WOMEN BYTE BACK ON TECH COLUMN

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I had some interesting reactions to my column on women's attitudes about computers.

Lynn True, manager of MIS support services at Campbell Mithun Esty, sent me an e-mail contending that any column "only hinders the process by suggesting that women simply don't understand or like computers."

But then Ruth Whitney, editor of Glamour, sent along an article from the March issue headlined: "Women, wake up about computers!" The piece cited a National Science Foundation report that the percentage of women awarded higher degrees in computer science has been steadily declining since 1988, when it stood around 25%.

The USA Today article, on which I based my column, did its own survey showing only 10% to 30% of computer programming, engineering and management jobs at technology companies are filled by women.

"High-tech computer jobs overwhelmingly are held by men-an industrywide systemic problem that begins in math class and ends with women closed out of the fastest growing and most important job markets of the future," the newspaper stated.

But Lynn True contends that "women don't have any more of a problem with technology than men do. You're right on one point: Many people the whole world over are resistant to technology. But to make this a gender issue is inaccurate and counterproductive."

I must concede Ms. True has a point here. Let the record show that I answered her e-mail with a hand-written note.

Ms. True says that around her agency, "I can think of just as many female computer-savvy people as males. Not only are these women very capable with a computer and involved in technical issues, but many are actively promoting the advancement of technology in the agency and for our clients. They have been involved in expanding our ability to search online databases, develop Web sites and interactive CDs for clients and improve the use of technology for presentations. Women are in charge of the areas where print ads are digitally produced and women promote the use of laptops for our broadcast producers. Fully half of the MIS department at CME is female."

That's encouraging because as Margaret Wertheim writes in Glamour: "The more women who get involved in computers, the more there will be inside, developing the new products of the Silicon Age." She says one deterrent is that computer games-with the emphasis on "killing, capturing or maiming"-don't appeal to girls. "The consequences are great, since games are often the next generation's entree to computers."

My daughter Heather thinks part of the problem is that teachers tend to take boys more seriously and call on them more often in class. She started to shine when she went to an all-girls boarding school.

As Ms. Wertheim concluded: "Many women have not been taught to feel comfortable with technology; even more are simply apathetic about it. But it would be a tragedy if our progress in the workplace were halted by our own passivity."

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