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Intel CIO is a woman. So what?

 

Never mind diversity, what about gender equality?

The rather bleak outlook for women in IT is not lost on Carolyn Leighton, president and chairwoman of Women in Technology International (WITI). Leighton founded WITI in 1989 after working as a consultant with women technologists in California’s Silicon Valley and hearing about some of their workplace frustrations. The organization — which bills itself as the leading trade association for technology women, with chapters worldwide — boasts some 2 million members. She shares Logan’s puzzlement about the trend of women in technology.

“In the last year, I’ve heard more stories [about women’s experiences in Silicon Valley] similar to the very beginning when I started WITI than I had heard in years, and it was pretty upsetting and discouraging,” she said. “There seems to be progress in terms of getting more women into C-level positions; on the other hand, there seems to be little organizational transformation going on in companies.” Pressed, Leighton recounted one story of a Harvard-educated entrepreneur who, with one successful company already under her belt and looking for funding for a second startup, was grilled by Silicon Valley venture capital investors on when she was planning on getting pregnant. “I haven’t quite figured out why this seems to be occurring.”

And, while a multimillion-dollar diversity program like Intel’s is certainly laudable in its goal of making the tech industry more representative of the population, Leighton is among those who are deeply skeptical and, frankly, dismayed by the industry’s habit of lumping women — who, after all, represent 50% of the population and without whom none of the Silicon Valley male hotshots would exist — into so-called diversity programs.

“They are making policy around diversity and compliance, rather than as a business initiative and, in my opinion, missing an opportunity to recognize women as serious business contributors,” she said. “Most smart, well-educated, talented women find it offensive and insulting.” Couple that approach with policies that give bonuses to managers for hiring women, she added, and “women walk into an environment where they’re already doomed because the men are angry, and some are going to do everything they can to make sure they fail.”

Gartner’s Logan concurred on the negative perception of diversity programs. “Particularly in America, that stuff rubs us the wrong way. Moreover, diversity, at that level, happens way too late,” she said, pointing to the decline in women computer science graduates. “I don’t want anyone to perceive me as anything other than 100% capable and competent to do the job, and these diversity programs don’t seem to operate that way,” she said.

As for solutions, well, there are some interesting ideas afoot: Many companies are replacing diversity programs with inclusion programs, and there is talk of making institutional changes designed to support women with families. But that’s a column for another day. In the meantime, who can tell what having a female as commander in chief could do for women in tech?

 

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