The 2007 Fortune 500 listings reveal that women hold a negligible percentage of corporate positions in Fortune 500 companies. In fact, only 12 companies from the latest list published by 'Fortune' magazine have women CEOs at the helm. Sure there has been the occasional Carly Fiorina (Hewlett Packard) or a Margaret C. Whitman (E-Bay), or an Anne Mulcahy (Xerox), but the dream of an impressive corporate career, especially in the hi-tech industry, is not yet commonplace for women.
Many countries have been facing a shortage of workers in the hi-tech industry. In Israel, there is currently a shortfall of 10,000 employees, mostly Java and Dot Net programmers. In fact, such is the scarcity of skilled programmers that it has led to outsourcing of work - to countries like India and China. Industry biggies unanimously agree that the best solution to this growing problem is to draw more women into the workforce. But despite this there have not been any specific provisions to treat them at par with their male counterparts.
Dorit (36), a senior programmer at Ness Technologies, a leading IT services company in Israel, has a grouse against her firm. Despite having worked at the same level as that of her male colleagues for the last four-and-a-half years, she has not drawn similar returns in terms of an increased salary or perks. She says, "I earn less than men who have tasks similar to mine. In fact, one of my male colleagues and I had started working here at around the same time, but at present, my salary is 30 per cent lower than what he takes home. Despite this injustice, I felt uncomfortable asking for a raise on returning from maternity leave."
Dorit's is not an isolated case. Naama (31), also working at Ness as a senior manager, believes that there are many hurdles that women have to get past in order to move up in their careers. Often, family obligations force them to finish their work much faster and earlier than do their male colleagues. "In my present job, as well as in the previous one," she says, "the management had made it clear that working late nights or round-the-clock was not going to be the criteria for career advancement. Employees would be appreciated, measured and advanced by judging their productivity and not the actual number of hours spent in office. Nevertheless, I have realized that doing late nights is the best 'PR' an employee can have."
Such statements do not throw a favorable light on an industry that is looking to women to bail itself out of a manpower crisis. But as is usually the case, it is a woman who has decided to look out for the interests of fellow industry women. A year ago, Ayala Skop, wife of Arie Skop, former CEO of Microsoft, Israel, set up an NGO. Called Women Managers @ High-Tech, its objective is to empower women of the hi-tech industry in the country. A mother of two, Skop had been exposed to the demands of balancing a home and career. After thoroughly investigating the issue of salary discrimination, she decided to introduce some dramatic changes for women in the field.
"Women form only 34 per cent of the Israeli hi-tech industry," highlights Skop. "Of these, only five per cent make it to managerial positions. On an average, their salaries are lower by 25 per cent, compared to men in the same position. Such discrimination moved me to initiate some corrective action."
Six months ago, Skop initiated a treaty and CEOs from various companies in the hi-tech industry were called on to sign it and pledge their commitment towards improving the situation of women in their organizations. Some of the highlights of the treaty include an agreement to hold important meetings before 5 p.m. so that women employees are able to actively participate in them; and to measure salary differences frequently and to correct discriminations. So far, around 20,000 employees and 27 CEOs - all male - of leading Israeli hi-tech organizations have come on board. However, though Skop's treaty is pretty moderate, some organizations have been reluctant to sign it.
Says Skop, "CEOs do not refuse outright. Instead, I get to hear hesitation and excuses, such as, 'I'm a new manager and I have to study the organization better', or 'I need some time to think about it'. I suppose what stops them is the fear of possible pressure from within the organization. There is also the fear that a female manager could argue: 'Even though publicly, you signed on ideals of equity, I still earn much less than a male in a similar role'."
Udi Ortal (42) is General Manager at Magic Software Enterprises, a company that provides software development tools. Ortal was the first manager to sign Skop's treaty and doesn't understand such reservations. "The treaty is reasonable," he explains, "it looks to resolve a problem but does not resort to threats. ... Even if one is able to follow 60 to 80 per cent of its [treaty's] principles, it is still great."
Shahar Efal, President, Ness Technologies, talks about the motive that pushed him to sign Skop's treaty, "Women compose 40 per cent of our employees. It seems right to give a public expression to procedures and beliefs that we already implement."
Despite the positive attitude and response, women are still skeptical. Says Dorit, "Adopting sections of the treaty that were already in practice is no big deal. I'm sure that managers wouldn't have a problem accepting demands such as having morning sessions or conducting performance-based appraisals. But I'd like to know to what extent managers would be willing to comply when dealing with more critical sections in the treaty, such as performing internal surveys on salary gaps and correcting them. In my opinion, only this will determine how serious the whole business is. One hopes that the signing of the treaty by various CEOs does not end up becoming a tool to create an image of a liberal, enlightened and advanced organization."
So, would the Skop treaty be able to bring about some remarkable change in women's positions in the hi-tech industry? "It all depends on how the treaty is marketed and branded. Its timing is excellent, since we're in a critical period of a great shortage of employees. Skop must present the treaty as a benefit to attract potential employees," suggests Naama.