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  November 5, 2001

Women Still Under-Represented in
Information Technology, Says Panel

The field of information technology has climbed the corporate ladder to a position of critical importance, according to a panel of female executives who have been part of the sea change.

Technology is "no longer something in the basement or in the background," said Diana Beecher, senior vice president and chief information officer at Travelers Insurance. "American business cannot operate without technology as an integral part of what happens day-in and day-out."

On the distaff side, Beecher said, it was once considered a "radical thought process" for a woman to aspire to a leadership position in business, particularly one with a technology focus.

Her comments came at a forum on "Women and the Field of Information Technology," held on Oct. 23 in the General Re Auditorium at the Stamford campus.

The event, sponsored by Travelers Insurance, the Connecticut Information Technology Institute (CITI) the School of Business and its Alumni & Friends Society, attracted a capacity crowd of students, educators, and Fairfield County business people.

In welcoming remarks, Kathy Dechant, an assistant professor-in-residenc e of management, noted that in 1999 women represented 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but only 29 percent of the information technology workforce.

What's more, she said, "women are the most under-represented in information technology occupations where the pay is the highest."

Beecher was joined by four women panelists who also have reached the pinnacle in their organizations. The five shared their professional journeys, providing both personal and professional insights.

Ellen Kitzis, group vice president of executive programs for Gartner, a research firm specializing in information technology issues and trends, said there's an interesting transition taking place from technology skills to more business and interpersonal skills.

"We've discovered that information technology people need communication s skills," said Kitzis, who holds a Ph.D. in sociology. "They need to walk, talk and act like a business person."

She said much has changed in terms of women in technology. "Now, we've entered the corporate world and with that, we've demonstrated that quotas alone didn't solve a problem," she said. "It's a competency-based issue - the ability to participate in multiple careers inside an organization."

Panelist Catherine Riordan, director of the regional program office of Cadbury Schweppes - makers of such products as Dr. Pepper, 7 Up, and Snapple - said ownership and dedication are valued employee characteristics. "The people I want to hire are the ones who wish to be engaged, to take ownership," Riordan said. "I haven't found this to be a male or female thing."

Panelist Claudia Gentner is chief information officer for Lee Hecht Harrison, an executive outplacement firm.

In 1983, she formed an outplacement consulting firm, growing it to 100 employees and eight offices. After selling the business to Lee Hecht Harrison in 1997, she assumed the newly created post of chief information officer and moved the company toward information services. Her accomplishments include the creation of "Sydney," the company's intranet, a knowledge management system.

"Knowledge management increases your capability to act," said Sandra Giuffre, a managing director and the knowledge management practice leader for Marsh USA, a leading insurance broker and risk advisor. "It means getting the right knowledge to the right person in a condition that it can be easily used and where it will directly impact specific organizational performance outcomes."

Claudia G. Chamberlain