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Women in high tech opt more and more to run own business

July 2, 1998
Web posted at: 9:00 AM EDT

by Laura DiDio

(IDG) -- More and more women in information technology positions are opting out of the traditional corporate career path and striking out on their own.

That was a hot subject at last week's annual Women in Technology International (WITI) conference in Santa Clara, California. Participants discussed how to succeed in their own businesses, as well as in traditional companies.

Starting their own businesses is an attractive option because the failure rate of new female-owned businesses is half that of all new businesses: 39 percent vs. 80 percent, according to WITI.

Take, for example, Sonia Khademi, founder and CEO of CableSoft Corp., a 3-year-old software company in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Khademi, who has an engineering degree, left a position as a regional sales manager at Cisco Systems Inc.'s offices in Waltham, Massachusetts, because she felt she had "no hope" of making the internetworking giant's executive team. "I didn't see a lot of women at the top in Cisco," she said.

So Khademi founded her own company "to break the mold ... I wanted to set my own rules and not play the Fortune 500 games."

She soon faced new challenges. "I had a credibility issue right away in raising money. The venture capitalists grilled me on my business acumen and tested my knowledge of technology in the first meeting," Khademi said. She passed, and after five months, she raised US$1.3 million.

Then there is Josette Rigsby. "I quit a job because one of my former bosses asked me to get him a cup of coffee," said Rigsby, formerly a webmaster for the city of Richardson, Texas.

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She now runs her own World Wide Web development firm, Boynick & Rigsby Inc. "Starting my own firm was the best thing I ever did," she said. "I'm glad to see more women doing it."

Some women find that the shortage of skilled information technology professionals helps them jump ship to better environments.

One woman IS manager, who requested anonymity, left her job as network administrator at a mid-Atlantic manufacturing company after being passed over three times for a promotion - twice in favor of male subordinates she had trained.

She is now an IS manager at an East Coast Fortune 1,000 company. "I got several good offers right away. I inflated my salary by 30 percent and asked for another 15 percent pay hike over that, plus a sign-on bonus, because that's what all my male co-workers were doing. And I got it," she said.

But some women decide to stay and fight.

Margo Mao, a program manager for strategic business applications at IBM in Somers, New York, is one of those women. She proved her mettle as MIS director at IBM's Tokyo headquarters, managing 200 Japanese men in the early 1980s. Women were a rarity in the Japanese workplace then, and most held low-level jobs.

To sidestep sexism, Mao designated one MIS manager to be her direct report and funneled all instructions through him. "That made it easier for the 200 male workers to take," she said.

And Mao delivered all her instructions in English. "Japanese women use a different vocabulary, [one] that's subordinate, when speaking to male co-workers. There's no such thing in English."

Nearly 20 years later, Mao is still at IBM and said things have improved vastly for women. "There are still issues, but smart women can circumvent them," she said.

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