The "Systerhood" of Technology

The "Systerhood" of Technology

by / July 29, 2003
Several weeks ago my perspicacious colleague Paul Taylor, who writes the last words in this magazine, pitched me a story that didn't immediately grasp my attention. He suggested that, as a female executive editor in a male-dominated field, I might be interested in the growing number of women CIOs and governors. At press time, there were 10 female state CIOs out of 46 positions, and seven female governors.

Those of us who climbed the corporate ladder through the decades -- when perceptions about women changed and the dialogue about equal opportunities reverberated -- got plenty of splinters in our hands and maybe a few scars. As one who survived certain indignities -- being told I could not be a radio news announcer because my voice would not "carry over drive-time traffic," and one day discovering that a young male on my crew at a publishing house was earning more than I, his supervisor -- I can provide witness to the struggle.

But having made slow and steady progress in my career, as have many women, the fact that 22 percent of state CIOs are women is neither surprising nor encouraging. There is absolutely no reason women should not be equally skilled as men in the government technology arena. This percentage hardly reflects the talented labor pool of women in technology. I suspect the 10 "sisters" feel about their careers as I do about mine. We work hard, do what we have a passion for and expect to be rewarded commensurately. No big deal.

That said, I still often find myself -- as does my colleague Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government -- the sole woman at high-level meetings and panels, and one of few females daring to join the boys on the golf course. (Many of us understand the nervousness of Annika Sorenstam as she broke ground at the Colonial -- knowing you are under a harsh spotlight while male counterparts dance in the daylight.)

The idea that "you've come a long way baby" is very subjective. On average, women still earn approximately three-quarters the salary of men. And if I recall, that encouraging tag line wasn't enticement for us to demand equality but to get hooked on cigarettes. How liberated is that?

Here comes the good news. A demographer recently told me that 60 percent of students in higher education are women. However, he suggested the downside may be the creation of a "Bubba factor" in which young males will be left behind in the knowledge-based future.

There are some very effective organizations supporting women in the high-tech world. Chief among them is Systers, founded in 1987 by the late, irrepressible Anita Borg, who earned a doctorate in computer science in 1981. Her passion was technology, and she blazed many new trails for women before her death from cancer in April of this year.

In our world of government and technology, it is clear women are creating a legacy. At the National Governors Association's 2003 Winter Meeting, the women governors easily asserted themselves as equals at the table, and each year an increasing number of women are elected to Congress and state legislatures. In the coming months, our 10 female state CIOs will prove not only their technology expertise, but also their ability to manage an organization during challenging times.

These women are also trailblazers in the Borg tradition and will leave the door open to other women when they exit the office of CIO. We've come miles since the days when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony demanded equal voting rights, but realistically, the journey is far from over.
Darby Patterson Executive Editor at Large