Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Tech Gender Gap

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Tech Gender Gap

Article excerpt

Debra Chrapaty often catches people by surprise.

She stands, for example, well under 6 feet, 8 inches, does not slam-dunk for a living, but works for an organization best known for tall men who are extremely adept at the above skill.

What makes her truly different, though, is that she is a woman running her company's technology department. Ms. Chrapaty is director of technology at the National Basketball Association. She oversees everything from the phone system to the points posted on the scoreboard. That's unusual. Whether in the NBA or IBM, men are often at the helm when it comes to technology. That includes everything from computer programmers to Internet site designers. And new evidence suggests that women are actually losing representation in computer science and engineering fields, raising concerns that women - who make up half the country's work force - will be left out of a key job market of the future. "It's still a boys' club, both in academia and in the {information technology} departments of companies," says Renee Colwell, president of the New York chapter of the Association for Women in Computing. "I'm a woman battling on a daily basis in a man's field," contends the quick-witted Chrapaty. "I've gone into rooms where people ask me to get them a cup of coffee. I take it as a joke," she says, describing how she gets the coffee and then sits down at the head seat. "Then they say, 'So, you're Debra,' " realizing that she's their boss. What's at stake for industry is remaining competitive. The high-tech industry needs more skilled workers. What's at stake for women is nothing less than their future earning power. US Labor Department projections show the computer field generating about 1 in 6 new US jobs by 2005. Yet the proportion of women in computing fields has dropped significantly since 1990. But if women in the computing field are discouraged by their declining representation, they also see reason for hope. The high-tech industry is still evolving, and the "old boys' network" is not very entrenched. "Here's a chance where {women} can impact the industry and be pioneers," says Aliza Sherman, president of Cybergrrl Inc., a two-year-old Internet site for women and girls (address: www.cybergrrl.com). As a result, she says, women can rise quickly, particularly in start-up firms. If it sounds as if Ms. Sherman has fine-tuned her sales pitch, she has. She and Chrapaty joined a dozen exhibitors at a recent high-tech science fair here in New York - the nation's first exclusively for girls. Part of her intent was to pique an interest in math and science among the 80-plus elementary and high school students who attended. She also hopes to serve as a role model for girls interested in computer science. "If you asked me for a list of role models that helped me get into technology, they'd all be men," Sherman says. …

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