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Shannon Henry
Shannon Henry
(The Post)
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Topic: Opportunities for Women in the Government IT Field
Guest: Eva Neumann, President of Women in Technology
Thursday, May 16, 2002

Eva Neumann, president of the professional organization Women in Technology, joined The Download's Shannon Henry for a one-hour discussion of the challenges women face in finding technology-related employment with the federal government.

Eva Neumann
Eva Neumann
(Courtesy Eva Neumann)

With the overall slow-down in the tech sector and the growing emphasis on government IT projects post-Sept. 11, Women in Technology recently hosted a forum entitled, "Transcending Boundaries: IT Opportunities for Women in Government and Industry." The forum was aimed at introducing WIT members to several women role models who have worked in government-related technology work, either for the government itself or for contractors hired to do work for various agencies.

Read Shannon's recent column on the WIT event, "Women Hear the Government Knocking" (May 2, 2002).

Evan Neumann founded the high-tech marketing and communications firm ENC Marketing in 1992. Prior to that, she lead the development of campaigns and initiatives at organizations like National Trade Productions (NTP), Government Technology Services, Inc. (GTSI). Neumann is currently serving a one-year term as WIT president (click here for more background information on Neumann).

About Shannon

Washington Post columnist Shannon Henry has been covering the local technology scene since 1995, documenting the successes and failures of local tech companies, and the culture and ideas of local business personalities. Her column appears on Thursdays in the Business section of the newspaper, and she regularly hosts The Download Live on Washtech.com, The Washington Post Web site dedicated to covering the region's technology sector.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

An Edited Transcript Follows:

Shannon Henry: Hello everyone! Thanks for joining us.

Eva, could you start out by telling us what Women in Technology's mission is? What are your members looking for in the group? And how has your focus and areas of interest changed since the technology crash?

Eva Neumann: WIT is a not for profit organization dedicated to offering women in all levels of technology, a wide range of professional development and networking opportunities.

People are looking for opportunities to network, opportunities to strengthen or develop skills and forums where they can keep abreast of the latest in technology.

SInce the tech crash, we've held two, very successful, career fairs. We've also expanded our efforts to create awareness for our Mentor Protege program.

Arlington, Va.: What mentoring programs for Washington-area women executives can you suggest?

Eva Neumann: I'd strongly encourage people to participate in our Mentor Protege program -- either as mentors or proteges. Information can be found on the WIT Web site: www.womenintechnology.org.

Shannon Henry: At a recent WIT event, one audience member asked how high-powered women in technology are able to manage their family and personal lives along with their careers. Eva, what are your thoughts on this subject? Are there ways to have it all without going crazy?

Eva Neumann: That's an interesting question -- one I've heard a lot during our meetings. I think it's easier now for women (and men) to juggle family lives with careers. People and companies in general have become much more aware of the need for balance. It's not uncommon for a man (or woman) to leave at the end of the day (or during the day) for a soccer game, doctors appointment or meeting at school. I think companies are realizing that they need to be flexible in order to attract the most talented people, and in order to attract women, who often are challenged with coordinating family needs and business needs.

As far as having it all...I'm not sure that's realistic. I think expectations have to be reasonable and sometimes something has to give.

Arlington, Va.: How has Sept. 11 affected women's prospects for selling to the Government? Is it easier because spending is up? Harder because of "we don't have time" attitudes for priorities that don't immediately help defend the nation?

Eva Neumann: Government organizations have been interested in working with women-owned businesses for some time; although, the intensity and practice varies by agency. I'm not sure September 11 has changed anything for women. It has caused an increase in spending on IT and that should benefit women-owned IT businesses. I actually had a conversation with a woman business owner last night who told me that she's working with DOD and her customers are very interested in bringing woman owned businesses in to DOD.

Arlington, Va.: Is there any evidence that women were hit harder than men in the recent tech downturn? Is anyone keeping statistics on how many men vs. women lost their jobs or how long it takes men vs. women to find a tech job?

Eva Neumann: I haven't seen anything but would be interested in seeing any stats.

Falls Church, Va.: Comparing now to when you first started your company, has the environment for women managers and entrepreneurs in the tech space improved? How much, if at all?

