When INN's editors began research on the topic for this month's cover story, women in insurance industry IT leadership positions, they were charged with finding out how women are faring within the broader context of IT and management. That discovery process turned up some pretty negative press.The Journal, an online forum for educators on the value of teaching technology, quotes the National Center for Women & Information Technology's (NCWIT) research, which indicates an 80% decline in the number of female first-year college students who chose computer science as their field of study between 1996-2004. According to NCWIT, today, women make up only 26% of IT workers in the country.

Consider the headline posted on The Wall Street Journal's online business technology section: "Do Women Hate IT?" This posting elicited no less than 16 pages of spirited online squabbling by males and females alike.

The Harvard Business Review's online entry, "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership," states that although women occupy 40% of all managerial positions in the United States, only 6% of the Fortune 500's top execs are female, and just 2% of those firms have female CEOs.

Even results of an informal INN Web poll, which asked readers to define the type of support their employers provide women, were grim. As of press time, 74% of respondents confirmed that their organizations had no formal programs for women in IT leadership.

When we interviewed our "Women of Influence" candidates, however, we discovered a very different picture: Their love of technology and the insurance industry is matched by a feeling that the industry loves them back.

"I believe the insurance industry has been very good to women," one candidate told INN. "There are a number of opportunities for women both in IT and on the business side - if you are willing to walk the talk."

What sets INN's "Women of Influence" apart may be the reason they have achieved success in the first place: a common the belief that "change begins with me."

Women can, and must, play a more significant role in building an innovative and technically trained workforce, says NCWIT co-founder Lucy Sanders in The Journal.

Our "Women of Influence" seem to get the drift.

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