Women in tech jobs unhappy with supervisors

Increased managerial training, communication needed: Report

To meet the increased demand for talent, technology companies have been offering better working conditions for men and women and, as a result, women in technology jobs are happier than they have been in the past, according to a new report.

“Tech companies have made good progress. Women are doing well and are more satisfied in their work environments,” said Deborah Gillis, vice-president, Canada, of Catalyst. “While barriers continue to exist, the extent to which these barriers are perceived by women have diminished over time.”

However, the report by Catalyst, a New York-based research and advisory organization that promotes women in business, found there are several, persistent barriers identified by women in tech jobs.

Women in Technology: Maximizing Talent, Minimizing Barriers, released last month, is a summary of two surveys — one of 21 technology companies and one of 471 women working in tech jobs — conducted in 2005 and 2007. The report found the barriers women in tech jobs continue to face include a lack of role models, not having a mentor, sponsor or champion and being excluded from important networks of decision-makers.

Of these barriers, the two themes that kept emerging were women in technology jobs are less satisfied with supervisory relationships and are less satisfied with issues of fairness and input than women in other fields and men in tech and non-tech fields.

“It may be that managers in technology fields have grown up in the organization with great technical competence and expertise and as they’ve been promoted they may not have had the same opportunity to develop management skills that would allow them to exercise those supervisory skills in the workplace,” said Gillis.

The report found supervisors can improve relationships with women by communicating openly and directly, providing regular feedback, providing access to challenging tasks and implementing stronger career planning processes. To achieve this, training is essential, said Gillis.

“They key message for high-tech companies is that just as technical training and development are critical to the success of your business, so are talent management and people development,” she said.

More role models wanted

To address the issues of fairness and input — the opportunity to speak up, participate in decision-making processes and be heard — women who participated in the study encouraged their companies to take steps to advance more women, be accepting of diverse working styles and create more role models and mentors.

As one woman in the study said: “If I look up and all the managers are men, it doesn’t feel open to me. If I look up and see a diverse set of leaders, I feel comfortable that we can all succeed.”

But getting women into those high-ranking roles is difficult because there aren’t a lot of women in any tech jobs, despite the fact there are more tech jobs available now than there were at the height of the dot-com boom. The report found the proportion of women in tech jobs in the United States has decreased from 30 per cent in 2000 to 27 per cent in 2006. In Canada, the proportion has remained steady at 26 per cent from 2000 to the end of 2007, according to the Ottawa-based Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).

It starts young

The reason for this decline can be traced back to high school, said Stephanie ¬McKendrick, executive director of Canadian Women in Communications, a Toronto-based advocacy group for women in communications.

“When you’re school aged and choosing what direction to go, a lot of girls are intimidated by math and they feel technology is not for them and they’re not as drawn to it,” said ¬McKendrick.

Until there is a critical mass of women in technology jobs, girls in school will only see men in technology jobs, reinforcing the idea that the field is only for men, said McKendrick.

“It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said.

But tech companies don’t have the luxury of sitting back and hoping more young women will realize they have a passion for the field because the industry is facing an expected shortfall of 89,000 workers in the next three to five years, according to the ICTC.

Companies will need to attract and retain women if they want to survive the crunch, said McKendrick.

To do that, organizations need to promote more women to the higher ranks and profile them so others will see the potential for growth, said Jennifer Corriero, the executive director of TakingITGlobal, a Toronto-based online community connecting youth activists around the world.

Organizations also need to send female employees into the community to talk to students at colleges, universities and high school to encourage other young women to follow in their footsteps, she said.

Women-friendly policies, such as improved work-life balance, will also attract more women to tech companies, said McKendrick.

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