Increasing the Numbers of Women CEOs in Health IT

June 6th, 2011 | Sources: Commentary


The appalling lack of women chief executives in today’s Health IT companies has been linked to a paucity of women in IT generally and the scarcity of female mentors and venture capitalists that could support them. Social norms regarding gender identity and child rearing also drive the disparity. In this post, I’ll briefly review these norms and some promising efforts to reduce the disparity.

Social Norms, Women and Tech
Many people believe social norms and expectations regarding women are the most important reason why there are so few female IT leaders out there today. As the father of 3 girls who are succeeding in tech, I don’t necessarily agree with this (I think the phenomenon is driven by these factors).

Still, there are some indisputable facts that have to be mentioned.

It is fact for example, that many parents don’t encourage their girls to pursue science and math—especially when they reach high school. These disciplines build analytic and quantitative skills that can be critically important to success for an entrepreneur. Similarly, many parents don’t encourage certain behaviors in girls—like risk taking, independent thinking and competitiveness—to the extent they do in boys. In so doing, parents unwittingly impede the development of self-confidence in their daughters, a trait that can be decisively important when it comes to managing a board or a big customer.

And of course child-bearing and child care remain largely female-specific responsibilities to this day. These responsibilities peak at the same stage in life when many of today’s successful tech entrepreneurs started their companies.

All tech CEOs face difficult challenges, but only female CEOs deal with questions about their commitment to the company when they miss work because of morning sickness or a child’s appointment with the doctor.

What is being Done?
Thankfully, many organizations have formed in recent years to address the gender disparity in tech leadership. They address most or all the barriers mentioned above (and in my previous post on the subject). These efforts seem likely to shake IT leadership to its core for decades to come. Here are some of the most important efforts in this regard:

The National Center for Women & Information Technology is a non-profit coalition of corporations, academic institutions, government and other agencies that works to increase female participation in computing and IT. The organization supports outreach, retention, curriculum reform, research, and leadership programs from K-12 and higher education through industry and academic careers. NCWIT initiatives include an achievement award for high-school women in computing, a fund for initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining women in computing, and an annual meeting.

Astia is a community of experts committed to building female leaders and accelerating the funding and growth of high potential, high growth startups. Astia helps assure that startups gain access to capital, achieve and sustain high-growth. It also helps develop the executive leadership of the founding team. Astia programs are implemented by more than 1,000 members of an advisor network that includes more than 100 former and current CEOs and 200 investors.

Women 2.0 is a social venture for future founders of technology startups. It sponsors Founder Labs, a 5-week pre-incubator focused on the first phase of launching a startup, a Founder Friday networking event, a Startup Weekend and a startup competition. Women 2.0 also offers a video interview series featuring female CEOs and company founders.

Girls in Tech is a social network enterprise focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of like-minded, professional, intelligent and influential women in technology. It offers resources and tools for women to supplement and enhance their professional careers and aspirations in technology. Resources include educational workshops and lectures, networking functions, round table discussions, conferences, social engagements and recruitment events.

A recent conference, BlogHer|bet sponsored by Microsoft and organized by BlogHer, brought together 100 women who wanted ‘to start something’ with 50 female role models and mentors including funders and acquirers, advisors and service providers for entrepreneurs. Although the conference is in the past now, its information brochure contains an incredibly rich trove of links to today’s female leaders in IT.

For its part, BlogHer itself has aggregated content from women technology bloggers. And don’t forget, there are plenty of grants available to aspiring female entrepreneurs, tech or otherwise.
In conclusion, the key fact for me is that women dominate men when it comes to content knowledge in health care (see previous post). Now that these resources are available to support women, it seems like a matter of time before those silly ‘top entrepreneurs in tech’ lists will feature more women than they have in the past.

I sincerely hope so!


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