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Survey: Tech Firms Lagging in Women Executives

Some Say Biotechs More

Likely to Have Women

Leaders Than High-Tech

A survey of UCSD Connect member companies revealed San Diego’s technology industry may be on the cutting edge in development, but not in promoting women in leadership roles.

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Athena, a UCSD Connect entity of senior women executives from the San Diego life-sciences and technology industries, conducted the survey with the help of MBA candidates at San Diego State University.

The study sought to reveal the progress of women executives in the local technology industry.

Out of the 430 UCSD Connect member firms asked to fill out a mailed questionnaire, 89 firms responded by Jan. 10.

The survey showed that out of 705 corporate leaders, 128, or 18.2 percent, were women.

Out of 273 individuals in the highest-ranking jobs , such as chief executive, vice president, and chairman , there were only 34 women.

That’s about the same percentage of leadership positions women hold in Fortune 500 companies, Athena reported.

However, Dawn Cicero, program manager at UCSD Connect, said comparing the small technology firms surveyed in San Diego , most of which have less than 50 employees , to the Fortune 500 giants is like comparing apples to oranges.

Nevertheless, the results were disappointing, said Barbara Bry, executive director of Athena. She said she expected women to be more successful considering San Diego’s maturing technology scene.

“I think it’s bad,” Bry said. “I would have expected that women in earlier-stage companies would have held a higher percentage of leadership positions because the organization would be less rigid (than in the Fortune 500 companies).”

Bry speculated women in the biotechnology sector are more likely to move to the top than women in high-tech, because more women enter the biotech field.

Survey Breakdown

Out of the 89 companies surveyed, 25 were biotechnology firms; 17 software firms; 9 biomedical device firms; and 9 telecommunications firms, Bry said.

The remaining 29 firms didn’t categorized themselves, she added. Participating firms were not identified.

So what does it take for women to make it to the top?

Slightly more than half of all respondents, 54 percent, said, “Women consistently have to exceed expectations.”

The other half , 46 percent , said women need to “develop a style with which male managers are comfortable.”

Other participants said, “women need to seek difficult assignments.” Others found women “have not been in the pipeline long enough.”

So, is San Diego’s technology industry really chauvinistic?

“It’s still male-dominated, but there are more of us advancing,” said Lisa R. Grillone, an Athena member and executive director clinical regulatory affairs at Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biotechnology firm in Carlsbad.

Grillone and Bry agreed women generally have to work harder than men to make it to the top. Most women dreaming of success also have to flaunt an advanced degree to gain respect and be taken seriously in San Diego’s high-tech world, they said.

Grillone said women with leadership aspirations in biotechnology won’t succeed without a doctoral degree , either an M.D. or Ph.D. Other must-have skills include perseverance, focus, integrity, and high moral standards, she added.

Grillone attributes her climb up the corporate ladder from assistant director to associate director to executive director to her “continuing strong work ethic and high moral values.”

Bry, who is also the vice president of business development at Proflowers.com., an Internet flower business, said she’s lucky to have a progressive boss.

Senior Leaders

One-third of the senior management team at Proflowers.com are women, she added.

Chief executives like Proflowers.com’s Bill Strauss appear to be in the minority in San Diego’s technology community.

Out of the 89 surveyed firms, 34 said they are doing “nothing” to increase the number of women executive employees; 24 said they recruit and promote women into the upper ranks when appropriate; 10 said they hire the best people, male or female.

Still, 25 percent out of 89 respondents said they have no problem attracting executive female employees. That compares to 15 percent who said they had trouble attracting female executives.

Female executives who are mothers aren’t likely to get child-care support from local technology firms, the survey showed.

None of the surveyed companies offered in-house child care or paid for it. Only 11 of 89 companies offered child-care referrals.

Grillone said women with children still have the same opportunities vs. childless women. She added, however, employers ought to offer some alternative to ease the lives of working women. Grillone said she has no children.

She suggested biotechnology firms in clustered areas, such as in La Jolla or Sorrento Valley, could pool their services to provide a community child-care center.

This first survey revealed much more work lies ahead to help promote women, Bry agreed, adding, “This survey gives you a baseline.”

Athena plans to develop more programs to create better opportunities for their members and younger women on the move.

The final results of the study were released Jan. 20 during a UCSD Connect Athena meeting at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines.


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