Women in IT: The long climb to the top

Despite unequal pay and cultural biases, more women are reaching the IT executive suite than ever before, and they're helping to pull up their female colleagues.

Meg McCarthy remembers there being a quiet unease about women taking on high-level positions at the former Andersen Consulting when she began her IT career in 1980. "There was always a concern -- though it was never formally expressed -- could women balance work and home? But my view was always that I'm going to work harder than anybody else. I'm going to do more and get more out of every day than other people have the energy for," says McCarthy.

That singular focus on success helped McCarthy reach the senior manager level at Andersen, then consulting partner at Ernst & Young, followed by CIO positions at health care organizations. She is now CIO and senior vice president of innovation, technology and service operations at Hartford, Conn.-based insurance company Aetna Inc.

The path to the IT executive suite has widened to include more women than ever before. The percentage of women holding CIO or executive vice president of technology positions at 1,000 leading companies rose to 16.4% in 2009, up from 12% in 2007, according to recruiting firm Sheila Greco Associates LLC. Nonetheless, it's still uncommon for women to hold top-level IT jobs, especially highly technical positions like chief technology officer or research fellow.

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