Wednesday, 27 February 2013

IT's Different for Girls

IT and Proud!
I am watching a webcast designed to discuss and promote the role of women in IT featuring contributions from female business owners and senior execs.  They are going to share their success stories and advise us on how to encourage more girls to consider a career in the sector.  So far, so inspiring.  Until four minutes in one of the panel says 'being a woman in IT is hard because we have to manage so many things, like doing the shopping."  LIKE DOING THE SHOPPING?!  One small sentence for a woman, one giant negative stereotype for womankind.

The rest of the webcast was useful but I bet there were people that switched off at that point.  Possibly it was an indicator of her domestic set up and probably she didn't intend it to sound the way it did but it made my heart sink.  Of all the challenges that I have seen and experienced as a woman working in the IT industry, 'doing the shopping' doesn't even make the list.  

The actual challenges I've experienced sit in two camps:

Encounters with cavemen:
Such as the newly appointed sales director who said on my first meeting with him to discuss my career: "If I was a customer and you came into my office, I'd think you were a secretary".  

Such as the finance manager who when I told him I didn't want to buy a car on finance thought he could change my mind by saying: "But even housewives can get finance".

Such as the Regional Director who said to my manager "How can you concentrate with that in the office?" and winked.

Encounters with uninformed people:
Like the pupils I met at a careers day who were asked to guess what job I did. They guessed 'a secretary, or a nurse, or veterinary assistant, or a shop assistant, or a primary school teacher'.  I wouldn't mind but for the fact that they had a description of what my job involved.  Their guesses were based on what jobs they thought women generally do.

People in the first camp seem to subscribe strongly to the 'Pub Landlord' view of suitable careers for women and are unlikely to be swayed.  I decided not to work for the first person, I didn't buy from the second person, and the third; well I was twenty at the time and not really sure what to do about it so I ignored him.  Hopefully they will wake up when their daughters are earning more than them.

The second issue is closer to my heart and I think we can do something about it.  If we can encourage more girls to consider IT and let them see that coding is cool and if coding's not their thing that there are hundreds of other interesting jobs in sales, marketing, finance, training and support then we might start to see the tide change.  Yes some of the job descriptions are a bit nebulous (made up even), and a lot of the jobs are not as socially useful or important as other professions and trades, but there are children who may miss out on life-transforming opportunities because they have a narrow view of the world of work.

So how to make sure that the next wave of girls joining the workplace know there is a place for them in IT?  If you are a woman in IT and you love what you do, please lend your voice to encourage more girls to join in, whether it's a careers event at your old school, supporting something like DigiGirlz, joining one of the Women in IT social networks or checking out the work of the pioneering Little Miss Geek.  Talk, tweet, network and blog about it, tell people you're IT and Proud.  Let's start inspiring and sod the shopping!

Soundtrack: It's Different for Girls by Joe Jackson

Thursday, 14 February 2013

My Beautiful Friend

I dreamed about you again last night.  We are laughing; you are funny, smiling, alive.  And then I wake up and realise in the darkness of the room that the reason I dream of you is because you are gone.

We haven't been friends for that long in the grand scheme of things.  Not for us the 'in-jokes' of the playground, shared youth, or drunken teenage holidays.  We are grown ups, mothers, when we meet for the first time.

You live at the end of my road and yet the first time we say hello is when I recognise your car outside the nursery five miles away.  The little white Audi with a company number plate.  As we talk our boys grab one another and laugh and we realise that they are the ones that the other is always talking about.  They are buddies.  'Little Learners' in nursery parlance and completely loony in each other's company.  

And once we've met each other for the first time, we seem to see each other all the time.  I am admiring your vintage-style engagement ring and you tell me about your New Year's Eve wedding plans.  

Then you're back from your honeymoon and we're talking again and swapping stories of our shared wish to escape our corporate lives and you cheer me on so I take the plunge and you're not far behind.  We drink tea in your kitchen out of bone china cups that are not 'crazed' because you know how to spot a good one and this becomes the strength of your business and soon you are hiring out china to the BA Concorde Lounge for the Queen's Jubilee and I am excited that you've bagged a big one and you are laughing at the strangeness of it all.

Then I'm trying to figure out Twitter and you sit down and teach me because you were taught by a friend who is a dentist and we laugh that I'm from IT and yet bloody clueless about this thing and then I walk you through LinkedIn and we are evens, but you have the nicer teeth and can refer me to your friend.

