Few women in top tech roles

Gender gap is smallest among top advisers in governors’ officers

“Women in State Policy Leadership, 1998-2005"

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The share of the highest appointed and elected offices in state government held by women increased by only 1.6 percent in the past eight years, according to a new report on women in state policy leadership positions.

Published by the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany, the report shows that, from 1998 to 2005, the ascent of women to the highest state positions has been slow and uneven. Its authors found that the gender gap is smallest among top advisers in governors’ officers and greatest among state legislators.

The gender gap extends to the top information technology positions in the states. Women are not well-represented among state chief information officers, said Teresa Takai, Michigan’s CIO and director of the Michigan Department of IT. “It’s maybe 10 percent,” Takai said. “In the tech world, that’s really not the kind of representation we would expect.”

In the private sector, at least for entry-level IT positions, women hold about 50 percent of the jobs. “That narrows down as you go up the ladder,” Takai said. “Nonetheless, [10 percent] is a pretty small number, at least as it relates to the private sector.”

Takai said options for increasing the number of women in state CIO positions are somewhat limited because governors make those appointments. “In Michigan, I have a woman governor, so that actually helps enormously if you look at the diversity picture,” Takai said. “She has a number of women in very high-profile Cabinet positions,” which include the departments of Corrections and Transportation. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has a diverse Cabinet “because she feels that more strongly represents citizens and gives her a broader base of opinion,” Takai said.

Michigan’s IT department is taking steps to increase diversity and prepare women for senior executive positions. “We’re taking some of our high-potential women and putting them into leadership training courses so they can make the move from being a technical person into a managerial and leadership role,” Takai said.

For the past 18 months, the IT department has offered those employees the opportunity to enroll in leadership courses offered by Inforum, a statewide nonprofit women’s business networking group. “We’re preparing them, so we expect that they would advance,” Takai said.

In Nebraska, state leaders are involved in succession planning but without the gender focus, said Brenda Decker, the state’s CIO. “CIOs normally come out of a background that is either very technical or they are very strong business leaders,” she said. “If you don’t have a great pool to pick from [in] those two categories, that plays into why you don’t see a lot of women CIOs.”

Mary Carroll, Ohio’s CIO, said she sees less of a gender gap now than she once observed in her 31 years in government. “I think at the state level we do all right,” she said. “I guess my perspective is thinking back to when there were very few of us.”

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