Many paths to the top for women in IT

The topic of women in IT is on my mind. As our feature article explains, despite being more IT literate than ever, young women don’t seem to be moving into technology careers very rapidly. Furthermore, current research indicates that many women IT executives leave their posts for other types of work.

Certainly, the idea that women may lack opportunities or training to reach their goals is discouraging to me, and the trend must be reversed. However, upon reflection, there may be more going on than at first glance — and it’s not all bad news. Simply put, not everyone wants to be a CIO, and that’s OK.

When I view websites such as www.Girlgeeks.org and NCWIT or see young women posting on blogs and Twitter, or read about Consuelo Valdes, the young woman in our article, I see great energy and interest. They — and lots of young men, too — are not lacking IT skills or ambition at all; many may simply prefer working for small start-ups, fast-paced new businesses, or for a nonprofit or public-sector agency.

Some new business grads may avoid the CIO title entirely and aspire to marketing or operations roles where they can create new departments or lead businesses units by using their social media expertise for customer relationships and collaboration. One young woman in a high-level IT position recently told me that she did not want the CIO job open at her enterprise because the demands were too great and the rewards too small. Too often, that’s a fair assessment of the position and that is where change is most needed.

Businesses at the forefront of innovation will continue to attract IT talent like former Cisco exec Debra Chrapaty, who just joined Zynga as CIO. But the CIO spot isn’t the only one that’s coveted. Women now head up huge IT companies such as CEO Carol Bartz at Yahoo; CEO Donna Dubinsky at Palm Computing and now at Handspring; and as Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Google Senior Vice President of Business Operations Shona Brown have demonstrated.

The point is that women of my daughter’s generation, as well as women already established in IT, have many options today. They don’t have to fit into the narrow roles of the past in order to wield clout. Sandra Hofmann, CIO-in-Residence at the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech, told us that like her, many women change course in mid-career and choose to lead their own consulting companies or businesses, resulting in great career satisfaction.

So, while I hope that the ranks of women CIOs – such as Gina Papworth at Motor Coach Industries, Leslie Jones, Senior Vice President and CIO, Motorola Solutions, and Kris Singleton, Vice President & CIO, Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group Inc., to name a few -- continue to swell, I’m also eager to see what new IT paths keep opening for women in the near future.