One of the highlights of the PASS Summit for me the past few years has been the Women in Technology lunch and panel discussion. As a female member of PASS and woman working in IT, I'm encouraged that this event is included as part of the Summit. Each year it seems that more women attend the conference; attendance has certainly improved since my first PASS in 2002.
This year I had the opportunity to help coordinate the WIT event. The discussion this time focused on the challenges that face women working in IT. Our starting point was a recent study
conducted by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) which concluded that "the percentage of women in the IT workforce declined from a high of 41 percent in 1996 to 32.4 percent in 2004." The panelists offered their ideas about why this is the case, and what it takes for women to succeed in tech.
We got to hear from five women with a wide breadth of experience it IT who offered the audience some insight into how they have been able to build careers in IT. The panel included Nancy Hidy-Wilson (Shell), Alice Klemashevich (Intuit), Cheryl Fesh (Microsoft), Dania Jones (Mattel) and Marge Namdar (Texas Instruments).
While discussing their own experiences, a couple of the panelists spoke of being inspired by mothers or aunts, who taught them to think that they could do whatever they wanted when they grew up. Another talked about the importance having a supportive manager, and seeing women in leadership positions at work.
One of the panelists talked about the importance of encouraging girls in math and science as key to increasing the number of women working in technology. She added that it would help if kids who excelled academically got as much attention and resources as star athletes. Others raised the importance of mentoring girls, and participating in activities like "Take Your Child to Work Day."
Work-life balance was raised as another important factor for women to succeed in IT (and any other career). Corporate culture, supportive managers and the ability to work flexible hours are all key to this. It was mentioned that some companies have women's networks that are another source of support and mentoring for female employees.
I've mentioned only some of the ideas and challenges that were discussed during the event. It was a rich discussion that didn't end with the start of the next session. And, as in previous years, it was a great opportunity to network with other female PASS members.