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


  1. super post - totally loved reading this!!!

    PS just going to do the shopping (KIDDING!!! I did it online earlier!)

  2. Thanks Fiona :) Good to see you're keeping the side up!

  3. This is great! One thing to add to the "what you can do" is MENTOR! I am 30 years old and still relatively early in my career, but I just started mentoring a 17 year old and it is fantastic. We need to be reaching down and finding the young bright minds and helping them succeed.

    1. Hi Lisa - yes, I should have put that on there! I have some informal mentoring connections (as a mentor and 'mentee') but not in that age bracket. It's going on the 'to do' list now.