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Has the Internet Finally Broken the Glass Ceiling?
Kim M. Bayne, wolfBayne Communications

Gender becomes obsolete as "The Equalizer" creates new opportunities

The Internet may have succeeded where years of well-intentioned, but ineffectual equal opportunity programs have fallen short. Nicknamed "The Equalizer" by scores of female users, after the 1980s TV series of the same name, the Internet has emerged as a force which may finally spell the end of the "glass ceiling." Women have discovered that the Internet has expanded career opportunities for them at an unprecedented pace, both within existing corporations and for new businesses, and they recognize its value as an essential networking tool. They know that a certain amount of confidence comes with mastering technology tools. As a result, they are more assertive and often more successful than their off-line peers.

What Fueled The Growth?

Various Internet studies suggest that up to 42 percent of Internet users are now female, highlighting the thousands of women-owned businesses that have begun marketing online. Business news network CNBC reports that by the year 2005, two out of three new workers will be female, pushing the number of women in the workplace past today###s 47 percent mark.

A recent MCI Telecommunications television commercial tells us that on the Internet we aren###t judged by color, infirmities, race or sex. Women like the fact that online anonymity has endowed them with certain advantages. Even if a user recognizes a screen name or e-mail address, he may not be sure of anything else. Users are more likely to evaluate a person###s message or web site for content before applying human prejudice to the equation. Lookism, an appearance bias promoted by the superficial world of anorexic supermodels, is virtually nonexistent in online business relationships. On the Internet, no one knows or even cares what you are, as long as you offer high quality advice, products or services. The Internet offers women an opportunity for impartial evaluation.

Margaret D###Anieri, Owner and President of Acadia Business Resources in Cleveland, Ohio, finds that the Internet makes people bolder, especially women. "Anonymity reduces the level of intimidation that many working women feel in traditional environments," she says. Elke Schliwa, Publisher of The Women###s Events Calendar, based in Los Angeles, California, sees online women as more open and assertive than in the physical world. Schliwa, whose calendar catalogs the latest U.S. and international events, can###t imagine doing business without the online world. The Internet helps her achieve her goal of contacting and connecting women all over the world.

Seeing the Internet as a way for both sexes to get out of the starting gate together, Alison Berke, President of bworks.com in Great Neck, New York, calls the Internet "The New Frontier." "Much like the Old West, the career opportunities are what you make of it," says Berke, who is also President of Webgrrls in Long Island, a networking group for women interested in New Media. "Right now, half the battle is to find the openings for new business, forecast the future of the Internet, and be in the right place one or two years from now."

Many women entrepreneurs capitalize on the Internet###s ability to make any size company appear larger than life. Rosemary McAvoy, President of RTM Institute Inc., headquartered near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, notices that perception often becomes reality. "The right image and the right message conveys a powerful presence for your business," observes McAvoy. "Women have always been better at connecting on the phone and on paper. The Internet brings together the best of both worlds, exponentially expanding customer outreach!"

The Internet user###s reasonable entry cost and international reach are a windfall to women-owned small businesses who have had to fight for operating capital. Women-owned start-ups and small businesses, coupled with small advertising budgets, have discovered that the Internet is perfect for meeting their business goals. Ada Meadors, Owner of My Secretary in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, found that the Internet helped her realize a profit much faster than if she had limited herself to traditional marketing tactics. "Roughly eight percent of my business is obtained through Internet contacts," Meadors says. Meadors points to the Internet###s unparalleled reach in locating previously unknown talent. "It increases the competition, so (companies) can find EXACTLY the person they need instead of settling for someone who ###sort of" fits the bill," she says.

Nikki Beare, President of Silver Beare Travel, Inc., based in Havana, Florida, sees the Internet###s impact on a grander scale. She points out that during one week in March 1997, 34,000 travel agencies in the U.S.A. sold $7 billion in airline tickets. Beare views the Internet as a major opportunity for women in travel, an industry where the majority of workers are female.

Internet Commerce Helps Women Balance Multiple Roles

Most women in the workforce shoulder their family###s main responsibility for child care, elderly care, and home management issues. The Internet has emerged as the long awaited money-making tool, uniquely designed for these primary caregivers. Out of necessity, women view the Internet as tailor-made for their diverse roles. They are able to be more flexible with their work hours, especially when family needs conflict with business needs. Mothers of preschool children, who do not want to explore out-of-home daycare placements, find the Internet to be a perfect part time income producer. D###Anieri says that better business opportunities do and will come from the Internet###s ability to level the playing field, both financially and geographically. The Internet enables women to meet both their financial and personal needs, often with less stress and guilt.

"I###m not sure the Internet has broken the glass ceiling," says Helene Milman, CEO of PC CLEAN, a computer service company in Sunrise, Florida. "What it has done is let many women business owners and employees go around it!" Milman sees the Internet as having created a new set of attainable skills. The Internet offers the fastest route to improving a woman###s marketability. "How-to" guides, tutorials, and discussion groups freely offers tips and techniques for those who wish to come up to speed in such areas as web site development, marketing communications and Internet sales.

Corporations Are Behind The Eight Ball

Inside the corporation, women still find themselves struggling with face-to-face politics and hidden hiring agendas. Milman believes that many human resource professionals don###t understand the Internet skill set.

"They are still looking for those guys in jeans with beards," she observes. Some companies don###t appear to consider qualifications at all. With actions speaking louder than words, hiring decisions often reflect a company###s concern for cost over quality, especially in the area of new media employment. In addition, unscrupulous employers, preying on women who are willing to accept the same job for less pay than their male counterparts, continue to pollute employment waters.

Hiring managers point out that there are still many women who don###t or won###t take advantage of technology to further their career. These women fail to recognize that those who use technology tools, in particular the Internet, are more respected by their male peers, mainly because they demonstrate that they are willing to learn. Whether it###s habit, socialization or technophobia, many women view technology as a man###s realm. Against their better judgment, they shy away from buying computer equipment, getting an online account, and learning new software. Ann-Bettina Schmitz, Owner of ABS Web-Publishing in Aachen, Germany feels that women have lost ground in recent years by not embracing new technologies fast enough. In the past, Schmitz watched as women missed opportunities in computers and electronics. Schmitz is hopeful that women on the Internet can and will do better this time. "We shouldn###t make the same mistake again," says Schmitz.

Cyber-Relations—Enlarging the Women###s Network

Many online women don###t remember making many female friends before connecting on the Internet. Now, female Internet users have friends all over the world. Through newsgroups, e-mail discussion groups and other forums, women are connecting and building relationships, both personal and professional. Meadors says, "It has increased my social contact base by the thousands!"