The Glass Ceiling for Women Working in the Information Technology Field

It is the new Millennium, yet the equilibrium between women and men in the corporate world still has not been reached. Even though society has come a long way in attaining more opportunities for women, there is still a long way to go in order to reach true equality. This inability to reach equality is sometimes called the “Glass Ceiling” which refers to an artificial barrier that prevents qualified individuals advance within their organization and reach their full potential. Specifically, in the Information Technology field, there has been significant evidence which shows that both women and minorities have been prevented from attaining their true potential and have been undermined when it comes to wages and executive positions in this particular industry. The problem in a wide range of careers had become so troublesome that The Glass Ceiling Commission was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Its responsibility was to identify glass-ceiling barriers in order to promote employment opportunities for minorities and women, however barriers in the IT profession still need to be further discussed.

Interestingly enough, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has done research on women and men in the labor force and the numbers seem to be somewhat unsettling. In terms of managerial and professional specialty, it is stated that men, on average, in the year 2000, had 15,739,000 workers while women had 15,866,000 workers in the same fields. In the year 2001, the numbers were very similar, men with 15,947,000 workers compared to women with 16,155,000 workers. Nevertheless, even though the numbers for women workers are somewhat larger, the wages they earn are significantly lower. For the year 2000, median weekly earnings for men were recorded at $1009 compared to $726 for women. Similarly in the year 2001, median weekly earnings for men were $1046 compared to $742 for women. That is a $15,000 annual income difference for people who are supposedly completing the same jobs and receiving a drastically different amount on their paycheck

However, the numbers can be somewhat explained under the present conditions. Characteristically, individuals in upper level Executive positions earn more than those in lower positions, and since women only hold a small fraction of the upper level positions, it is no surprise that women earn less money. Thus, the question becomes as to why women do not hold more of the upper level positions in the IT profession. For example, out of the Chief Information Officer’s or CIO-equivalents at 300 Fortune 1000 companies and the 100 fastest-growing companies recently surveyed by Amsterdam, N.Y.- based Sheila Greco Associates, there were only 41 women (13.7 percent), compared with 259 men (86.3 percent). Sheila Greco Associates say that the percentage of women CIO’s has not changed since their research consultancy began its annual survey in 1998(Paul).

According to the 1996 Information Week 500 list of leading IT users, women held the highest-ranking IT positions at only about 7% of the 500 companies listed. Five years later, the number only rose by 1.8 percent to 8.8% of the positions held by women or 44 out of 500 Executives. Among them were Farmers insurance Group, Cecilia Claudio, and New York Life Insurance Co., Judith Campbell. Not surprisingly, the Society for Information Management, an organization of senior IT executives, counts only 195 women among its 2700 members. According to ongoing research by Robert Zawacki, professor emeritus of management and international business at the University of Colorado and distinguished scholar in residence at accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick in New York, just 20% of senior IT executives are women, while nearly 40% of all IT employees are female. These findings were based on a study conducted every year for 20 years in IT departments at 200 companies in different industries (Wilde).

Amid all of these statistics, it looks like companies are getting the idea, slowly but gradually allowing women to be active in its upper level positions. Xerox, for example, received several awards for its diversity programs. Now, the company has about one-third of its IT department composed of women workers. Xerox CIO Wallington says that 10 years ago a woman in the computer industry had to be “a harder worker, a smarter person, a more qualified” than her male peers to move beyond the ranks of programming into management. Now that she has arrived, Wallington says, being a woman often makes it easier for her to be heard than her male counterparts. Still, Wallington notes that outside the walls of Xerox, IT is like the rest of corporate America- dominated by white males. She adds, “But hope can be taken from the fact that you can point to those exceptions, exceptions that weren’t there 10 years ago, so clearly there has been progress (Paul).” It seems that having a woman already in a higher position at a company makes it easier for other women to follow suite.

It seems that in IT at least, women are beginning to become a winning force in the Glass Ceiling war. Ann Winblad, founder of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, a $95 million venture-capital fund in Emeryville, Calif., says the software industry is a meritocracy. “Skills matter more than gender,” she says, “It’s an industry where the intellectual capital wins.” For men and women, Winblad says, keys to success are intellectual stamina and common sense. Winblad, who started her career as a systems analyst in 1973, encourages women to be themselves, and to not adjust their personalities to fit a man’s world. “Having a personality that is the same whether it’s with friends or business colleagues is the key to success- and so far less stress, ” she adds (Paul). Thus, individualism is supposed to give women the upper hand when going out for jobs in the upper ranks of the IT field.

IT, it seems, when it comes to sexism, is not much different from other careers. Computer consultant and author Ellen Ullman is quoted as saying “Sexism is everywhere, but technology is one place where for the first two-thirds of your career- if you’re good at it- you’ll be on equal footing with people around you. Other consultants agree with Ullman that “IT is one of the best equal-opportunity areas in our society today,” says Victor Janulaitis, president of Positive Support Review, an IT management and consulting firm in Santa Monica, Calif. “It doesn’t care what race, color, creed, or sexual preference you are. If you as an individual can produce results, you’ll be rewarded, and you’ll proceed and progress (Wilde).” While this sounds very reassuring, it might still be a little far advanced into the future for current times.

