Getting Old, Indeed

The overt dismissiveness that female IT professionals encounter is one of the factors that explains the pay disparity between women and men in IT.

Last weeks column struck a chord with a lot of readers, but not the one I thought it would. When I wrote about the embarrassing practice of using women as eye candy being revived at last months Gartner Symposium/ITXpo 2007, I thought most readers would respond by condemning the practice as an affront to female IT professionals. I was wrong.

The majority of readers who responded to the column had no problem with the fact that Vanco, a U.K. network service provider, featured two scantily clad ring girls in its boxing-themed display at the opening reception of the Gartner event. When I took issue with the incident and suggested that it warranted a reaction of outrage among IT professionals, I got an earful from readers who faulted me for making a big deal about it and taking political correctness to an extreme.

If you do not like a promotion then do not visit the booth. Lets keep a little perspective, please, one reader advised. Get over it, echoed another. And stop with this political correctness nonsense. Its getting very old.

What I found especially interesting was that some readers suggested that I was making a connection between the behavior of the two women and the degradation of the female IT professionals in attendance.

The two women were behaving immodestly, one reader wrote. To say the behavior of a few reflects on the larger group is absurd and only applies to the weak-minded or foolish. Another reader disagreed with my contention that the women were being used.

No, were talking about women being PAID. Theres a difference, he wrote. The ring girl models knew exactly what they were doing, and are about the last persons who need or deserve sympathy in this situation. ... Any female CIO who felt degraded or demeaned by this vendor exhibit was simply reacting stupidly.

Now, let me be clear: I was in no way judging the behavior of the two women, nor was I suggesting that their behavior warranted sympathy. Im confident that they were both over 18, and they had every right to make the choice to work as models at the event. Indeed, they were being paid. But make no mistake: They were also being used. That the vast majority of readers who responded to the column are oblivious to or dismissive of how they were being used is the problem.

Vanco used the women to attract the crowds attention to its booth. And the mind-set behind the planning and execution of that strategy was that the target crowd would be attracted by provocatively dressed women. The targets were males.

The fact that the two women made the choice they did isnt what was demeaning to the female IT professionals at the event. What was demeaning was the presumption that it was acceptable to adopt a strategy that targeted males. The fact that so many people cant see that, or can see it but have no problem with it, explains a lot.

For one thing, it helps to explain the phenomenon that was once again documented by our annual IT salary survey: Women are paid less than men for doing the same work. As we show in this weeks Jobs Report 2007, the average total compensation for men in 2007 was $91,460, up 3.8% from last year. For women, it was $83,510, up 3.5% from last year. The fact that that 9% disparity is down from last years 12% figure is little consolation if youre on the short end of the stick.

When Ive written about this topic in the past, Ive made it clear that I recognize that the numbers arent weighted to account for factors such as family considerations. Such factors compel women to steer away from making potentially career-enhancing changes such as relocating, so dollar-for-dollar comparisons dont tell the whole story.

But neither do the career-restricting decisions that some women make. To suggest otherwise is as absurd as the overt dismissiveness that female IT professionals all too often encounter. And to borrow the words of one of my correspondents, its getting very old.

For more of my take on reader reaction to the "Using Women" column, see my blog: computerworld.com/blogs/tennant.

Don Tennant is editorial director of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

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