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Tracy Frank, Published May 12 2010

Microsoft seeks gender balance

Lisa Brummel, one of Microsoft’s highest-ranking women, met with Microsoft Fargo employees Tuesday as part of a companywide employee listening tour.

She said Microsoft’s biggest challenge is how to take the company’s unparalleled growth over the past 30 years and duplicate it. The questions Microsoft needs to ask are how to change its behaviors, business models and the people who make up the company, she said.

One way Microsoft is trying to change the people who make up the company is by encouraging more women to enter tech fields.

“If we just get a one-size-fits-all where everybody’s perspective and everyone’s background is the same, we’re really not going to be building global products,” said Brummel, Microsoft’s senior vice president for human resources.

Women held 24 percent of professional information technology-related jobs in the United States in 2008, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

Microsoft is generally 25 percent women, Brummel said.

“I’d like to see us do a little bit better than that,” she said. “If you look at the numbers of available technical women, it’s going to be hard to make lots of progress, but we are continuing to point ourselves in the right direction.”

Once women start working at Microsoft, the company does a lot of mentoring, Brummel said.

Microsoft also invests a lot in acquiring talent through grants, internships and involvement in programs such TechGYRLS, which encourages girls in grades four through seven to explore technology.

Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program offers high school girls the opportunity to learn about tech careers.

Microsoft Fargo started the MORE (Mentorship, Outreach, and Retention in Education) program last spring to motivate female college students considering technology careers by giving them insight into what the industry is like.

The program started with four colleges and expanded to 11 this year.

“Every single college I’ve called has said yes before I even finish a description of what we’re doing,” said Katie Hasbargen, Microsoft Fargo senior communications manager.

Concordia College was one of the first to participate. Jonathan Pikalek, a Concordia computer science instructor, said he’s heard great things about the program from students.

Part of the problem is that not enough students are exposed to computer science in elementary and high school, he said.

“It’s usually something they’ve bumped into accidentally” through a college course they liked, someone they knew in the course, or a recommendation from an adviser, Pikalek said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526