The glass ceiling finally seems to be shattering.
Hillary Rodham Clinton nearly snagged the Democratic presidential nomination. Danica Patrick became the first female winner in IndyCar history. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has emerged as a major figure in world affairs.
Eva Chen smiles at the comparisons. As one of the tech industry's top female executives, she is already accustomed to strides in her own profession.
"It's gratifying to see more women in prominent roles in tech," says Chen, co-founder and CEO of Trend Micro, the third-largest computer-security company in the world, behind Symantec and McAfee. Its market value is $5.5 billion.
Chen, who helped start the company in 1988, became CEO in 2004. After two decades in tech, Chen now has plenty of company in the executive ranks. A wave of female CEOs is putting a new face on the once male-dominated industry. These technically astute up-and-comers are benefiting from more start-ups, plenty of funding and lower costs to start a Web 2.0 company.
And some heavyweight players, such as Google, are proving to be fertile grooming grounds for aspiring female executives.
"Computer sciences and the Internet have made technology tangible and put a face on them as careers for everyone, women included," says Marissa Mayer,who, as vice president of search and user experience, is one of Google's top executives.
Estimates of the number of female CEOs at high-profile tech companies are hard to come by, but they easily outnumber women CEOs on the Fortune 500 list. (Of the 12 female CEOs on that list, the lone tech representative is Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, according to market researcher Catalyst.)
The Internet boom created a lot of opportunities, says Michelle Peluso, who, as CEO, has fashioned a turnaround at travel site Travelocity. "The entrepreneurial path became easier and more inviting."
"Anecdotally, I do think that there are more opportunities generally in technology for people who may not look or match up to traditional definitions of, say, what an engineer or someone in product management should look like," says Gina Bianchini, CEO of social-networking site Ning. "This is a direct result of the fact that creating things online today is basically free and requires very little direct coding experience to create real businesses or new products."
There are more opportunities today than 10 years ago because more women are pursuing engineering degrees and careers, and they're better suited for fast-paced business environments in the online world, says Teresa Phillips, CEO and founder of Graspr, which aspires to become the YouTube of how-to video clips.
What's more, marketers are deploying technology to reach women, many of whom oversee family budgets, do more shopping online, and increasingly rely on the Web to organize after-school activities, says Heidi Roizen, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist and founder of several tech companies.
"There are ever-increasing opportunities for women because there are ever-increasing opportunities," Roizen says. "The more a company is pitched to women, the more opportunity there seems to be for women to lead these companies."
"It's the confluence of technology, consumer and mass audience," says Tina Sharkey, global president of BabyCenter.com and a former senior vice president at AOL. "I want to go where the consumers are going, and where I can create incredible experiences for them."
A new wave