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Women in Information Systems: The Secret Code

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Women in Information Technology:

The Secret Code

In the past century, women have fought for such basics as the right to vote, own land, and

establish credit. In recent decades, women have struggled for a seat at the tables of power and fame- from the tennis courts to corporate boardrooms to the halls of Congress to the space shuttle. Today, the women's movement is in a new, complex phase. Women have slowly ascended to leadership roles in all sectors of the economy; however, each woman who makes it to the top of her field is usually alone once she gets there. Many of the issues for these women are the same, from questions of male domination to secret dialogue, to discrimination to pay inequalities. Because the fields and agendas are so diverse, no one simple, set of answers resonates across the board. It is clear, however, that women will be instrumental in leading corporations to new resolutions. This paper presents a range of perspectives on gender and information technology (IT). The aim is to present some of the major debates and critiques of IT to highlight some important issues of concern for women in leadership rolls.

The IT Industry

IT is a multi-billion dollar industry which is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary (2005) "the development, installation, and implementation of computer systems and applications. The U.S. Department of Commerce identifies the information technology workforce more broadly. In a report on information technology, the Department defines workers in information technology occupations as those who design, manufacture, operate, maintain, and repair information technology products and provide related services across all industries. The men and women in the IT industry have careers such as Computer engineer, computer programmer, computer scientist, computer user, database administrator, database specialist, interface designer, network specialist, software engineer, statistician, systems analyst, technical communicator, or a web designer. Together the people with these careers in information systems and information technology make up the IT industry.

IT Leaders

IT managers need a broad range of skills. They not only need the technical skills, but should also have strong business skills, experience with specific software or technology, as well as a background in consulting or business management. IT managers must possess strong interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills because they are required to interact not only with their staff, but also with other people inside and outside their organization. They also must possess team skills to work on group projects and other collaborative efforts. Computer and information systems managers increasingly interact with persons outside their organization, reflecting their emerging role as vital parts of their firm's executive team (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2004-05).

Male Dominated Industry

During the 1970s and 1980s, males were more likely to have highly specialized training and were consequently valued more highly than females (Colwill & Townsend, 1999). IT professional males were once seen as possessing highly technical skills and knowledge that the rest of the organization could not access. Control and power over resources was in the hands of these professional males. An air of mystery surrounded both the IT professionals, and the rest of the management structure, which also consists of mostly males.

In the IT industry, in particular, the need to think strategically about the role of women is becoming more vital. Over the past 20 years, there has been a radical change in the IT environment, both IT based businesses and those for where IT is a support service.

There seems to be a hidden secret male code in this IT industry, a secret code of equality. Its' an equality many women have been trying to find with men, since the beginning of the technology industry, according to Lane & Crane (2002). Recent developments in feminist theory however have explored the possibilities of a less feminist view. One implication of this view is that any debate, discussion or argument about stereotypes might shape the reality perceived by the IT profession, and those that study it (Lane & Crane, 2002),

Stereotyping is all too common in the IT profession. A recent discussion about the termination of Chairman and CEO Carleton (Carly) Fiorina, a woman who at the top of her company helped integrate the operations and cultures of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer. The statement comes from a male at, about Carly's termination from H.P. He writes,

..."I'll be brutally honest. If a woman wants to be taken seriously at the helm, she had better learn fast how to play with the boys. I also believe that a woman in such a leadership position has had to learn the language of men but I don't believe it's been reciprocated. (i.e. - "Women are just too emotional, dammit!")

Both men and women come to the table with preconceived ideas. As Covey says, "seek to understand first." Women have gone the whole nine yards in trying to understand the corporate communication structure, which yes, has been male-oriented. Meanwhile, how many women in leadership positions have been minimized, deconstructed and dismissed when actually, she just might have a damn good idea?

I cannot help but wonder at how many good ideas Fiorina had. How many were supported? How many had her team say, "Yes. Let's go for it?"

Another example of a female manager at a Fortune 500 company recalls an event that took place just after she had gained her promotion. She was having a nice conversation with a male colleague just before a meeting. As the other members of the meeting were entering the room, the male colleague dropped down to the floor and started shouting, "Just walk in your high heels right up my back to your next promotion" (Gaudin, 1999).

This is not how women who are making it to the top deserve to be treated. Women are working hard, and earning their way in to key leadership positions through hard work and diligence the same as men are. The secret code that men share is there, but women are now finding their way into a once male dominated industry, and they are getting there with integrity, sweat, and the same code of ethic by which the males have already achieved.

Obstacle - how do woman break the code?

The difficulty for women accessing new information is an important issue. This includes access in terms of hardware and software, as well



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