Women and IT

Many of you, my dear peeps, already know that I’m in the technology field in my “real world” job.  So when BlogHer approached me with a chance to interview a fellow woman in the IT world and write about it, I jumped at the chance.  I absolutely love my career, my job, and the IT field, but it boggles my mind just how male-dominant this field is.

I think I’ll start this off with a little story of my own.

About four years ago, long before Jon and I decided to have a little Peanut, but always knew that we’d have kids, I attended a conference for work.  This wasn’t a conference for my business, but it was a conference in the IT field.  The conference had about eight thousand attendees from all over the U.S.  Eagerly, I signed up– not only was this a perfect event to plan the next couple of years of our business infrastructure, but it was a great networking opportunity.

The day of the conference I arrived toward the end of the sign-up time, and as I was registering, I looked over to a clipboard that had a special event for the “women in IT” to sign up for a private lunch meet and greet.  The list had about four names on it.  I looked down the row of the registration desk and a handful more clipboards with the same sign-up sheet were staring back at me, with an equally low number on each one.  In a conference of eight thousand people, about forty of us were women.  The ratio hit me like a ton of bricks.

The following day, I attended the private luncheon with other women in IT.  They sat around the table, eating their sandwiches, and discussing just how difficult it was choosing a career in the IT field as a woman.  And I sat there, staring, mouth practically open.  Why?  Why was it so hard?  We had desk jobs, for the most part.  A lot of the skills required are very strategic or tactical.  The demand in our field isn’t much different than others– in fact, there are many other fields that are much more demanding and easily male-oriented.  IT offers such a wide variety of career opportunities that it was hard for me to generalize them so quickly and easily.

They talked about childcare, the sometimes odd hours, the hard deadlines, the tough demands of their bosses.  And I sat there, wondering how exactly was this any different than other jobs?  I have friends, none of whom are in the IT field, that have the same concerns as these women.  We are all concerned about our maternity leave, about coming back to work, about not being judged for being working moms, about keeping decent hours and spending time at home, about childcare, about being treated equally now that we were also someone’s parent.  Was IT really so different?

As I sat there, boggled by the conversation taking place and the astounding ratios, I thought back to my experience in this IT path I’ve chosen.  I went to college as a comp sci major and attended classes with 350 other students, about four of whom were women.  Even back in those college days I saw, although did not clearly identify, the separation in the IT field.  With every class that I took I noticed that there were few, if any, women.  And not just the programming classes – the math, the sciences.  With every level the numbers continues to diminish.

As I spoke with Melissa Zgola, MS, MA, a professor at Capella University, I started to notice a very similar pattern.  Not only did she face the same issues within education, but she was discouraged from pursuing a career in IT.  And let me tell ya, IT isn’t exactly a field where you can pick up skills as you go along.  Most of the knowledge that one has in the field has to come from education, as well as trial and error.  There is a real math and science to most things and without the proper education, it’s hard if not impossible to succeed.

By sophomore year I decided to leave the comp sci major and concentrate on marketing, a degree I graduated with.  In my “real world” job I started off as an analyst but changed to the IT career within the first year.  In order to make the change, I had to go back and take a lot of classes- most of them strongly concentrated on the tasks that I needed to accomplish. Since then, I’ve had an amazing career, a ton of learning curves, and all male colleagues.   What was it about the technology world?!  And further– what can I tell you today to encourage you to take a chance on it?

Today I’m still in a technology career, with a kid and one more on the way and I have to tell you– it’s a wonderful place to be.  I find that not only am I completely satisfied and intrigued by the challenges that I face at work every day, but I find that it provides me with the balance that I need.  My life isn’t without its challenges, those faced by any working mom (and some faced by stay-at-home moms), but I wouldn’t change it or choose a different path.

Melissa Zgola, MS, MA, a professor at Capella University, was kind enough to take the time to answer a lot of questions that I had. Here is a quick glimpse. If you’re interested in viewing the full interview, click here to go to the full article posted on BlogHer.

What were some barriers that you’ve had to cross in order to have a successful path in IT?

Although I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in which I obtained the courage to go back to school and completely change my career, I can say that if it were left up to societal ideology at that time, I would not be here today. My instructors, my advisors, and most of my peers were men, and so the first barriers that I had to overcome were my feelings of fear and isolation. Gender discrimination has been a barrier for me throughout my career as well. During my education, throughout my IT career, and even as an educator for IT, I have experienced incidents of gender discrimination. I have had professors try to sway my research decisions toward topics that were more “gender appropriate,” managers who have not taken me seriously, and learners ask to be switched into male-led IT courses.

If I were considering the IT field as a student (early on or to change a career), what advice would you offer?

When I ask my students to explain their motivation for obtaining a degree, one of the most common answers I get is “I want to ensure myself opportunity for advancement in my company.” The IT industry is no longer limited to just three areas of expertise (computers, programming, and network). As technology advances, more complex layers are being added to our existing infrastructures and new sophisticated areas of expertise are being introduced to our field. Therefore, to be competitive in today’s industry, IT individuals require a breadth of knowledge expanding several areas of specialization, a comprehensive and vast set of skills.

What are some survival tips that you could offer?

Take risks! Don’t just settle for a career because of gender stereotypes. If you feel isolated, reach out to others. Find support in a peer or in other women in the industry. Attend women in leadership special topic groups, panels, and conferences. Use your uniqueness to your advantage. Often, you will be remembered for being the only woman in a group of men; make it count! Empower yourself with knowledge. Learn how and why males communicate differently than women and apply this understanding to develop adaptive communication. Have faith in your skills and knowledge. Remain strong.

Why do you feel that IT is so male-dominant?

Back when I considered this field, there was a perception that you couldn’t be a sweet, personable girl and succeed in technology, and today, this just isn’t the case. We need to educate more women on the many faces of IT.

To read the rest of the interview, please go to the BlogHer article posted here.

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