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All things not being equal: Opinions mixed on opportunities for women

The equality of men and women in the AS/400 industry varies from shop to shop and is not a function of a larger structural bias, a recent poll by Search400 found.

About 45% or 136 respondents to the poll said the opportunities for women vary depending on the shop and the boss. The polar opposites were split with both 20% of those polled saying the industry is still "a man's world" and the same amount saying things were "as equal as they were going to get."

Generally, women are represented fairly well in the AS/400 industry. They make up 34% of programmers compared to 20% for general IT professionals according to Nate Viall and Associates, a research and recruiting firm in Des Moines, Iowa. However, Viall recently found a growing disparity between the pay for male and female programmers saying the average salary for men is $53,300 vs. $48,600 for women.

So why do some women make less month than their male counterparts?

Long-time AS/400 user Nora Craig thinks any discrimination in the industry is unconscious on the part of men. "They don't realize they are doing it," she said.

Women may actually play into this subconscious power play, said Craig who showed her resolve for equal rights by enlisting in the Army in 1970. Women like her have spent many years fighting the system, which can shine through, and intimate men, she says.

On the other hand, discrimination is just another barrier to hurdle on the road to success, Craig said. "Any woman who has the drive and the skills can make it to the top."

Yet, there aren't too many women who fit that category, Craig said. In fact, salary surveys don't tell the whole picture for women in the AS/400 industry. A lot of women put more emphasis on working conditions, flexibility and general atmosphere of a position than the pay, she said.

Echoing those sentiment, Janet Krueger, an Andrews Consulting Group analyst, said women are less likely to charge into their bosses' office to ask for a raise, knowing full well such an ultimatum may have to mean leaving their job. Staying put usually means making less money but helps women accommodate the needs of their families, said Krueger, who worked for the IBM AS/400 group for 23 years.

Yet some people disagree with even a mild implication that women have it worse in the AS/400 industry. The industry may be accommodating for women but men don't usually get such options, a male AS/400 user said.

"All throughout my career, I have seen opportunities given to women that have not been available to men, said John C. Mooney, a MIS manager and 13-year veteran in the IBM midrange arena. "Particularly work at home and flex options. Males are expected to work the long hours, weekends, and travel while the be-at-home options are given to women," he said.

"Salary surveys cloud the issue when comparing earnings. A male who spends much time in hotels should earn more than a female working from home. It's the job, not the gender that affects salary. The surveys never make this distinction," he continued.

So what draws women to the AS/400 industry?

Craig more or less stumbled into the industry 20 years ago. She basically taught herself with assistance from co-workers and with trips to COMMON (she now sits on its board of directors).

The relative infancy of the field probably made it easier to penetrate the industry, Craig said. "There wasn't the history of male domination. When I worked in the steel industry, which has been around forever, men controlled everything."

The AS/400 industry doesn't put as much focus on being trained in computer science as other IT fields, Krueger said. Programming usually requires a good understanding of business, rather than technology. "While men tend to be more interested with having fun with technology, women tend to like coming up with computer solutions that solve real problems," she said.

One such person is 22-year old Erica Griffitt, who "fell into" the AS/400 industry after attending college for a couple of years. After a year as a support representative, she became a programmer for the city of Independence, Mo.

"I work with friendly, creative people who enjoy problem solving. We all work together without regard to gender," she said. "I never questioned my opportunities because of my gender. My drive and ability to learn are the only things that can limit me."

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Edward Hurley.

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