And then there's the party between Christmas and New Year when you introduce me and my husband to your friends and you welcome us with champagne, then feed us red wine and cheese that your dad has sent to you, but the cheese doesn't work as a means to prevent drunkeness and then we are bellowing out Rod Stewart songs and the children are embarrassed and my husband has to look after us all (including my son who shut his finger in a door) and I forget my handbag and have to sheepishly return to reclaim it.  And I am mortified but you are generous enough to say "it's not a problem, we were all a bit drunk".

And there's more tea and garden centre lunches and visits to soft play where our boys race around until they sweat and their hair smells so good and their cheeks flush as if slapped.  They are Spiderman and Superman, Lightning McQueen and Mater, Thor and Captain America.  We drink over-priced coffee and don't mind the expense for our boys are exhausted and we've had time to chat.

You join a team of great women to walk the Moonwalk and arrange events for the village that raise huge sums of money and at no point do you say 'poor me' because you have had cancer.

Then I'm out for a run and a Porsche whips round the corner and I see you before you see me because I have run these country roads for years and know to keep the volume on my iPod way down low so I can hear the roar of an engine and you go home and tell your husband that I was 'bloody running towards you' and he agrees I was on the right side of the road but mental to be on that windy stretch.

And we go to a barn dance and you're both using a Welsh accent and making me double-up with laughter because you're singing a Goldie Lookin Chain song and my friend thinks you're actually Welsh, and the barn dance ends too soon so we buy more wine and head back to yours and before I know it you're both walking me the 200m home just to make sure I get back ok, and in the morning my husband wants to know why there's a broken wine glass in the bin.  It's your 'one for the road'.

We talk about school and the handful our boys will be together.  It snows and snows, and our husbands are pulling the boys up the lane on sledges.  We are side by side in your kitchen of vintage china and family photographs and you talk about your husband and how you are glad he is here with his son and can 'do these kind of things'.  You take photos and videos and borrow my wellies which is a mistake because a foot out of the door means you're fair game and a snowball is shoved down your back.  

For a week your boy rides with mine to pre-school and every morning you kiss him goodbye with both hands clasped to his face and tell him you love him.  And you say 'thank you' when you don't need to and take the time to match your headscarf to the rest of your outfit and we drink ludicrously strong coffee that makes my head swim.  And the last time I see you we don't hug but embrace.

And we knew it might come but it happened so quickly, we are stopped in mid sentence, my beautiful friend. 

In memory of the beautiful Belinda Harding-Perry.

Sunday, 10 February 2013


I am at Secondary School.  We are on the top playground, being taught tennis.

Mr Knight, resplendent in maroon nylon tracksuit - just a single white stripe on the sleeves, no super-fly Adidas break-dancing tracksuit for him - is alternately encouraging, then berating the class.

We are instructed to hold the racket in our right hand, lift it high, then throw the ball up with our left hand to serve.  Mr Knight looks at the lines of children facing each other across the nets and realises that the picture he is seeing is not as pleasingly symmetrical as it should be.  A pause, and then:

"And for the CACK HANDERS, THIS is how you do it".

And so it continued.  Rounders, cricket, hockey.  One set of instructions delivered normally, then a second set of instructions that began with taking the piss out of the left-handed children.

To be fair to him, I didn't take offence then, and I don't now.  Of all our teachers, he was probably one of the most fun to be taught by, and probably because he did so much stress-busting exercise that the experience of teaching thirty largely disruptive, disinterested, kids did not leave him feeling like he was having a nervous breakdown, and us feeling like we were a wrong answer away from being beaten to death with his Dunlops.  

I'm left-handed and proud and very much enjoy the fact that in some cases it unnerves people.  Left-handers are folks to be suspicious of.  Just look at them; with their hands concealing their writing, what are they writing about?!  This is amplified by the use of mind-mapping.  A left-hander taking notes in the form of a diagram?  Burn the witch!

Around ten years ago I was part of a management team that consisted of three left-handed people.  When the next person to join the team was similarly 'blessed', fellow colleagues suspected we were planning a coup.  If only it were that exciting.  We were actually trying to decide how best to manage the merger of two businesses acquired by Microsoft in the UK (how exciting!) and so carried on writing our plans on a white-board.  Plans that would enable the business to make progress and leave us with the 'mark of the leftie' because we could wield neither marker nor ink pen without leaving a smear down the side of our left hand.  We forged ahead while the rest of the business considered throwing us into the lake at Thames Valley Park to see if we would float.  

There are a quite a few things I can't do well that may well be down to being a 'South Paw', particularly in the sporting arena but could just as well be down to lack of practise or inclination.  I am also a bit of liability when it comes to sharp knives and meal preparation (see 'Oliver's Army' for more on that); fortunately my husband is a right-handed kitchen magician which means that we eat well and rarely visit A&E.  But there are some areas where I am more dextrous than some of my right-handed cousins.  And husband.  

I can paint, sketch, draw, write a story as tall as you like, and tie a bow tie (more frequently needed than you might think), and when I went to give blood on Friday, whilst the vein in my right arm was not up to the job, the one in my left arm was declared to be "Marvellous!  Twice the size of the other!"  Half a litre delivered in ten minutes - boom!  Being left-handed may rule me out of mixed-doubles, but if on top of the normal stuff, I can entertain, and give, to others then that's alright by me.

So next time you meet a left-handed person.  Don't run in the opposite direction, suspect foul play if they're writing notes, or laugh at their inability to hold a tennis racket.  Shake them by the hand.  But not the left hand.  That would just be weird.

Soundtrack: Leftism by Leftfield

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Wild Boys

I read an article in the Times a couple of weeks ago written by a mother of three boys explaining how she manages in a house full of smelly sports kit and unpredictable explosions of energy to maintain a sense of the feminine.

She gave advice on coping with the desires that most small boys have to own weaponry (or re-purpose items of furniture to represent swords and guns), eat constantly, and their need to be exercised twice daily much in the way that you would walk a dog.  Forget a walk or a snack at your peril, for if hungry or bored then your tidy living room is toast.  

I checked this with a friend of mine who is also a mother to three 'blue ones' and she concurred that it is indeed a very particular experience when you are a parent to more than one boy (and especially if you only have boys).  You can read about her 'best bits' here.

For me, the article contained a massive 'a-ha' moment.  In a lightbulb going on way, not in a being trapped in a cartoon way a la Morten Harket.  It read: "At around the age of four; boys experience a surge in testosterone which explains their obsession with characters and light sabres."  So that's it!  This is why our day begins with a running commentary on Spiderman, Batman, and whether Catwoman is a baddie or a goodie (baddie). 

This is why the only way we could stop our son from writhing around bellowing "NEVER!!!" in a muddy field, so aggrieved was he at being made to go for a walk, was to list all of the superheroes we could think of.  

This is why there are two cutlasses in the boot of my car instead of an emergency blanket, torch, and spade.  Ok, part of that is my fault for not buying the requisite 'dig-yourself-out-of-a-ditch-in-the-dark-whilst-maintaining-a-degree-of-warmth-using-some-tartan-wool' kit but the cutlasses are most definitely his.

And when we had his best friend over for the day it is why they practised flying kung-fu kicks on the trampoline much to the distress of our daughter who was hoping for something a little less 'fighty'.  With the power of his buddy, we got to see our son in full-on masculine-mode and wondered quite how the pre-school teachers manage with something like ten boys on a daily basis all getting their testosterone groove on.  We salute them.

Of course it wouldn't be me if I didn't make reference to equality for the girls in all of this.  I wouldn't for a moment suggest they are the opposite of the above.  Girls are of course shouty, fighty, active, funny, loving, and (just like their brothers) very hard work at times.  We had one particularly incredible tantrum that involved our daughter blocking the doorway to Monsoon and I have thrown more than my fair share of toys out of my pram (and mobile phones across the room).  But these boys, well, they're just a little bit more....wild.

Soundtrack:  Wild Boys by Duran Duran

Sunday, 3 February 2013

And if you have 5 seconds to spare.....

There were a number of posts fighting to be written this evening but these have been pushed by the wayside by an email I received informing me that I've been nominated in the 2013 MAD Blog Awards in these three four! categories:

Best Blog
Best Blog Writer
Best New Blog
Most Entertaining

Tres bien! 

So here's a little request.

If you have 5 seconds to spare, please pop over to .

You have to select a Best Overall Blog (feel free to put my blog address in if you don't regularly visit any others :) ) and then have the chance the nominate in other categories.  The one I'd love to win is 'Best Blog Writer'...pretty please.

This is also a great chance to vote for other parent bloggers that you know out there so make a list, make a nomination, and you might just make someone's year.  

Thank you.  Normal service will be resumed tomorrow!

Soundtrack: Half a Person by the Smiths