Eva Neumann: I've seen many of my peers rise into high level IT positions. I've also noticed a much stronger acceptance of out-sourcing. When I started my business, ten years ago, I first explained the value of out-sourcing to a prospect -- then I told them about ENC Marketing. Now, (almost) everyone understands the value of out-sourcing -- it's common practice to out source and often preferred. In reference to the past questions on government opportunities, I've seen the same thing happen with government.

Alexandria, Va.: How big is Women in Technology? And is it just in the Washington area, or is it national?

Eva Neumann: Our membership count is 700+. We've had an incredible boost in membership over the past year. We're local to the Washington area.

Shannon Henry: Following up on the mentorship question, how should someone find a mentor in their organization? On the other side, how does someone become a mentor? Do these relationships happen naturally or do you have to push them a bit?

Eva Neumann: Many large organizations have formal mentor programs. I would guess that the HR organizations within these companies could direct people to the programs. I know the government has similar programs.

A mentor can be someone who's from within your organization, or someone from outside your organization. The best way to identify and find a mentor is to look for people who are in positions that appeal to you, either at a higher level or in a totally new area, and ask them if they'd be willing to meet with you to give guidance. WIT is a great place to meet potential mentors (even outside of the WIT mentor program).

I think you need to take the initiative to find a mentor and then to nurture that mentor -- everyone's busy! Be sensitive to the mentor's time and make sure that you thank them for their efforts and continue to keep them in the loop with your progress.

Alexandria, Va.: I was the only woman in an IS department of six. I've been promoted into a very technical position in the department and (after three years) have come to discover I really don't like working at a very "hands on" computer job. I'm more outgoing and abstract rather than overly detailed and calculative. What other areas in the IT field could I use my expertise but not in such a hands on way? Does WIT offer mentors who have made such a step and how would I get in touch with them? Thank you.

Eva Neumann: First, attend the WIT meetings to meet other women who can help you build a network. Also, get involved on a committee so you can build relationships. You may initially be interested in attending either our monthly general membership meetings or our IT special interest group (SIG) meetings.

Second, our mentor protege program is a formal program that matches you with people who can help you with specific career issues. You'll be pre-matched, for each session, with a mentor who can help you with your issue.

Shannon Henry: I hear the women's group RPW has new leadership after Kathy Clark sold her company Landmark Systems and began sailing around the world. Who is the new leader and will that group alter its mission? What are the benefits of small all-women networking groups like that and what kinds of things do you talk about that you think wouldn't be discussed in a male-female environment?

Eva Neumann: Becky Shambaugh's taken over as leader. RPW will continue with its mission to connect visionary, female entrepreneurs so that they can leverage each other's knowledge, networks and resources.

The benefit of these small networking groups is that it forces us to take time out to touch base with our network, hear about others challenges and wins and offer support as needed.

I've belonged to several of these types of small, formal, networking groups and I'd encourage others to create and foster their own networks by coordinating formal get-togethers. I think women tend to be a little less likely to build networks -- partly because we're so busy and partly because we tend to be very focused on doing our job, getting it right, and then moving on to the next job. We tend to not reach out.

Vienna, Va.: Do men participate in WIT?

Eva Neumann: Yes, and they're encouraged to get involved. We've had men involved in committees and on the Board.

Plano, Tex.: We hire lots of women in our high tech industry, but they seem to choose or be directed towards jobs that require higher people skills, and much lower technical skills. These jobs may lead to management, but they have very low, if not negative levels of "geek" pride. The true drivers of our business and our technology look down on these jobs, and management as well. Is this what you see in other industries?

Eva Neumann: I think your question relates to an overall problem -- women (and girls) are not encouraged to go into technology related fields, often because of cultural pressures. Girls don't see "technology" as cool and they often don't want to be perceived as "geeks." The Dept. of Education did a study that showed that from 1986 to 1996 the percentage of computer science bachelor degrees that were earned by women dropped from 35.7% to 27.5%. That's awful and a trend that has to be reversed!

I see programs, such as our Girls in Technology program, and our Annual WIT Leadership Awards Banquet, as being important forums that can showcase the success of women in technology fields. I believe that showcasing women in technology as successful role models is one of WIT's most important objectives.

Reston, Va.: I don't really have a question, it's more of a comment. I have been a woman in the IT industry for over 7 years. I have worked my way up from helpdesk to a high level, technical manager's position. I have always strived to get more women involved in the IT industry.

