By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard
Last week at TDWI I was proud to moderate and participate in a special panel on Women in BI: Having It All or Hard Choices? We tackled the issues of juggling career and life, decline in women in math and science degrees, and the gender pay gap.
Juggling career and life is not only a challenge for mothers and women. It is an elusive quest for any worker who also wants a life. I've pondered this issue since I was a teen, raised largely by my then bachelor father who was very successful and a workaholic. I loved my father dearly, and quite frankly, missed him as he worked nights, weekends, and traveled a lot. When I became a mother, I had no female role model, and I only knew that I wanted my children to have a different childhood than the one I had. And so began a 16 year process of trial and error that has ranged from full time to part time to stay-at-home mom, to currently owner of my own business, BI Scorecard.
So when newly anointed CEO Melissa Mayer announced she wouldn't miss a beat post birth of her baby, willing to do conference calls from the maternity ward, I first laughed then lamented her situation. She, her spouse, and her child will learn that there are hard choices and no perfect recipe. There was some backlash when Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first female director of policy planning at the State Department, declared in a recent Atlantic Monthly article that "Women Can't Have It All" and we'd all be better off if we stopped fooling ourselves, and setting younger women (like Melissa Mayer) up for heartache and failure. With these confluence of events, and negative indicators on where women are heading in IT, I suggested to TDWI that we needed to provide a forum for conversation … and suggestions … and hope.
If you define success by having a fulfilling career as well as a life, then you can have it all. If, however, you only define success only by reaching a certain level, whether CIO or CEO, while also being there for your spouse, your kids, friends, and maintaining your health, then the stories suggest it's impossible. Our panelists were wonder women in their own rights. Theresa Marvin, senior BI developer at Fannie Mae, juggles six children and coaches multiple basketball teams. That Fannie Mae allows her to work remotely enables her to live closer to extended family, providing a crucial support net. Jessica Thorud, Director of Enterprise Travel Data Warehouse and BI solutions at Sabre Holdings, is able to squeeze in early morning work outs while also managing a global development team and two children. Claudia Imhoff, President of Intelligent Solutions, and author of The Corporate Information Factory, concedes that there have been sacrifices for an illustrious career. "My time is planned sometimes months in advance, whereas my daughter's is the day before. There are things in her life – recitals, concerts - I've had to miss," said Imhoff. "But on the plus side, she's gotten to travel with me and see the world." In a reversal of roles that has increased during the recession, Imhoff's husband works with her. She is his boss.
The consensus on the panel was that there are choices in what gets short-changed and what gets prioritized. The room applauded with knowing laughter as one of us confessed, "My Christmas tree came down in February, and I had to pay somebody else to do it!" Ultimately, we all were comfortable with our choices. For me, I have sacrificed a steady pay check with a prestigious company for a degree of flexibility and consistently challenging work … for now.
IT is a Man's World
Women now account for 46.6% of the U.S. workforce, but in the IT space it's only 25%. There are not precise numbers for women in BI, but based on respondents to TDWI's annual salary report and attendance at last week's conference, it's also about 25%. As women move up the ladder in the BI space, that number shrinks, and according to the latest TDWI Annual Salary report, only 9% of BI Directors were women. Elizabeth Garvey, director of Information Services at Allstate, says she never noticed the difference earlier in her career, but now when she enters a meeting room, she is more frequently the only woman.
At one point in my career, I worked for a big 5 consulting firm, consistently recognized for being a mother-friendly place. I give that firm credit for trying to attract women, but when all of the partners in my group were men with stay-at-home wives, I recognized it was not a level playing field. My husband had a high-flying career, and one of us had to get home on time for the nanny to leave. The notion of measuring people truly on results rather than the norm of hours clocked seems more of a wish than a reality. The American culture still seems to glorify the 80-hour-a-week worker. In the information age, "results" are also harder to quantify when we are talking about managing a project, developing a dashboard, or gathering requirements, as opposed to making widgets. That Yahoo just yanked a work- from-home option confirms that some employers don't trust what they can't see, even though studies have found flexible arrangements attract talent and boost productivity.
My employer's solution to helping level the playing field and enabling networking time with men was to pay for golf lessons. As if that was something a working mother would ever have time to master. There is no easy solution.
