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Closing the gender gap in the tech industry

Teresa Carlson
Teresa Carlson is Vice President of Microsoft Federal. Her most recent recognitions include being named a Federal 100 winner, one of Fast Company's 2010 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology, AFCEA's Industry Executive of the Year award for 2010, and a Women in Technology finalist in the 2010 Women of the Year Health IT category.

Over the past two decades women have increasingly taken on leadership positions across all sectors of our society. Even though the statistics indicate that we still have some ground to make up to close the gender gap, women are well on their way to impacting the most influential industries of the future.

Yes, according to the White House Project women account for only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, only 16 percent of corporate officers and less than a quarter of U.S. congressional representatives and judges. However, I think the larger picture is a bit more complex with numbers rising in a variety of areas. If we focus our efforts, we can increase all those numbers to dramatic effect.

What has been confirmed for me recently by spending time among some of the smartest women in America, from Ann Veneman, previous Executive Director of UNICEF, to Meg Whitman, former eBay chief and now candidate to be California's Governor, is that women are uniquely qualified and gifted to lead if they are prepared to deliver results AND prepared to compete aggressively.

In the technology sector, I see both promise and challenges. Statistics are promising when it comes to business jobs in technology, with women bringing their diversity of thought and ideas to the table. Not only do women know how to get things done, but they blend efficiency with creativity to positively impact their businesses.

On the engineering side, female representation is more challenging. For the technology industry to truly thrive, it needs our best women serving in leadership roles. We need to create corporate cultures that include females with technical skills and business savvy. At Microsoft, there is tremendous opportunity for women across both job types. The need for engineering technology skills is on the rise, and women must prepare to participate in the 21st century economy. I am bullish on technology because it's home to the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Two things need to converge in the U.S., bolstering the pipeline of female representation in technology careers, and helping women more aggressively pursue their career aspirations. If we focus like a laser on training along these lines, the result will be new job creation, more gender diversity and emerging innovation here in the U.S. Two lessons I took from my father and my Kentucky roots can help us get there: numbers and competition.

First, numbers. Fortunately for me, my father was a math teacher, and at a very young age I understood the importance of math. This awareness placed me on a path toward the technology industry. Most girls don't have a math teacher as a parent. So, for us as a country to reach our first goal of ensuring women explore the opportunities in technology, we must start encouraging mathematics early and continue through their lifetime. For example, National Science Foundation programs begin at the elementary age and continue through graduate level schooling.

Corporations are also making strides to attract and nurture women. At Microsoft we have a program called Digigirlz, which gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, chat with Microsoft's female leaders, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops at no cost to the girls or their families. It's this type of instruction in more communities which will begin to build the next generation of technology leaders and create a decidedly female pipeline for the university system and its Computer Science undergraduates.

The second lesson I learned from my father, who was also a high school basketball coach, was competition. You don't grow up in a state like Kentucky with a father who coached basketball and NOT get competitiveness in your blood. I strongly believe that the competitive mentality is something critical for women leaders of every industry.

Women can't be afraid to ask for what they want, whether it's more responsibility, more pay, or both. We need to pursue opportunities aggressively, and be prepared to deliver. In my world, "delivering" means helping the federal government become more effective and efficient through the use of technology. I compete rigorously with others in this industry, and our customers are the ones who ultimately benefit. When women combine the needed skill-sets with the drive to fiercely compete, they will have an unmatched edge in the ingredients for success.

In the many leadership forums around this city and beyond, one common sentiment I've noticed is that women are typically good communicators and listeners. We're great multi-taskers. We thrive on collaboration. And since leading people starts with understanding people, women often bring a highly developed set of social skills that facilitate productive, harmonious team building. Through mutual respect, great communication and a great working attitude, women possess the inherent skills to inspire others and accomplish great things.

By Teresa Carlson

 |  August 3, 2010; 11:47 AM ET |  Category:  Women in leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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So true! Being involved with the Bethesda AFCEA Chapter, which grants scholarships to several Maryland colleges in the areas of Science and Technology; it is always AMAZING to me the decline of females entering into these fields. As parents, educators, and leaders in our communities, we all need to do our part to encourage our young women to be more competitive and to go after their career choice, whatever it is, regardless if it's historically been a "male dominated" field!

Posted by: FedITdhall | August 5, 2010 10:24 AM

bland corporate speak, like calling problems 'challenges' and dull cliches about communication, respect and a 'great working attitude' make this astoundingly dull. I suspect many iterations of this made its way around an over-paid PR firm where it was watered down this pap.
I'll refrain from laughing at the frequent references to MSFT, where the engineering and tech hallways are notorious boys clubs. The hellish hours, including weekend and the famous Steve Ballmer Easter morning meeting, help create a genuinely hostile workplace to those seeking work life balance. It used to be worth it when the stock was on a tear.
Recruiters openly told prospects from the Valley that they could clock their 4.5 year vesting period, get "rich" and leave. Or stay. There were always warm bodies willing to run the gauntlet. They recruit worldwide for this.
Now with the stock stuck for years under $30 (karmic payback?) the deal is less appealing.
Women who stumble into MSFT often leave, grateful to have Redmond in the rear view mirror.
Too bad this MSFT lobbyist did not tackle the real issues for women in tech, from the soft-core porn shown to captive audiences at tech conferences as kick-offs, to the anti-female bent of the games so many geeks devote hours to.

Posted by: FloridaChick | August 5, 2010 9:04 AM

Excellent article. What struck me was the bonding Teresa had with her math teacher/basketball coach father. I think about the number of girls who have absent fathers and who miss out on a healthy perspective of competition that can be learned at home.
I am also curious about how yound boys with absent fathers learn about right competitivness. This is more than just looking at the female view. It is about partnership and a better way for gender understanding that belongs in our original organization, the family.
In "Don't Bring It to Work" there is a chapter that delves into the behavior patterns handed from one generation to the next.We all need to consider what was handed to us by our mothers as well as our fathers. Even absent parents taught us something about how to live life. It is up to us, the present generation, to harness and refine the critical patterns that can help achieve optimal results and break or transform those that block. It is only then that there will be more gender equity and women will find the statistics reflect a better balance in the work world.

Posted by: sylvia8 | August 4, 2010 7:55 AM

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