Network: Girl power on the Web and in the boardroom

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The Independent Culture
SO IT'S official, the Web has gone female and from now on will be known as la Web. WMX Media has just published research that found more girls online than boys in the 13 to 17 age bracket. Not only are there more e-mail accounts in girls' names, they also spend more time online per session, and use online shopping for buying fashion and gifts for friends.

They tend to rely on Web-based e-mail rather than full dial-ups and use pseudonyms on their e-mail addresses. Girls tend to correspond with friends and people they know, and are not likely to reply to e-mails from strangers. They consider the Net as an extension of the telephone and not a way of finding new playmates.

Familiarity breeds confidence, and if the girls are using e-mail, it's likely to give them a lot more confidence to explore their computers beyond simple communication functions. We have started seeing the result of that newly found girl techno-power in the numbers of websites implemented by them. The girls are attacking en force and the recent Yell awards showed a number of successful Net companies are created, run and developed by women.

One of the most inspiring examples of women with zest and technical bent is chickclick.com, which provides an opportunity for women to tell their story and expose their online business to many customers and visitors who come via the "chickclick" co-operative network of sites.

Some of the online services are simply fun, such as breakupgirl.com, which provides great gossip on LA-based celebrities. Other sites on "chickclick" are more focused on career, parenting and home help. The sites are done extremely well, graphical and copy standards are often better than those on the rushed and unloved commercial sites, and the female Web artisans do craft their stories a lot deeper than the completely commercial and deadly boring women.com.

I asked some of the women who run the "chickflick" sites what drives them. The answers varied from the Net believers saying: "I just love the Internet", to: "I hate technology but talking to people is great, so if HTML is the way to do it, so be it."

The name often mentioned as the source of inspiration was Shannon Lucid, something of a mentor for women in technology, the astronaut who holds the women's world record for the number of hours in orbit. Shannon has her own page on the Women of Nasa site, and she promotes technology by speaking at college campuses and on TV. Shannon and Karen Lynd, head of Nasa's High Speed Propulsion Project, have probably done more to get women into computers and technology than any of their contemporaries.

They obviously enjoy what they do and have carved out careers in space that were, until recently, strictly off limits. Reading Shannon's story in Scientific American on her experiences on the Mir space station (http://www.sciam. com/1998/0598issue/0598lucid.html) shows how different genders cope under extreme conditions.

Unfortunately, the overall picture of women in IT is less rosy. New employment data from recruitment agencies shows a declining number of women entering IT careers. That figure has been in a worrying trend for some time. The progress made in the IT industry in the early Eighties has been lost as IT has become a man-only zone again. However, women who endured the sexism, long hours and insanely fast-moving skill set have done extremely well.

Only last week the peak of the mountain was reached by a person we all have a lot to thank for, Carly Fiorina, who has taken the reigns at HP as the new CEO. I've met her several times in Palo Alto, where she has given speeches on behalf of Lucent Technologies, the company she joined after 17 years with AT&T. At Lucent, she lead the transformation of its Global Service Provider Business, now with annual revenues of $20bn.

Carly has taken a different route to the top, teaching primary school, then studying medieval history and eventually majoring in philosophy, only to drop out of law school to join AT&T.

I was impressed with her stamina and ability to function on many levels, as a mentor, business head and a nourishing force on other boards. Carly sits on the boards of Kelloggs as well as pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Her success shouldn't be underestimated, because the glass ceiling in the IT and digital media industries is still very much in existence. I would bet my baseball cap it will be another 10 years before there is a female CEO in a British IT giant such as ICL.

Girls, keep working on that website and think about Carly The world is at your feet if only you can master that new JavaScript.

eva@never.com

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