leadership

Where are all the powerful female nerds?

May 14, 2012 at 4:38 PM ET

Mike Segar / Reuters /
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg delivers a keynote address at a Facebook's marketing event in February 2012.

IBM recently named Virginia Rometty as its the first female CEO, and Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg is on her way to becoming one of the richest women in technology when the company goes public.

But despite these noteworthy feats by these female leaders, the number of women chief information officers at U.S. corporations has declined for the second year in a row. It hit less than 10 percent this year, and about one-third of CIOs report they have no women in management positions working for them, according to a survey released Monday by Harvey Nash, a recruiting firm.

“There’s an overall skill set shortage in U.S., across men and women, as far as the IT space,” said Anna Frazzetto, Senior Vice President of Technology Solutions, Harvey Nash USA. But, she added, this has become even more pronounced among women, creating a growing underrepresentation problem for women in technology.

A number of factors are contributing to the dearth of women, she said, including that the industry isn’t thought of as the most social or exciting out there, and that not enough young women are choosing to study technology when they go to college.

Discrimination and preconceived notions about women’s commitment to their jobs also is contributing to the problem, she added.

The lack-of-women dilemma isn’t just a corner office issue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprised only 25 percent of all computer-related occupations last year, pointed out Jenny Slade, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Women represented about 25 percent of computer and information systems managers; 38.6 percent of web developers, and 19 percent of software developers. 

Have you and your spouse ever competed for the same job?

In 2011, women made up only about 18 percent of those getting bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences, a percentage that's held steady for the past four years, she said.

“Unconscious bias” against women in IT is a big problem, she said, and “women don’t always know what the trajectory is to obtain a leadership role.”

A study done by the Center in 2010 found that “56 percent of women in technology leave their employers at the mid-level point in their careers.”

There are a number of factors causing women to leave, said Slade, but the top reasons were bad relationships with supervisors; feeling they were not on the fast track to promotion; feeling they don’t get credit for their work and a hostile work environment.

One women who made it to the top of the IT biz is Patricia Andersen CIO at Apartments.com. She said she was lucky to have worked for companies in her career, including Waste Management, that didn’t discriminate against women when it came to women and technology roles.

“I really haven’t worked at a place where gender was an issue in moving up,” she explained.

Apartments.com, she added, is looking to get even more women in management and one focus of the strategy will be mentoring.

“I’ve had several mentors through my life,” she noted. The mentors helped her learn one of the most important skills you need when it comes to climbing the ladder of success, she said, “how to handle political situations.” 

TOP