Maybe it was because when we were little girls we were told to play Barbie and let the boys take apart and build things, that the boys now are the hands on IT gurus. I have 2 daughters that have watched me sit on the floor and take apart computers. They think that's cool and want to learn.

I feel that we need to inspire our kids, both boys and girls, to get more hands on when it comes to IT. There are so many aspects and avenues from helpdesk to web designer to pc game creator.

Any suggestions on how we can get our younger generation looking at IT careers?

Eva Neumann: I couldn't agree with you more! People like you (and our WIT members!) need to get out to the schools and teach young people, boys and girls, about successful women in technology. I think it's also important to tell people that women have been in technology since the beginning of the computer era. The actual name "computer" comes from early "computers" at the University of Pennsylvania who used to compute complicated algorithms by hand. The "computer" replaced their hand calculations!

P.S. Even telling the kids at the bus stop, what you do, can help create awareness for women in technology!

Washington, DC: As a woman, it must have been quite challenging 10 years ago to start a firm aimed at the technology sector. What were your greatest challenges in establishing ENC and to what do you attribute your success?

Eva Neumann: I didn't really face overt challenges as a female starting a business. I fortunately didn't need to solicit funding (we're a service business not a product business -- no R&D) -- I understand that many women face significant funding in getting funded or getting credit...many women fund their companies with credit card debt which is very expensive.

I was able to grow my business based on building my network and just working hard to make sure I successfully over-deliverd to my customers! The challenge in the early days was having enough hours in the day to deliver the business and spend time prospecting for new business -- typical challenges that most new business owners face! I also had to convince really talented people to join our fledgling organization -- I couldn't offer what large organizations could offer as far as a career ladder. But, I could offer other things like a flexible schedule, nurturing and family friendly environment and lack of politics. Our business has grown through word-of-mouth. I attribute a large part of our success to my incredibly talented staff!

Shannon Henry: Without giving away the winners (well, you could do that if you want!), what are the attributes of the women you'll honor tonight at the awards ceremony? Will you give a lifetime achievement award?

Eva Neumann: We're honoring women who have achieved significant accomplishment in technology, in order to highlight these women as role models. We're also looking for women who have helped others, as mentors, either in the community or in their organizations. Some of the honorees have been recognized by other organizations and are used to being in the spotlight. Other women have not been recognized and it's exciting to be able to bring their achievements into the spotlight. It will be a very exciting evening. Last year the energy in the room was electric!

Washington, DC: Does WIT collect data on the number of women working in technology, esp. in leadership positions? Does any organization or gov't agency collect such data?

Eva Neumann: WIT doesn't. Someone just told me that in general, the numbers that they've looked at for women in Federal IT jobs are much better than in the private sector. They've seen private sector numbers for women at around 18% or less of the IT workforce. In the Federal government, women make up about 40-45% of the IT workforce -- roughly the same proportion that they make up in the total Federal workforce. My contact also said that he thinks that you'll see more female government CIO's than you'll see in the private sector. These data may change as the federal IT workforce starts to retire (a whole different topic!).

Shannon Henry: What are the challenges that need to be overcome to encourage more women to succeed in technology, or any business? Are you still seeing problems with equal pay and medical leaves? Are their societal issues that need to be worked through?

Eva Neumann: A couple of thoughts:

I think women leaders need to become more assertive -- they need to make managers, peers and mentors aware of their contribution. People can't acknowledge you if they don't know your contribution. This is especially true in today's economy.

Women also need to do a better job of helping each other. I have friends who act as mentors, because they really care about helping others and they want to pass on their experiences. Women also need to help each other and open doors for each other. I don't think anyone wants a handout because they're a woman. I do think that woman want a seat at the table so they can compete on competitive terms.

Finally, I think it's important for women to build their own networks. Attend WIT meetings (or other networking meetings), get involved on committees, run for office, mentor a student, help us with our awards banquets but most important -- build and nurture a network.

There are still issues with equal compensation -- I think we need to continue to prove our value and promote issues of equal pay for equal work (and as managers, business owners and executives, support equal pay for equal work).

Shannon Henry: Eva, thanks so much for the great insights. And thanks to all of you for all the questions...sorry we couldn't get to them all. Have fun tonight at the awards ceremony!

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© 2002 The Washington Post Company


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