Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chic and Geek

A beautiful blue eyed blonde and a quiet Indian man walk into an office.  I know this sounds like the beginning of a joke or a limerick, but please bear with me... The CEO and CIO greets them both with a smile and a handshake.  They start talking about the vision of their company, and what keeps them up at night as they work to achieve it.  As they start to discuss their internal network, the focus of their eyes goes immediately towards the young man.  They get in the weeds talking about stackable 3750 chassis switches, backwards wireless compatibility of  802.11 N vs G, ASA Security devices, and redundant routing within their network... as his eyes glaze over.  ::Gulp:: Clears throat:: "Ahem, great questions" he says with a sheepish grin, "you might want to ask our engineer".  She smiles proudly.

This is not a made up tale ladies and gentleman, this is a true story of the accounts of one of my dear friends, and one of the few, and proud, female Cisco Engineers.  She and I were in the ASR/ASE program together over 8 years ago at Cisco for technical boot camp into the world of Sales and Technology.  For over eight years she has been a proud engineer with Cisco.  Often upon walking into a board room, or cold call unfortunately,  without knowing roles they automatically default to her male counterpart to answer the tough technical questions.  Little do they know they are about to be schooled by the elite knowledge and expertise of what I affectionately call, a chic geek.

In my last blog Talk Nerdy to Me I discussed my personal story and some interesting stats of women in IT.  I have been nominated for the esteemed honor of being considered one of the SMB150. Shameless plug-  I would love if you could Please Vote for Me Here :).  I could not possibly be any happier, as I have extreme respect and admiration for SMB Nation, and all of the Nominees.  For those who don't know (get out from under a rock! hehe) SMB Nation is a publishing and events company, targeted at the small and medium business (SMB) channel partner/reseller/consulting/VAR community. SMB Nation spreads the knowledge of SMB technology trends through its conferences, books, SMB PC magazine, online services, and world-wide seminars, workshops and accredited.  They are truly a fabulous organization!

Unfortunately, I was remiss to see the stats on how out numbered women were in the competition?  Is that a reflection of women in IT over all?   It inspired me to do some research, but to be fair I wanted to expand to all top tech competitions.  A clear and evident truth is women are outnumbered in the techie world, those facts and figures were illustrated by the lack of representation of women, and the decline in the past decade- details and stats in Talk Nerdy To Me).  However the question arises, are the ladies who ARE involved fairly represented?  Do women get an equal shot at leadership positions (not BECAUSE they are a woman, but in spite of it)?  We can cast opinions and speculations but let's let the facts speak for themselves.

I looked at four overall, but the first one I looked at of course was SMB150, and found the following stats for this year:

It appears ladies, we are substantially out numbered in every single category. This year out of 328 nominees 32 were women, about 10%.   I was compelled to look at the previous year, I could not see all of the nominees but out of 150 winners, 18 women were represented, just over 11%. Was this a common trend?  I needed to dig deeper...

Next I looked as MSPmentor 250, the annual look at the executives, entrepreneurs, experts, coaches and community leaders shaping the global managed services market.  MSPmentor, produced by Nine Lives Media, defines themselves as "the ultimate guide to managed services and the leading global destination for managed service providers".  A well respected collection of media reporters, who self admittedly "cover the news, the gossip and the speculation — responsibly" with a focus on the entire MSP community.  I personally am a huge fan of all they have done in our IT Community, and an avid reader.
I searched hopefully through the 52 pages of esteemed names and winners.  You can imagine my surprise when I realized out of 250 people, out of all of the vast categories, there were 18 women represented as a leader in the MSP global managed service arena in 2011, approximately 7%.  That was a slight improvement from the 14 listed  in 2010- approximately 5% of the winners. I asked the obvious questions, Are women not active in this community?  Do women not make leadership positions to obtain this viability?  This calls for some more research I thought.

The quest to find successful women who were recognized went north of the border. CDN Computer Dealer News, eh ;)  Each year CDN, Canada's No. 1 IT channel publication, selects the leading executives and one news trend that made the biggest impact on the channel. Out of the top 25 news makers in 2010- 4 were women, 20 men, and there was 1 issue (but at 16% that is the highest thus far).  In 2011  they raised in the categories of men and issues:  with two men on one slide, they squeezed in one extra bonus gentleman, and went up to 2 issues.  Unfortunately, only 3 women made the list (down one from the year before), however compared to the other statistics, that is still high at 12%.  In defense of CDN, the number one news maker, and the person who got this cover was in fact a woman!  Huge congratulations to Leyland Brown of HP Canada and for CDN to recognize her incredible achievements!
Women managed to go down in a year over year analysis

I wasn't going to give up hope, there had to be some more ladies somewhere out there.  The search continued with the CRN Channel Chiefs for 2012.  CRN is considered one of the top news sources for solution providers and the IT channel, providing up-to-date technology news, IT vendor and product reviews, channel partners.  Out of 250 Channel Executives, 32 fantastic ladies were represented (13%) , a slight raise compared to 29 represented in 2011 (12%).   Of course, the statistics would dig to a deeper issue, why are there not more women channel chiefs?  If there were, I am sure they would be recognized fairly by all of the respective parties.  
In fact, I  am happy to report that CRN saw an opportunity to highlight what they deemed the Power 100: The Most Powerful Women of The Channel.  Gathered from the ranks of CRN's annual Women of the Channel, the Power 100 spotlights 100 female executives who stand out as driving forces in their respective companies and in the industry as a whole, providing the insight and influence that lead to channel success.  I am very proud that they took time to seek out 100 talented, intelligent, and successful contributing women in the Channel.  Kudos to them and all of the winners!

