Time is right for women to shine in Chicago's tech sector

By: Julie Northcutt

31, 2011

Are there fewer women than men in technology? There may actually be more women—just not at the top.

Recently, Crain's profiled the Tech 25—the techies driving Chicago's online growth spurt. It was the usual crowd you have been hearing about, which happens to be 23 men and just two women.

Julie Northcutt Julie Northcutt is CEO of Chicago-based Caregiverlist.com.

In my experience, there are plenty of women working in the tech industry. They are just less likely to be at the top and less likely to launch a risky, high-growth business because of family demands.

It's no news flash that women and men are wired differently and that some jobs appeal more to men than women. But much of the magic around developing new technology involves envisioning what could be and making it possible. (Remember, Steve Jobs didn't write code.)

I don't think more men than women are coming up with creative ideas. I just think more men are implementing their ideas and traveling in the right circles to believe they can do so. This is where women could use a push.

More men than women are “coders,” but the need for developers will only increase as the technology sector continues to grow. Women should see this as an opportunity. And women's communication skills and social intelligence are a nice complement for developing that new technology and helping it succeed: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is great at coding, but he's not a natural at social situations. He hired Sheryl Sandberg away from Google Inc. to be chief operating officer, and he credits her with helping Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook build successful partnerships and teams.

In my experience, many women opt for businesses that are not fast-growth and high-risk because of family duties. However, technology is making it easier to strike a balance. I know about the founder of one fast-growing technology firm who doesn't answer emails on the weekend so she can spend time with her family. When you are the boss, you make the rules—and they don't have to be the same rules that work for men.

According to Crain's Tech 25, many of the connectors in the tech industry here also are men. Women aren't getting together for poker games like the Chicago tech guys are, and these socializing opportunities can be an incubator for ideas and connections.

There are more women in college now than men, and more women than men in the workforce. The traditional workplace is being dismantled; virtual offices are becoming more common, and non-traditional approaches to business are gaining ground. All of these things help create an environment where women can build companies without giving up other dreams. We just need more women to believe they can do that.

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See the article on Crain's Chicago Business here.