I just led a panel on how to become a developer. If more than five people in the room were women, I'd be surprised. Debbie Madden, Cyrus Innovation
But that's not the case at every organization, she says -- and that's an assessment shared by a number of young, midcareer and executive-level tech women. Their general takeaway: IT has come a long way in its attitudes toward women, but there's still a long way to go.
As someone who has been recruiting developers and other tech employees in the New York area for the past 17 years, Debbie Madden counts herself among the ranks of senior technical women who are dismayed by the glacial pace of change.
"I just led a panel on how to become a developer. There were 150 people in the room, and if more than five of them were women, I'd be surprised," says Madden, executive vice president at software developer Cyrus Innovation. "When I was majoring in engineering, there was a lot of hope that women were finally starting to take on more of these STEM degrees. People were very hopeful, but I'm not seeing that now."
Madden worries that women might be taking themselves out of the mix early on in the game over work-life concerns. "One big problem is retention," she says. "Many women that I know, even when they're in their 20s, they choose careers that are going to allow them to have children. But when you're a developer working on a project, you need to be there five long days a week."
The up-all-night "brogrammer" culture at some startups doesn't help, she says. "No one's intentionally preventing female engineers from working at those companies; it's just an overall culture that's not appealing to a lot of women."
Footsteps to follow
Having come up through the ranks when IT was not particularly tuned in to family concerns, Marina Lubinsky, senior vice president and CIO at hotelier Oakwood Worldwide, likes to keep an eye out for employees who may be in need of support with work-life challenges. Her concern stems directly from her own experiences in the early 1990s.
"I was with Arthur Andersen when I started a family. At that time, you were either on or off the track." -- Marina Lubinsky, Oakwood Worldwide
"I was in Europe with Arthur Andersen, which is now Accenture, when I started a family -- twin boys," Lubinsky relates. "At that time, you were either on the track or off the track. The company was closed off on what to do with me, and I was pretty much closed off to any alternatives as well."