How Can Women Smash The Technology Gender Barrier?

Information technology has always been viewed as a men's domain, and that history seems to be impacting the attitudes of women who work in the field today, according to a study released this week.

The study by the global technology association ISACA – which coincided with this week's International Women's Day -- cited the five chief barriers women are experiencing in technology: lack of mentors, lack of female role models in the field, gender bias in the workplace, unequal growth opportunities compared to men, and unequal pay for the same skills.

"Women are vastly underrepresented in the global technology workforce," said Jo Stewart-Rattray, board director of ISACA and director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich, a business consultancy based in Australia, in a statement. "This is not only a societal concern, but also a workforce problem, given the critical shortage of skilled technology professionals faced by many enterprises."

[RELATED: WOTC: How Young Women Can Find The Road To Success]

The global study, conducted in an online poll of more than 500 female ISACA members, also found that gender bias is still alive and well in the workplace while opportunities for professional growth with other women as mentors are elusive. ISACA said 75 percent of respondents state their employers lack gender leadership development programs, and about 80 percent said they report to male supervisors. Meanwhile, a minuscule 8 percent report that they have never experienced gender bias in the workplace.

Virginia Kelly, director of operations at solution provider JDL Technologies, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., knows how difficult it is to recruit women into technical roles.

"We just don’t have women applying for jobs in technology," with one female applicant for every five males, said Kelly, who oversees human resources at JDL – No. 498 on CRN's Solution Provider 500.

On the other hand, she said in an interview with ITBestOfBreed, JDL has had a "pretty good mix of men and women" throughout the company for the last eight years.

But she believes more women will enter technical roles and narrow the gender gap "sooner rather than later." She's encouraged by a partnership between JDL and the local Broward County School District, from which JDL has taken on two female high school students – who want to enter the IT field - as interns. They're "brilliant," she said.

The ISACA survey also found that women specifically want mentors, role models and strong networking opportunities.

"As an industry, we must commit to changing these numbers and breaking down the barriers for women in technology,” said Tara Wisniewski, ISACA’s managing director of advocacy and public affairs. “It is well past time to address these issues."

On the other hand, career advancement is less of a problem. Fifty-seven percent of women said they have the resources and support they need to grow; the same percentage said they're being offered training to sustain or advance in their careers.

In addition, 65 percent said their companies offer flexible work arrangements, such as part-time opportunities, the ability to work from home, and extended leave.

"But having a policy and allowing women to use it without penalty are two different matters," the report said. "Researchers call this the 'flexibility stigma,' [which] arises because women are effectively 'punished' if they take advantage of flexible work options to raise children and work simultaneously, or take a time out from tenure to have children."