With women being a minority in IT, Imhoff suggested that finding a sponsor is essential for women to manage their career. "Don't be intimidated if you are the only female in a room. Speak your mind and ideas," advises Imhoff.
Girls Are Opting out of Math and Sciences
From a one time high in the mid 1980s of 35%, the percentage of women receiving computer science degrees has declined to less than 20%.
Laura Reeves, founder of StarSoft Solutions, and author of A Manager's Guide to Data Warehousing attributes part of this decline to lack of female teachers in these fields. Her husband is a high school physics teacher and observes that there are more girls in the AP and honors biology and chemistry classes, where there are female teachers. In this regard, it seems the cycle of decline is self-perpetuating.
Coding is also considered geeky. While software programming may be considered geeky, I would argue that BI is anything but, as it demands a diverse skill set of business, math, technology, and communication. Further, as Imhoff pointed out, everything nowadays involves technology, fueled by the internet, smartphones tablet devices, and social media.
Does it matter if women are leaving these fields? Panelists agreed it matters both for diversity at work and for serving customers. As Garfield explained, women hold 89% of U.S. bank accounts, 51% of all personal wealth and are worth more than 5 trillion in consumer spending On a global level, women are the biggest emerging market in the world, more than twice the size of India and China combined. For Thorud, she attributes the success of the Sabre data warehouse and BI team to its gender and cultural diversity.
Beyond high school and college graduates, women have to take charge of their own education, whether in the work force or when taking a leave of absence. Keeping technical skills up to date is essential regardless of gender.
Show Me The Money
Nationally, the pay gap between men and women is 82% meaning for every dollar a man earns, women earn an average of 82 cents. Some of this is attributed to different career choices. But even when controlling for education, experience, and job rank, gaps remain. According to TDWI salary survey data, the gap in BI is slightly better with women earning an average of 87% of the average male salary, but it has widened in the last few years (the 2013 report will be published next month, but TDWI allowed me to do some additional analysis by gender) . Certain jobs paint a disheartening story. For example, a decision support architect or developer earns 76% of a man's average salary, business sponsors average 80%, and systems analysts 82%. Some argue the gap doesn't exist or is a matter of women's career choices, but even controlling for experience and education, differences in salary remain.
Garfield noted the difference in how women are typically hired and compensated: men are often hired and compensated for their potential, whereas women are compensated for past performance. Prove yourself first and you might get paid better or promoted.
In the book Women Don't Ask, the authors argue that the pay gap starts at the very beginning, with an initial job offer. Women are more likely to accept the salary offered, setting that as a life-long base line. Men meanwhile, will at least ask: is the offer fare? Do I deserve more based on X, Y, and Z? I see this same difference played out in my own children, a daughter now 16, and a son, now 14. When my daughter baby sits and a family asks how much she charges, she responds, "Whatever you think is fair." My son, when asked to do a big project in the yard, will negotiate out the wazoo. If my daughter took my son's approach, she should say to a family, "The going rate is X, but I'm certified in CPR, busy, in demand, and the best you'll ever find with kids so I deserve a 50% premium over the going rate." It will never happen.
As a parent, I should be teaching my daughter this negotiation skill. But how can I, when I prefer her approach? A man who attended the panel amusingly reminded me, "When will the meek inherit the earth?"
A key to closing the pay gap then is for women to start asking, or at least start thinking about their worth. Take a class in negotiation, and if you don't have time for that, read Getting to Yes. Finally, study those salary surveys and know where you stand, or should stand.
"Having It All" is a Journey
There is no cookie cutter solution to having it all, or a right answer for choosing career over family and vice versa. In an era where we try to be professional and politically correct, I fear that we have stopped talking about our choices. We are all looking for answers and support in how we can do things better, what works, what doesn't. So I hope this first-time panel at TDWI will provide an ongoing forum for sharing ideas, for recruiting more girls into our field, and for addressing the pay gap. If you are a female leader, I hope you will reach out to some of those new recruits and high school girls to provide inspiration. If you have some suggestions on what's worked, what's failed, I'd love to hear from you--because I'm still figuring this all out myself!
Some useful resources:
Women in Technology: Carolyn Leighton founded WITI to help women advance by providing access to - and support from - other professional women working in all sectors of technology.
National Center for Women in Technology: Non-profit community of more than 300 corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and non-profits working to increase women's participation in technology and computing.