Women in IT: How deep is the bench?

Superstar women lead IT at some of the biggest global corporations, yet the path to the top isn't clear for the next generation.

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Jennifer Klopotoski, a Windows systems administrator team lead, has had few female role models in her education and career, but she feels well supported by her company, Ebsco Publishing, an Ipswich, Mass., supplier of databases and e-books.

In a computer science class at Boston's Northeastern University, she recalls being the only woman in a class of 30. "But I wasn't intimidated by that," she says. "I used it to my advantage to build on my strengths."

Klopotoski is one of three females in a 35-member department, and has no women directly up the ladder from her. But early on, she had a good male mentor who recognized her ambition. "I am definitely in a distinct minority, but I'm comfortable with that; it's part of my personality," she says. "I feel the doors are open to me at Ebsco. If you want to get ahead, you'll get there eventually."

Her current roadblock is the work-life balance that many parents with young children struggle with. Klopotoski and her husband, a network manager at a different company, can sometimes find themselves debating over whose network crisis is more important as they figure out which parent can leave work to pick up their two kids, ages 4 and 18 months. "It's difficult in the tech field -- you can't just drop what you're doing at 3 o'clock if something is broken."

It's not lost on her that Yahoo's Mayer made it to the top before starting a family. "Having kids and now wanting to advance, it's a reverse kind of climb," Klopotoski acknowledges. "Am I going to be able to attain what I want? Maybe, but it's going to take five or 10 years."

Do shifting skill sets favor women?

Multiple nonprofits have sprung up, many sponsored by tech corporations, to expose high school girls to programming, app development and more. The list includes The Technovation Challenge sponsored by nonprofit Iridescent, DigiGirlz classes from Microsoft, and Girls Who Code, backed by Google, eBay, General Electric and Twitter. The hope is that these efforts will result in more women studying science, technology, engineering and math -- the so-called STEM fields -- in college and graduate school.

In the meantime, there are indications that the shifting nature of high-tech employment may be working in favor of women.

As Denzel, who first made her mark in storage and later in the burgeoning field of big data, notes wryly, "The closer you are to the processor, the more male-dominated this already male-dominated field becomes."

In contrast, the industry shift away from nuts and bolts and toward hybrid skill sets -- including higher-level analytics, process and project management, and user-centric social and mobile computing -- could open up opportunities for women to move laterally into tech departments from other specialties.

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