Making IT Work

Four women tell how they've survived and flourished in the IT culture.

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Still, one of the first things McKeon did when she arrived at Chubb was ask about the womens group there. Within two years, she became chairwoman of the Chubb Partnership of Women, a grass-roots organization formed by two women (one an IT manager) six years ago to provide skills training and opportunities for networking. It now has 600 members, more than half of whom are in IT, she says.

McKeon feels she has never been denied an opportunity because of her gender, but she owes that to some tough choices. You cant have your cake and eat it, too, she says. Its a physically demanding career, and you cant be in two places at one time.

There are times when she misses the pace of consulting, but Im at peace with that, she says. I need to be able to say, Im a good mom, a good wife and a really good IT manager. Could I be a [consulting firm] partner today? Yes, I could. Would I likely be married to the man I love? Probably not.

Advice: You can balance an IT career with your home life, but it means making choices that are true to your priorities and understanding the trade-offs. Having it all is a fantasy.

Katy Dickinson

Katy Dickinson

Director of business process architecture,

CTO organization and Sun Labs,

Sun Microsystems Inc.

Katy Dickinson has been in software engineering all her professional life, although youd never know it from her degree: a bachelor of arts in English with a specialty in Shakespeare. She attributes her affinity for engineering to literally growing up in an engineering R&D lab. Her father (a nuclear physicist) and an uncle (a mechanical engineer) started a business together when she was a child; together, they have more than 30 patents.

Dickinson joined Sun in 1984 and has worked there ever since, including five years as a single mom. Currently, she and her husband are raising two teenage children.

The population of women in software engineering is sparse and shrinking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006, only 21.7% of computer software engineers were female, compared with 24.5% in 2001. (Other estimates are bleaker.) And Dickinson is quick to note that women software engineers do feel the impact of being in the minority.

Its not unusual to be the only woman at a meeting, she says, and because of that, theres often a tendency to remain silent unless you think you have something really remarkable to say. As one member of a small group, you feel you have no right to be mediocre, Dickinson says. Youre not just representing yourself; youre representing [females] with a capital F.

But Suns culture is friendly to women, particularly in its flexibility about working from home, she says. And sometimes she is so well accepted that male co-workers seem to forget her gender. Ive been in meetings with executives, who, when I say I have to pick up the kids, have almost responded, Cant you have your wife do it? she recalls.

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