Mind The Gap: Execs Say Gender Gap In IT Is Closing, But Work Isn't Done Yet

The technology industry is making strides toward narrowing the gender gap and promoting greater diversity within the once male-dominated IT industry, but the work is far from over.

The numbers are, in part, encouraging. According to a poll of 100 female executives leading up to The Channel Company's recent Women of the Channel West event in Napa, Calif., there is still a gap in how women view their working environments. The research found that 75 percent of women in management positions believe they are treated equal to males on the management team, and 77 percent reported experiencing no hindrance related to their gender.

At the same time, however, 77 percent of women in non-management roles still believe their male counterparts are being paid more and 82 percent of these respondents think that women are held to higher standards than male co-workers.

[Power 100: The Most Powerful Women Of The Channel 2016]

Sponsored post

"That to me is still a gap," Lisa MacKenzie, partner and senior vice president of The Channel Company, said during the opening keynote of the event.

The good news is the pipeline for getting women and girls into tech careers is growing, thanks to STEM programs geared toward young girls and increased visibility into various IT career paths at the college level, believes Brooks McCorcle, president of AT&T Partner Solutions.

"The pipeline is robust, but the facts support that we still have a ways to go—it's a work in progress," McCorcle said.

With more women coming into technology, the focus needs to shift to elevating more women into the top levels of leadership, Tina Gravel, senior vice president of global channel and strategic alliances at Waltham, Mass.- based Cryptzone, said. In the Fortune 500 in 2015, only 22 of the companies had female CEOs, or around 4.4 percent of the overall list. While women are climbing the ranks, Gravel said she would still like to see more women in the top leadership and strategic roles.

"It's certainly a lot more women than when I started, but it's amazing that it hasn't progressed more," Gravel said.

However, some companies are already defying that trend, appointing female executives to their top channel leadership roles. Verizon Enterprise Solutions now has Janet Schijns at the helm of its global channel partner program. Schijns said she hopes to encourage more women in the technology industry to break into leadership roles.

"I think it's important to all of us that women are in leadership positions in an equal proportion to males. It's about having balanced diversity," she said.

Sophos' Kendra Krause is another example. Krause was promoted to vice president of global channels in April 2015, a move she said pushed her out of her comfort zone after previously leading channels for North America, but has allowed her to work with executives around the world to grow their channel programs.

"More times than not I walk into a room and I'm the only woman in the room. ... You have to be OK with that and confident enough to speak up in those scenarios," Krause said. "That's what will help you advance in your career and make those next steps."

Closing the gap starts with building awareness, Krause said, an area in which the tech industry has made a lot of progress. That awareness has translated into company programs to develop women in the workplace, a focus on diversity in hiring, and events to encourage women in technology, she said.

"I do think that it is getting better. I don't think it's where we need to be as an industry … but, I do think there has been a lot of increased awareness lately. That's a fantastic step," Krause said.

Mentoring is also key to help break women into more leadership roles, AT&T's McCorcle said. AT&T has had a heavy focus on mentoring for the past 15 years. Today, about 36 percent of AT&T's workforce is female, and about 60 percent of its female managers are in a mentoring relationship.

"[Mentoring] allows you to share your story and your experiences to help young leaders, but it also allows us to take advantage of that fresh thinking and renewed energy," McCorcle said. "I get a lot from mentoring."

Wendy Petty, executive director of global channel sales for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, agreed, saying she has had mentors throughout her career and believes she wouldn't have reached her post at Verizon without their influence. Sophos' Krause echoed that idea, saying that both male and female mentors have helped provide advice, encouragement and a person to bounce ideas off of throughout her career.

"I think more people need to reach out and get mentors. I really strongly encourage women to do that. ... No one can do this alone," Krause said.

In addition to mentorship, creating an office culture that helps its employees strike a balance between their responsibilities at work and at home is critical, Petty said. For example, she said providing a more flexible working environment is important for women, as well as their male peers. "One thing that was always important to me was to have the ability to say, 'I have to leave at 3 p.m. today to go to my son's lacrosse game.' I think a lot office cultures are still too rigid, and women get the guilt complex feeling," she said.

While companies can do a lot to encourage diversity, the Women of the Channel executives also said it is important for women to work on developing and promoting themselves in the workplace, particularly when it comes to a personal brand.

"As you grow in your career and become successful, you have gained the right to talk about what you have done and for people to want to know who you are and what you have accomplished," Petty said. "But, always keep in mind that it will change as you change."