Mindy L. Gewirtz, Ph.D.

(WOMENSENEWS)–When it comes to information technology and the intense, 24-7 demands of time and commitment, women may well be the canary in the coal mine, the first to say no more heroics, according to recent surveys of women balancing work and their personal needs.

“The knowledge worker is not just a machine that keeps on going,” said Liz Ryan, founder of World Women and Technology, an online information technology networking group. “She comes with upkeep requirements.”

A recent survey of 265 women technology professionals, coauthored by Mindy L. Gewirtz and Ann Lindsey of GLS Consulting, Inc., Boston, found that women may be the “canary in the coal mine,” alerting everyone that work and personal life-family needs are out of kilter.

The survey results should be a warning to corporate America that the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week expectations prevalent in the new economy are ultimately counterproductive, detrimental to employees in general and organizations in the long run, the authors said.

While many women are dissatisfied with the overwhelming pressures of the new economy workplace, they also face persistent salary inequities. Studies show that salaried men in information technology earn 12 percent more than salaried women.

Women on contract, however, earn 8 percent more than men, indicating that women are finding ways to combine job flexibility and high pay, although most contract workers do not receive benefits. Contractors in general constitute 45 percent of the IT workforce.

Women Appreciate Freedom, Growth, Advancement–Time’s the Killer

The survey found that women in technology love the creative freedom, opportunities for growth and relative lack of barriers to advancement in the field. Equally strong, however, are their feelings that the hours and level of commitment required in many information technology jobs can destroy a healthy balance between work and personal life.

“You cannot live your life on burst mode. It’s not sustainable,” said Ryan from World Women in Technology, whose members were interviewed for the survey. “You will not win and your employer will not win.”

The survey found that 73 percent of respondents were passionate about their sense of achievement, impact, opportunity for growth and creative freedom in information technology. They particularly valued flexible hours, the opportunity to work at home and a measurement of success linked to results rather than “face time” in the office. Given that flexibility, they said, they are willing to put in longer hours than they would in a traditional office environment.

On the other hand, 68 percent expressed deep concern over the stress induced by the long hours and intense commitment information technology requires, and 65 percent said that has had a negative impact on their personal lives.

“We believe that women are frustrated and really ready to effect social change,” said Gewirtz. “The findings were very specific as to what women are seeking in the workplace.”

Despite Much Work Satisfaction, 41 Percent Consider Job Change

The survey also indicated that women who don’t get what they seek won’t stay forever. Despite their enjoyment of the positive aspects of work, 41 percent reported that they are considering leaving their jobs. Ryan said corporate managers need to realize that the unrelenting information technology work style may cost them valuable employees.

“Women are asking, ‘Is it still worth it?'” Ryan added, “and that’s a very big question mark.”

Mary Mattis, senior research fellow at Catalyst, the New York-based research organization focusing on women in business, said the new survey reinforces Catalyst findings:

“Especially in IT, there’s been the notion of heroic leadership: ‘The longer I can work, the better; I can sleep in my office,'” she said. “I don’t think that’s a lifestyle that is realistic for most people and especially for women. And if you asked men, I suspect you’d have similar findings.”

Ryan agreed. “This might be advance notice of a trend that will overtake all of us.”

Two other recent surveys show how balance and imbalance between work and personal life can affect women’s salaries in the information technology field.

Salaried Men Earn 12 Percent More, Contract Women 8 Percent More

A study by Computer Jobs, an employment Web site, and Contract Professional, a national magazine for information technology contractors, underscored that women in information technology may do best outside the structure of a traditional office environment.

It reported that while salaried male information technology workers earn 12 percent more than salaried women, female contract workers in the same field earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts. This supports the findings of the Boston study that, given a flexible work environment, women will put in more hours.

Women’s success as information technology contractors is particularly significant since the information technology contracting industry has grown tremendously over the past decade.

According to the Gartner Group, an information technology research firm in Stamford, Conn., contractors constitute as much as 45 percent of the workforce, with the trend moving upward.

Conversely, a survey of 200 technology professionals in the securities industry showed that, in Wall Street’s information technology, men earn 50 percent more than women. This study, conducted by the New York-based AG Barrington, Inc., indicated the median income for male financial technology professionals was $218,000. The median for women was $143,000.

The difference was due to the low number of women in high-paying, direct-sales jobs, said survey author Alan Geller, AG Barrington managing director. He noted that there are only 12 women among the 131 directors of sales or worldwide heads of sales in Wall Street firms. Geller attributed this to women’s relatively higher concern with family and personal life issues, which keeps them from choosing the long hours and frequent travel required in sales jobs.

Kathleen Melymuka has been writing about the intersection of people and technology since 1983. She lives in Duxbury, Mass., and covers diversity and management issues for Computerworld.

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Complete results of the second survey on salaries:

World Women in Technology:


Computer Jobs:

Women in Technology International:

Center for Gender in Organizations at Simmons Graduate School of Management:

GLS Consulting, Inc: