie Mellon University, echoed those sentiments.

"Yes there are glass ceilings, but I think everyone has barriers," she said.

For FreeMarkets Chief Financial Officer Joan Hooper, coming from such a huge corporation as AT&T actually was a benefit when dealing with the women in business issue.

"They had diversity programs in place a long time ago, and they were looking for women to bring through the company," Hooper said. "I really think the minority issue is a bigger problem than the woman issue because there is such a lack of candidates."

Hooper added that major metropolitan areas might be more progressive for women and minorities than such smaller markets as Pittsburgh. "I came here from northern New Jersey, and I felt like I was going back a couple of decades," she said.

For those with the interest, training and ambition to seize prospects, the panel said there were both opportunities and hurdles. But cultural factors can affect each of those issues.

"Growing up, I was the only girl in certain classes, like science, starting as early as grade school," Gabriel said. "But I came from a family where my father was an engineer." While other women saw the arts as more attractive, she said she saw engineering as appealing.

"To be able to take small things and bring them together is a very creative process to me," Gabriel said.

The other panelists, which also included IBM international sales director Katie Kean, said they either fell into technology-related work or were attracted to it later.

"I started at Bell Systems, which was a very creative place, and I became enamored [of] the pace of change," Hooper said. "At FreeMarkets, I love the pace, which forces you to make decisions very quickly."

Marlee Myers, the managing director of the Pittsburgh office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, who served as the panel's moderator, echoed the sentiment of being attracted to technology from the periphery.

"I wanted to focus on technology during my first year in law after working on my first case with entrepreneurs," she said.

While much is made about equality and judging people the same, the women on the panel said there were differences between the sexes when it comes to business thinking. But those differences should be seen as positives, enabling women to bring something new and different to the table.

"There are differences, whether you want to believe it or not," Evans said. "Men and women have a different thought process, and that is not a disadvantage. At different levels it gives us something to offer that may not be there."

Steif agreed, saying that women should "use their femininity'' not in the derogatory sense, but to bring a whole different perspective to things.

In the end, she said, though women are increasingly working their way throughout the technology and business world, it is still a "man's world," requiring either men or women to change to succeed.

"Women really do need to either adapt or change men's minds," Steif said.

First published on April 3, 2003 at 12:00 am
Former Pittsburgh Press business editor Steven N. Czetli edits and publishes TechyVent/Pittsburgh, a free, regional e-mail newsletter that recommends and provides detailed information on the region's most useful business events. For more information on these and other events go to newsletter.techyvent.com