Women Are Obliterating the ‘Technology-Is-for-Men’ Stereotype

    The idea that men are more tech-savvy than women is a myth that’s debunked by research on technology adoption among women, says Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti. And that stereotype will be further obliterated in 2013, she predicts, as women increasingly rely on their high-tech prowess to start businesses and enter STEM fields.

    Wilen-Daugenti is vice president and managing director of the Apollo Research Institute, and co-author of “Women Lead: Career Perspectives from Workplace Leaders,” which will be released later this month. She has conducted extensive research on trends relating to technology and women in the workplace, and I spoke with her about what lies ahead for women who pursue careers in technology in general, and IT in particular.

    I mentioned to Wilen-Daugenti that I had recently spoken with Martha Heller, co-founder of CIO Magazine’s CIO Executive Council, who now heads an executive search firm that specializes is placing CIOs. I noted that Heller maintains that it’s a simple fact of life that IT is a very male-dominated career, and that rather than pursue a CIO career path, tech-savvy women are better advised to go into a more women-friendly field like marketing, where technological prowess can also be put to very good use. I asked Wilen-Daugenti for her thoughts on that, and she said she gets a little depressed when  she hears those sorts of comments:

    I think women need to be able to pursue anything and everything. Things are different today. When I was in school, technology really wasn’t a category or an opportunity, and it certainly wasn’t something that people presented to women. Today, technology is so entwined with every career that I would encourage a woman who has an inclination toward technology to go for it. When she’s saying it’s a male-dominated field, when you look at it, the predominance of leaders are male, and people tend to hire like-for-like. So we need to see more women running their own firms, moving into management positions, and replicating like-for-like. Because that’s really how things will change. Where I see the barriers coming down is you can now start more technology businesses without the excessive funding the used to happen, so people can participate. One of the findings that we had in our women’s research is the importance of role models, and that has really shifted over the years and through the generations. In my generation there was no role model for me of a woman in technology, except for the one-off. Today, younger women are seeing their mothers and fathers both working, which is different, and their mothers and fathers working in technology. So they have more role models available for them to introduce them to the concept. So I would disagree with her. In our study, we looked at the preferences of younger generations, and they’re really gender-agnostic. The percentage of people who are holding on to the command-and-control, masculine-dominated belief is really starting to deteriorate.

    I told Wilen-Daugenti that I have spoken with a number of women who prefer having a male boss instead of a female boss, because the women they’ve worked for have so many insecurities stemming from having gone through their careers feeling their opinions aren’t valued as highly as a man’s, that they’re always in an “I have to prove myself” mode, which hinders them from empowering the people who work for them. I asked her for her thoughts on that, and she said there have been a lot of studies published about the discomfort of managers in general who have employees who are aspiring higher than they are:

    A lot of the discomfort comes because the younger employees are coming in with more education, more skills, more of a technology background, and a lot of gusto. And it is not defined by gender. That might be the discomfort some women feel from a manager. In our women’s research study, we did look at vertical industries, and women have said that certain industries, where you have larger populations of women—specifically, health care, education, not-for-profit and retail—there are more women in management and leadership positions, and those women are pulling other women through. There is less bias and grouping of the genders, because there is gender diversity in the higher ranks. So  I understand what these women are saying, because I’ve always worked in very masculine-dominated firms, but I have not experienced the same with the women. In fact, I find that women managers in masculine-dominated industries tend to be stronger, because they’re constantly challenged.

    I asked her if she has any sense of whether women in general prefer working for a male or female boss. Her response:

    Thank you for that question, because that’s one of the major findings in our women’s research, and our book that’s coming out in January. We surveyed over 3,500 men and women on leadership attributes and characteristics. Overall, 99.9 percent of women felt that women had all the attributes and characteristics of leadership. So obviously, women are saying, “I would prefer to see a woman in a leadership role.” Then we took two more segments—we took the Generation X and the Generation Y—and we asked them the same questions. We found that they were gender-agnostic—they didn’t care. There was no gender lens—they were just looking for good leaders. When we mapped it out in a pie chart, the percentage left over that had any opinion was 17 percent. So you map out all your women workers, which is half the work force; you overlay your Generation X and Generation Y,  and what’s left is this very tiny segment, which is 17 percent. I guess that’s male [baby] boomers—we don’t know, we didn’t ask—that are holding on to these traditional value systems. So the answer to your question is, women were responding that they prefer women leaders; the younger generations X and Y, which are those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, don’t care—they just want a good leader.

    We’re rerunning the generation data just to make absolutely sure, because that is a critical finding and a lesson learned for anyone who is running a company. When you consider the very small percentage of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, you have to say, “OK, your pipeline is not embracing this; women, which are half the work force, are not embracing this, so who’s really hanging on to that? How long is that going to last?” Here’s the other thing we know: We know that Generation X has one foot out the door because the boomers are in the way—they’re not getting promoted, so they have to leave and get a role somewhere else. And Generation Y, they only stay for two years—if they don’t like it, they’re out of there. They’re not going to put up with the stuff that happened with the boomers: Wait your turn and eventually you’ll get promoted into a new role.

    Another of Wilen-Daugenti’s predictions for 2013 is that credentials will increasingly be under real-time scrutiny, and she warned that studies show that more than 40 percent of job applications contain false credentials. I asked her if she has any sense of whether men or women are more likely to embellish their resumes, and she said she does not:

    I think this is an interesting prediction that we felt compelled to make. We’re doing ongoing research right now on career development and job hunting, and a couple of themes have come up from employers and employees that are making us realize that things are tough out there, and people are doing things that maybe they didn’t consider doing in the past. Firms are telling us that they are absolutely doing background checks, and they’re even hiring firms to do background checks and drug tests, more so than before. Employees are telling us that now they are engaging in well over five interviews per job; some of them are doing up to 12, including phone and in-person interviews. Employers are telling us that they are seriously checking references, and looking for good references—a brother or sister or friend isn’t considered a good reference. We’re also hearing from employers that they’re absolutely checking college credentials, and employees are telling us that they have been asked to participate in behavioral interviewing, which is being able to prove that they have problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, using tangible examples from previous jobs showing that they’ve accomplished something. So it’s really getting tough out there. Employers have gone out and hired people, only to learn that the person lied, and now they have to deal with the repercussions of having to let this person go and finding another person. So it’s pretty frustrating.

    But might not women have more of an incentive to embellish their resumes than men do since they’re so often playing on an uneven playing field? Wilen-Daugenti said she doesn’t think so:

    We don’t specifically ask that question about resumes of women. But what we did do is ask people about their value systems in our women’s study. Women are much higher on ethics and transparency than men are. They’re lower on taking risks. So if I had to guess, I would guess that men might be doing riskier acts, and being less ethical and transparent. But I can’t prove that to you. The focus of our study was on women and leaders, and both genders felt that women were far more advanced in terms of ethics and transparency.

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