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Women in Midwest IT Have to Fight, Work Harder

CHICAGO - Here is a joke my dad told me (actually, he told it to my 10-year-old daughter and she passed it on): Three guys were walking on a beach and they found a bottle with a cork in it. They opened it up and a genie popped out. "Thanks guys! I was in that bottle for 150 years," the genie says. "I'll grant you each one wish as a thank you for letting me out."

So the first guy says: "I want a million dollars," so the genie immediately writes the guy a check for $1 million and they go to the bank and cash it. The first guy is now rich. Then, the second guy says: "I want to be twice as smart as I am now," so the genie says: "OK," and he waves his hand and the guy is suddenly twice as smart as he was before. Then the third guy says: "Well, I want to be twice as smart as the guy before me," so the genie says: "Are you really sure about that? What if I just make you exactly as smart as your friend?" "No way. I want to be twice as smart as him," the guy says. "Well," the genie says, "if you're really sure…" and he waves his hand and the guy turns into a woman. Hey!

I told you my 77-year-old dad told that joke, so if he doesn't see it as male bashing, neither should you.

Why am I telling you this joke in this column? Here's why: In this column, we talk about working in technology in the Midwest. You might think: Well, if you're working at all right now, count your blessings. True. It is good to be employed when a lot of people are not. Still, it is really difficult in Chicago and elsewhere to be a woman in IT.

It's perfectly fine to be the PR chief at a technology company (and a woman), a marketing person or even - sometimes - the head of finance. A woman running HR? Well, duh. They've pretty much taken over the field (wonder what that has done to salary levels). But a woman actually doing technology? We're still breaking down that barrier and it's not a rapid process.
Where do I get this information? First, from the women on these Midwestern listservs who correspond with me: ChicWIT (Chicago), MilwWIT (Milwaukee), MotorWIT (Detroit), ArchWIT (St. Louis), IndyWIT (Indiana) and KCWIT (Kansas City). The horror stories are current (from this year and this week). It is still an old boys' club in many IT departments (in big corporations especially). Women have to fight harder for good assignments, have their work more closely scrutinized and constantly prove their technical know-how

Why is this? Why is it so hard for women to be accepted in IT roles?

"People keep telling me I should be in technical marketing or be a sales engineer" is a common complaint. After all, women are such good communicators (or so we're told). Why do you want to write code or design systems? Leave that to the guys. Of course, there are exceptions. There are wonderful organizations where women are welcomed in technical roles and given plum assignments. Still, these seem to be the few and far between situations.

Employers bemoan the low (and falling) enrollment numbers for women in technical degree programs. Even in this tight hiring market, they fight over promising females who graduate with math, double-E and mechanical engineering degrees. When these women actually start working, though, oftentimes the warm reception extended by HR and the hiring managers isn't echoed by the rest of the team.

Why is this? Every construction crew you see along the highway has women in it. Why is technology so hard for us to break into? Why do we have to fight to be recognized for our contributions? Why do women so often end up as product or project managers when they really want to design circuits or be architects?

These days, there is a residual feeling that serious technical work is one of the few things men can claim as their own in the work world. Some men just don't feel that women can hold their own technically (or maybe it would be too upsetting if they did). So they put up obstacles, don't collaborate and don't support their female colleagues.

Where do I get this impression? I hear about it every day. This is no exaggeration. A good manager can make a huge difference, of course, but if a company doesn't pay attention to its technical women, it will lose them in spirit (where it counts) if not literally

I can't really say that your IT women are twice as smart as the guys, of course, but if they've gotten through a typical engineering or information systems degree program, they've got guts, stamina and intestinal fortitude in spades. So next time you see one of your female techie team members, why don't you ask her: "How are you doing? Anything I can do to help?" You might start a good conversation.

Send your job advice questions and observations to Liz at Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at

Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of the The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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