San Jose Mercury News (CA)

April 23, 2001
Section: Front
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 1A



Women in Silicon Valley see greater opportunities for career advancement here than elsewhere, but they are hampered by the unrelenting pressure to balance work and family responsibilities, according to a study to be released today.

The portrait of harried but generally optimistic women emerges from a survey of more than 800 local women done by two valley groups to examine women's role in the Silicon Valley economy. The findings suggest that the workplace is still adjusting to the increasing number of women who have entered the job market in the past generation.

''Over the last 30 to 40 years we've had a revolution in women's labor force participation,'' said Myra Strober, a labor economist and professor of education at Stanford. ''Women have been drawn into the workplace, increasingly in better jobs. We haven't figured out how to help our families raise their children.''

The study, done by Collaborative Economics of Palo Alto and Community Foundation Silicon Valley, is based on a November phone survey of 826 randomly selected local women ages 21 to 61. It found:

  • Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the women surveyed are employed, and an additional 13 percent plan to enter the workforce within two years. Among employed women, 80 percent work full time.

  • About half of women in Silicon Valley (51 percent) think advancement opportunities for women are better in Silicon Valley than in other areas, and 57 percent believe it is getting easier for women like them to succeed in the workforce here. Women with household incomes of more than $100,000 are more optimistic about these issues than women with household incomes of $50,000 or less.

  • Almost 60 percent of women employed full time report working more than 40 hours per week.

  • Among college-educated women, family and child-care responsibilities are seen as the most frequent barrier to career advancement, cited by 35 percent; 46 percent of women with a high school education or less see this as a barrier.

Almost half of women in Silicon Valley (49 percent) provide the majority of their household income.

The study, ''Unfinished Business: Women in the Silicon Valley Economy,'' was sponsored by more than a dozen local foundations, individuals and corporations, including Knight Ridder, the parent company of the Mercury News.

Barriers to progress

Some barriers to women's advancement are subtle, said Debra Meyerson, a visiting professor at Stanford who studies gender in high-tech companies and was an adviser for the survey. One example is a difference in how men's and women's accomplishments are judged.

''Women are often evaluated based on what they've accomplished; what they haven't done is seen as deficient,'' Meyerson said. ''Men with the exact same skill set are often evaluated based on their potential. Their deficiency isseen as potential.''

The practical difficulties created by family responsibilities loom large for many women. Having children makes it difficult to stay late for meetings and to travel, especially on short notice.

Underlying many aspects of today's workplace is the old assumption that someone else is taking care of employees' households, so the employees are available at all times, said Meyerson.

''The measure of commitment is often how much time you spend at work,'' Meyerson said.

Women who don't have children are more likely to be able to put in long hours at work. But even they may have more family responsibilities than their male counterparts, and the fact that they might have children someday can color how others see them.

''If you have more time to spend at work, it helps,'' said Julie Fouquet, a project manager in charge of optical switching technologies at Agilent Laboratories, which is part of Agilent Technologies in Palo Alto. Fouquet, 43, is married and has two young children. ''But I also think there's a perception: She's a woman, she might have a child.''

Still, Fouquet and many other women find ways to juggle work and family because they're committed to both.

''You work so hard to accomplish that level of professionalism that I think it would be tough for me to say, 'I'm going to go back and be a mom now,''' said Suzanne Kinner, vice president of human resources at BrightLink Networks, an optical switch company in Sunnyvale. Kinner, 37, is married and was pregnant with her second child when she joined BrightLink last year. ''I'd like to do both if I can do both well.''

Problems for men

Many of the logistical problems working women face, such as picking up children at day care, are problems for men as well.

''I see increasingly that young fathers see raising children as a partnership,'' said Strober, who was an adviser for the study. ''When you've got a family trying to balance two careers, this whole question about work/family balance becomes a family issue, not just a women's issue.''

Copyright (c) 2001 San Jose Mercury News


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