As far as minorities are concerned, a study was done in order to attribute the Glass Ceiling as a factor in the advancements or lack thereof of black IT workers. The Glass Ceiling Commission has suggested that there might be a glass ceiling that prevents them from reaching the top levels of IS and non-IS management positions. The commission’s figures show that managers were 92% white and 8% minority in 1988, identical to percentages found in 1980 and 1985. A sample of 138 employees were used, 50% black and the other half white, and 52% of the sample were women. Eighty-two of the IS participants held managerial positions, and the remaining 41% percent held professional positions without supervisory responsibilities. The sample used was also of similar age. The measurements were done through a job performance rating and job performance attributions with a rating scale included on the Supervisor Survey. The study confirmed the presence of race differences in job performance evaluations, attributions, career advancement prospects, and career satisfaction. Black IS employees received lower job performance ratings, were less likely to have their job performance attributed to internal causes, were less successful in their jobs, were perceived as having less favorable advancement prospects, were more likely to be plateuad in their careers, and experienced lower career satisfaction than white IS employees (Igbaria, Wormley).

Alright, so there are fewer women Executives in IT then men, and minorities face a glass ceiling when trying to excel. The question is, why is this the case? Quite frankly, as some put it, women find the demands of IT a little bit too demanding. Karen Hogan, acting deputy CIO of the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. says that she wouldn’t want to take the CIO job at her agency because the time demands the position would impose on her life would be too much to bear. Women, due to the fact they need to care for children, find themselves more at odds with the near-constant travel and intense 24/7 demands of being a CIO (Paul). However, several surveys have found that the problem of balancing work and life are a major concern of male CIO’s as well. According to a new online survey by CIO of 310 IT professionals, almost as many men as women (57% versus 63%, respectively) felt they did not have an appropriate work and life balance in their current job. “Both men and women realize this is an issue,” says Judy Rosener, professor at the Graduate School of Management of the University of California at Irvine. Rosener believes the eventual dismantling of the glass ceiling in IT will take pressure off both sexes. Rosener says, “A lot of men are saying they no longer want the burden of feeling they have to get to the top.” However, still more men than women are willing to sacrifice their personal lives in exchange for a successful professional life, while women may not be ready to leave their instilled domestic responsibilities.

Even though all of this sounds very promising, the numbers themselves show that this equality still has a long way to go in order to reach reality. Another reason why IT might not favor women is because of the sheer fact that women, throughout history, have not been the major proponents of math and technology. According to Charles W. Moore, the dissatisfaction of females in the IT profession can be explained through a simple observation of the way that women and men act on a daily basis. Men, when they get together, tend to talk about cars and the intricate parts of their hardware in their different machinery systems. Even though women might be better IT workers they will never get ahead due to the fact that they do not have the drive in IT that men have, thus giving them less satisfaction from working in the industry (Moore). While this is a very risky argument and exceptions do occur, it does tend to make sense. When most women use a computer, they are more interested in the software and what the computer can do for them than the machine part of the system and the means it takes in order to achieve the ends. Thus, in the job aspect of IT, that drive from the enthusiasm gained from the machine aspect in Information Technology, can be the factor that get men most of the executive level positions. Just as when women pick out a car, most women tend to care more about the color and accessories of the automobile than the gas per mileage of the auto. Thus, grouped with the fact that women through history have had more domestic demands put on them, this lack of enthusiasm might be a factor that keeps women out of the front lines of the field.

Information Technology might be one of those modern careers of skill that acts very similarly to the oldest game of skill: the game of Chess. Being the oldest game, Chess if much more than just a game of skill. Few people realize this but the queen is the only piece on the board that represents a woman, and she is the most powerful piece of the game. In medieval times, the surrender of the king would mean the loss of the kingdom to invading armies and that could mean change for the worse. The king is the most important, but not the most powerful piece in Chess. Thus, if the king is not protected, the game is lost. Perhaps, not much is different in world of Information Technology. Even though women might have the same or more skill in IT, they are also bound by the demands of domestic responsibility, and their female drive may not include the same interests in technology and machinery as the drive expressed within the male characteristic, giving males full control of the game. Furthermore, putting a woman in a high level position might be seen as a risk to many companies, not knowing how the public will respond to a woman run game. Thus, when it comes to wages, executives and workers in upper positions tend to make more money. When it comes to those upper positions, women may not possess the characteristics or the time needed to fill those positions, and that is why it might seem that women are more prone to fall prey to lower pay and lower jobs while in reality it might just be a consequence of the historical trends still evident in modern life today. Contrastingly from the recommendations of the Glass Ceiling Commission, affirmative action should not be applied; rather women and minorities should be promoted due to their efforts, drive, and skill, and not because of their gender or ethnicity. Therefore, until the queen and other minor pieces makes it evident that they rule the chess game, there will be, for some time to come, a struggle of women and minorities trying to attain higher level positions, and white men will continue to rule the field.


Moore, Charles W. “Female Dissatisfaction in the IT Industry.” (2001) 8 Feb. 2002

Paul, Lauren Gibbons. “Why IT Hates Women (and the Women Who Stay Anyway).”
CIO Magazine 15 Sept. 2001: 1-10.

Wilde, Candee. “Women Cut Through It’s Glass Ceiling.” InformationWeek 20 Jan.
1997: 83.

Wormley, M. Wayne and Igbaria, Magid. “Race Differences in Job Performance and
Career Success.” Communications of the ACM March 1995: 82.

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