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Mixed Messages

The buzz among a number of female staffers in our offices a few weeks ago had nothing to do with industry acquisitions or emerging technologies.

The buzz among a number of female staffers in our offices a few weeks ago had nothing to do with industry acquisitions or emerging technologies. Rather, we were obsessed with "Don't Marry Career Women," an article that appeared on in which executive editor for news Michael Noer warned readers (who he evidently assumed were all men) against marrying "career girls" (defined by Noer as college-educated women making more than $30,000 a year and working 35 or more hours a week). Such a union, claims Noer, typically results in infidelity and divorce, not to mention poor housekeeping. The article caught the attention of a number of blogs and opinion sites and drew so much negative feedback that temporarily withdrew it. A few days later the site reposted the article along with a quasi-response, "Don't Marry a Lazy Man," by columnist Elizabeth Corcoran.

As disturbing as the original article was, it was hard to take it seriously -- my colleagues and I actually wondered if it really was a spoof. I also thought that to respond seriously could inadvertently validate Noer's argument, along the lines of my mother's advice way back in grammar school: "Don't pay attention to the bullies. If you let them know they bothered you, they'll just come back for more."

But when you start to consider some marketplace realities, it's hard not to be upset. A recent study (based on 2004 data) released by the Financial Women International Foundation (FWIF) reported that while women make up 75 percent of the total financial services workforce, they occupy only 12.6 percent of executive positions in the nation's 50 largest commercial banks -- a significant decrease from the 16 percent reported in a 2002 survey. FWIF suggests that a key contributor to this trend is the fact that women often enter banking through positions that aren't connected to credit and lending, the traditional paths to the executive suite (sales and legal probably would be the insurance counterparts). "What you see is a lot of women going into human resources, marketing, information systems and operations," according to Melissa Cruzon, chairwoman of FWIF and a VP at California Bank & Trust.

I can't even begin to address in this column the issues of gender, class, education and family concepts -- not to mention attitudes toward IT professionals -- that these trends raise. But let's start with outrage and move forward from there.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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