The facts are what they are, and my call to action is for a change, a revolution if you will.   We cannot shoot the messengers, or blame the well deserving men who are in the industry; in fact I commend them and compliment them on their incredible savvy skills, and outstanding work in our IT Industry.  I  respect  and admire many of them, especially the incredible leaders and teams of SMBNation, MSP Mentor, CRN, and CDN.     I think however we have many talented women as well, and I just wish that there was more female representation, as we do make up half the population and on average appear to get 10% of the recognition.  The National Center for Women & Information Technology, showed female employment in the IT industry reached its high point in 1991, when women made up 36 percent of the industry's workforce. Since then, the number of technology jobs held by women has been on the decline. Unconscious bias, gender pay gaps, feelings of isolation, lack of role models and mentors, poor supervisory relationships and competing life responsibilities are all major contributing factors to the decline. 

Nearly 50 years after the modern women's movement began, the omission of women is fairly common, yet many people assume the battle for equality is largely over. Gloria Steinem is quoted as saying " Perfectly nice guys will say to me, 'You must be so happy you've won!'; and she retorts " 'But are you working for a woman?' And they look appalled.  The March 2012 Newsweek spotlights the top150 fearless women: symbols of strength. They report the allocation of power remains stunningly lopsided, from business and politics, to academia, law and religion (just watch the Republican debates to figure that one out- sorry I had too ;)).  Barnard College President Debora Spar stated at a White House Conference on urban economic development last month,  "We have fallen into...the 16 percent ghetto, which is that if you look at any sector be in aero-space engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women max out at roughly 16 percent....That is a crime, and is a waste of incredible talent". 

Although statistically, young women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men do, they soon fall behind professionally. In the book Women and Leadership, Deborah Rhode and Barbara Kellerman reported "In management women account for about a third of M.B.A. classes, but only 2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, 6 percent of top earners, 8 percent of top leadership positions, and 16 percent of board directors and corporate officers".  These statistics would account for the lack of visibility and recognition, but how do we change that?

Have no fear...There is light at the end of the tunnel... and it's not a train! 

There are amazing organizations stepping up to inspire women in Technology.  I am a longstanding member of Women In Technology (WIN) and often give speeches in the hopes of inspiring young women.  I recently became a member of.  CompTIA's newest community: "Advancing Women in IT".  This Community is committed to empowering women with knowledge and skills necessary to help their pursuit of successful IT careers, as well as to inspire women to make the IT field their career choice. The group will serve as a vital information resource, providing mentorship and networking opportunities; developing member-driven initiatives and programs; and taking an active role in legislation involving women and careers.

"Women have realized many breakthroughs in the work place, but the truth is our progress has stalled in IT," said Nancy Hammervik, senior vice president, industry relations, CompTIA.  She continued, "As someone who has spent nearly my entire career in high tech industry, I'm acutely aware of the gender gap...CompTIA is committed to doing its part to raise awareness of the valuable role women can and do play in our industry and to affect change to bring more women into our ranks."

The CompTIA Advancing Women in IT Community launches with members in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and South Africa. Members include women currently working in the IT industry, women seeking IT careers and men who support the mission of diversifying the IT workforce.The community is led by chair Sandy Ashworth, global director of channel relations and warranty for Unisys Corporation, and vice chair Jean Mork Bredenson, president, SERVICE 800, Inc.  "Our goal is not only to provide 'how to' knowledge, but also be the conduit and people resource to give women the mentoring, networking and career path guidance needed to advance in or join in the IT industry," said Ashworth. 

It is my hope that through this awareness we can work together, men and women, side by side, to create, empower, and support the many talented and intelligent women in our industry.   Ladies, you inspire me each and every day, and I am proud to be in your company.  We may be fewer but we are just as strong, intelligent, capable, and ready and willing to make a difference. 


  1. Michelle, fabulously written, documented and spoken!

    1. Thank you so very much Lisbeth! I am humbled by the wonderful comments I have received on this and my Talk Nerdy to Me blog, by men and women alike. They have flooded in over e-mail, LinkedIN, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. I am pleased I was able to shed some light on what I consider and extremely important issue; and the amazing feedback shows me, we are on the right path to creating awareness, and making a change for the better!