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Hall, an accountant by education who not only runs AARP's security division but heads all of its IT operations, finds that female business leaders are more plentiful in other areas, such as marketing and human resources, than in information security. "I found most women that started out when I did over time have chosen to stay home or take on a profession that doesn't require them to be out of the home as much as IT can," she says. "It's still not the most hospitable climate for women in general."

That's one reason global companies such as Microsoft are investing millions of dollars into college scholarships, computer research labs and recruitment of minorities and women. It also hosts internal regional conferences on work/life issues for its female sales force to help them to better handle schedules, child care and task-sharing in the home and at work. Not that men don't have similar struggles once they become fathers, but the workplace bias is still there, and these companies are working to fix that.

Adrienne L. Hall, senior director of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative, remembers being told by a customer that it was useless for them to build a work relationship because she'd soon have children and leave. The customer later apologized for his remark. "I think there's always a tension around the time people spend at the office and at home, and women have that aspect to consider in terms of when they would take a promotion or when

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they would have a child," she says. "There's a need for increasing awareness and sharing best practices for it."

That's one reason that, five years ago, Brocaglia founded the Executive Women's Forum (EWF), which meets annually to build alliances and advance careers.

"We help to make women aware of how other women succeed in gaining influence and consensus and getting their point of views conveyed," Brocaglia explains. New to this year's conference in September will be the announcement that an EWF fellow will receive a full two-year scholarship to the Carnegie Mellon Information Networking Institute (INI) for her master's of science degree in information security technology and management. In addition, the recipient will be mentored by an EWF participant. It's another step in strengthening female bonds and fostering cooperation, rather than competition.

"The biggest change I've seen in the 20 years I've been recruiting...is the huge change in attitude of women from the old days of 'I got here the hard way and you have to pay your dues, too,' to a complete turnaround, where women are incredibly gracious and willing to help other women to succeed," Brocaglia says.

"The women who attend the forum have this determination to share and help each other, be open and honest, and really go out of their way to make other women successful.

And that's a huge advancement," she says.

This was first published in July 2006

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