Carolyn Leighton is the founder, CEO and chairman of Women in Technology International, or WITI, a leading trade association for technology women with some 2 million members (men included). In part one, "Women in
What do you see that's different now from when you started WITI in 1989, in terms of women's positions and situations in technology?
Leighton: First of all, the biggest difference is that when I started WITI, technology was a vertical industry. Once we got into the '90s, technology moved from a vertical industry to an industry that touches every business anywhere in the world, regardless of size, regardless of industry.
The demand for skilled, competent, smart people has so exploded and will so continue to explode, that the demand, in my view, will be higher than the supply. Once that occurs, then gender biases diminish and women have a greater opportunity. Combine that with the fact that technology has really given women the greatest gift of all -- the gift of being able to work anywhere at any time. We forget -- especially younger people -- that before technology, women didn't have the option of working at home and developing businesses at home. I believe one area where we have seen the greatest growth for women in technology has been female CIOs. In just the last five to seven years, I have seen a huge increase in the number of female CIOs, compared with prior to then, when you'd find one or two.
Technology has really given women the greatest gift of all -- the gift of being able to work anywhere at any time.
CEO, Women in Technology International
Yet if you look at the statistics, a disproportionate number of computer science graduates are still men. Don't the problems start in early education?
Leighton: My theory is the reason there is such a continued problem is that the old model of teaching things like math is so pervasive. Instead of teaching math experientially, there are still schools all over the country that are using the old model. One of the big differences in the way women learn and men learn, I believe, is that women need to feel it, see it, touch it and experience it. I do believe it starts at the very youngest ages, both in our attitude about ourselves as girls and the way we're taught some of those topics.
You have a wonderful video on the WITI website where you talk about why you're committed to helping women in technology. You mention that the entertainer Oprah Winfrey is one of your heroes.
Leighton: I admire Oprah greatly because she is the first woman I know who openly created platforms that no one really talked about and that are so important to women. She has demonstrated, first, the more money you make, the more seriously men will take you; and second, that money is to be used to help those who don't have the capacity to earn a lot of money. Women have been socialized for decades to believe at some level that money is bad and you're a bad girl if you even talk about it or think about it or want it. Oprah has completely turned that whole concept around and lives it in so many different ways.
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I urge women, those women especially who have the benefit of a good education, who are born with a great brain -- that's either something you have or you don't -- and who have the capacity to make money, to stop selling themselves short and to reach much higher. And be bold about it and understand how valuable their talent and contribution is! In order to achieve that, they need to take the time to develop a network of people who can give them the information about what other people are making in their field. They need to study those books on the art of negotiation and have the skill to be able to walk into that room and get rid of their fears. We have this twisted notion, as women, that if we ask for too much, some guy is going to be turned off. It is actually the contrary. Men really admire strong negotiators in women. They admire women who want to and do earn a great deal of money. Women have to get a brain trust that can work with them to make a difference in their search for reaching higher, in promotion, title and money. Very important.
Equal pay for equal work is a hot issue for this election cycle. Would you care to weigh in?
Leighton: Isn't that amazing that in 2012 we're still talking about that? Again, I think we need to get very active politically and to look at what people are doing, not just what they are saying, and really understand that we can also vote with our pocketbooks. I moved one of my accounts out of a brokerage firm that was clearly not dedicated to advancing women. All the people at the top were men. We have to start really putting our money in the companies and candidates that are dedicated to respecting women, have women as part of their organization, and who are clearly committed to helping women achieve whatever it is they are capable of achieving.