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Net shatters not-so-sacred gender myths


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   The roaring new economy is a genderless frontier with equal
   opportunity for men and women.

   In other words, it is nirvana for energetic, entrepreneurial women,
   according to several female chief executives of dotcom companies who
   have jumped to the sector after paying dues in more traditional

   "The Internet, on all levels, is a much more democratic and level
   playing field. It's more about smarts, drive and passion, than who you
   are, ethnically and genderwise," said Lisa Crane, CEO of Internet
   music firm Soundbreak.com.

   While refreshing, the opportunities afforded Crane and her peers, such
   as Meg Whitman, CEO of online auctioneer eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY), are
   still the exception. On Wednesday, International Women's Day, women
   around the world protested the continued gap in wages between men and

   "I've found little issues about being a woman in this business. There
   still might be a boys club in the financing end of the business, but
   otherwise the woman thing is pretty inconsequential," said Crane, a
   former NBC and Universal Studios executive.

   Indeed, top female CEOs such as Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP) CEO
   Carly Fiorina -- the only woman to lead one of the Dow 30 blue-chip
   companies -- prefer not to be looked at as "female" chief executives.

   "I hope we've reached the time where gender is interesting, but not
   the main focus," Fiorina said.

   "Companies that are going to survive or excel have to focus on getting
   the best talent, regardless of gender, race or anything else," she
   said. "Bias of any kind is a luxury companies can no longer afford."

   Breaking the technophobic stereotype
   At times, Crane meets people who think women are technophobic. "There
   are people who think you don't know what you're talking about, which
   is offensive," she said.

   Equally offensive were suggestions by recruiters that she pursue
   "female" jobs such as marketing and brand development.

   But Pam Miller, CEO of San Francisco-based Rocket Network, actually
   thinks this is what sets women apart in the sector.

   "I have a bit of a theory that there are a lot of women who are
   becoming successful CEOs in Internet businesses because of all the
   branding that's going on with the Internet," she said.

   For so long, the business was just technology-driven, but now there's
   a need for marketing skills.

   "Marketing has always been more female-oriented than engineering.
   That's why you're seeing more woman in dotcom companies," said Miller,
   citing her friend Julie Wainright, who runs Pets.com and was formerly
   CEO of Reel.com.

   "Julie and I worked together at Clorox, and she's been terribly
   successful at focusing on branding," Miller noted.

   Crane said children seemed to be a deterrent when she was pursuing
   jobs in entertainment. But it rarely comes up now.

   "People in this (Internet) industry assume that if you're in and have
   kids, you've figured out how to work around it," said Crane, a mother
   of three.

   But she admits the pace is not for everybody. "A lot of women in
   bigger companies want to cross over but they're afraid of the pace,"
   she said.

   The number of women between 25 and 34 in managerial and professional
   jobs has increased 14.6 percent to 5 million in the last five years,
   according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

   Still a mostly male world atop the Fortune 500
   While female executives are on the rise, the top ranks of Fortune 500
   companies are still dominated by men.

   The resignation last month of Mattel Inc. (NYSE: MAT) CEO Jill Barad
   left just three women at the helm of Fortune 500 firms, according to
   Catalyst, a New York-based women's advocacy and research group.

   Barad's ouster led some experts to wonder whether female CEOs are
   getting harsher scrutiny.

   "I think it's the consensus in the women's executive community that
   the few women in top spots get more media attention and are judged in
   a far harsher light on a short-term basis than their male
   counterparts," said Pearl Meyer, a compensation consultant.

   "I don't know if the directors of Mattel would have
   judged a male differently, but I think there are concerns they may
   have been put under more pressure from the spotlight of the media and
   investors to a female CEO," she said.

   Members of Mattel's board have denied that gender played a role in
   Barad's departure following months of intense pressure over slipping
   sales and profits.

   Besides Hewlett-Packard's Fiorina, other top female chief executives
   at Fortune 500 companies include Andrea Jung of Avon Products Inc. and
   Marion Sandler, co-chief executive of Golden West Financial Corp.

   Employment experts said demographics should eventually level out the
   playing field.

   "The climb in a Fortune 500 company is a rigorous, 20- to 30-year
   trek. There wasn't a large pool of qualified women in these companies
   prior to 1970, but now 50 percent of people in grad school are women,"
   said Bob Rollo, an executive recruiter and president of Los
   Angeles-based Rollo Associates.

   "The big trick now is for any Fortune 500 company is to retain their
   best people because there's some really great opportunities in these
   small dotcoms, where there is no glass ceiling," he said.

   Indeed, last month, Heidi Miller quit her job as chief financial
   officer of Citigroup Inc. to become CFO of Internet company
   Priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN). Miller last year was named the second
   most powerful businesswoman by Fortune Magazine, behind Fiorina.


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