Those of us who work in Canada’s IT industry don’t need to read a lot of research or statistics to know that we are surrounded by more men than women. A look around a boardroom or at the proportion of job applications that come in from women tells a pretty clear story. This is especially evident in technical roles, and in senior leadership roles. While I am constantly gratified to see more and more women around me each day, they are still the exception to the norm and the questions persist;
What can we do as employers – and as women - to attract more talented and ambitious women to join us? How can we support their continued advancement and success once they are here?
To help shed some light on the situation, we’ve interviewed five of our own amazing Women in IT here at Microserve. The five women include:
Alison Phillips, Deployment Technician at Microserve in Edmonton
Michele LePage, Project Manager at Microserve in Edmonton
Victoria Armstrong, Systems Consultant at Microserve in Burnaby
Jennifer Hung, Marketing Intern at Microserve in Burnaby and a Business, Management Information Systems student at Simon Fraser University
Deanna Nelson, Deployment Technician at Microserve in Victoria
1) What attracted you to pursue a career in IT? Have you considered transitioning to a different industry?
Alison: When my children were small, my computer stopped functioning correctly and a neighbour fixed it. When he brought it back, he also had a sandwich bag full of food and toys that the boys had put into the computer. At that time, I thought that it might be an economical idea to learn how to fix these things myself.
Later on, we were living in Colorado and I joined a temp agency who placed me with a healthcare company in the Identity Access Management department. There I learned to use Active Directory and found that I was yearning to learn more. I have worked in a few industries already, including healthcare and animal health pharmaceutical sales. I moved around a lot with my husband's job and had to get a new job every few years. I am planting roots in Edmonton now. I like the IT industry and will remain here. It's my turn to build my career.
Michele: I've always been a very technical person which is why I had originally pursued a degree in Civil Engineering. After graduating with my Bachelors degree, I was looking for opportunities in Project Management which was when I found a position within Microserve. After managing various projects for the company, I was motivated by the diversity of the challenges I faced and chose to pursue a career in the industry.
Victoria: I’ve had a strong passion for IT since I was a teenager, however I definitely suppressed it for many years before I decided to pursue a career in it. Perhaps back then a career in IT wasn’t as lucrative or lacked the “cool” factor of other areas. I tried my hand at studying pharmacy and almost delved into journalism before I fell into an IT infrastructure role and never looked back. Since then I’ve worked for a number of private companies offering internal IT support and administration. I moved into Consulting in 2011 and ended up getting involved in a lot of government based projects in Australia. There have definitely been times I’ve dreamt of early retirement or taking a break to pursue a career in professional sports, however I’ve managed to reignite my passion for IT since moving from Australia to Canada.
Jennifer: I’ve always been interested in IT – it’s constantly changing and progressing which is what makes it so interesting to me. The IT industry is my preferred choice to be in after I graduate.
Deanna: I have been a part of many industries, from banking to owning my own business, and they all have one thing in common - computers. I have always been the go-to person for computer help in any office, because I have always enjoyed playing with computers, and like the challenge of solving computer problems. An opportunity came up in Prince George, to take a computer course, and I decided to take it. The IT industry is always changing, and that's what makes it a lot of fun, sometimes. I don't think I would consider transitioning to a different industry. There is always something new to learn in IT.
2) Do you feel you’ve faced any additional barriers in your career that your male colleagues haven’t?
Alison: It's hard for me to tell. I don't dwell on that sort of thing. If I want something, I work for it. And eventually I'll get it if I work hard enough.
Michele: I have definitely faced additional barriers both in my career and during my education. Both IT and Engineering are male dominated industries and until we can alter both men and women's perceptions of competence, women continue to be undervalued. I have seen significant improvement but women are still faced with subtle differences in treatment which accumulate into disadvantages or bias in the workplace.
Victoria: I think we all feel like we face challenges that our colleagues don’t, which really comes down to personality type as opposed to gender. Low level discrimination comes in many forms including racial and gender based discrimination and it is definitely something that we have to be aware of in the workplace. Like many women in male dominated industries I have been exposed to low level sexism, particularly when starting out. Back then I failed to recognize it for what it was or see it as something that needed to be called out. I think as you gain more confidence in yourself and your abilities you begin to understand that kind of behaviour is unacceptable. Everyone has the right to come to work and feel they are in a safe and comfortable environment, no matter who you are or where you’re from.
I have run into some pretty humorous situations over the years. I remember turning up on site to install a server early in my career and the customer quite clearly stating “why didn’t they send one of “the guys” out to do this?”. I proceeding to unpack, lift and rack the server on my own (not recommended – OH&S standards have come a long way since then but luckily I was training a lot at the time and 30 kg wasn’t an issue). The look on their faces was pretty priceless.
I prefer to come to work and feel as though I am presented with the same opportunities that anyone, male or female would. That also means that I do not feel that I am deserving of any kind of special treatment or accolades simply for being a female in a male based industry. We’re all human, yes there are some differences and diversity in the world place is a wonderful thing, however no one should be singled out for any reason. Microserve has been a breath of fresh air for me. Every person here has been extremely respectful and welcoming, and there has not been one second where I have even been conscious of gender imbalances. I think that is the important thing - it’s not about percentages, it’s how you are made to feel. I would rather be in a department where it’s 10% women and feel as equals than 50% women and feel treated unfairly somehow.
Jennifer: People are usually surprised to hear that I am pursuing IT and assume that my male colleagues are more qualified than I am, even when I have the same or more advanced skills and educational background. I’ve also been told I should consider other industries that require less technical skills.
Deanna: I don't believe there are any additional barriers in my career that I have faced that my male colleagues haven't. It seems to be really level playing field. It's been great to see more and more women in the industry. Once a guy carried a box for me, even when I refused the help. That wouldn't have happened to my male colleagues, and they teased me about it afterwards. I think it would be awesome if everyone realizes that it is a level playing field and no one gets treated differently.
3) What do you believe the IT industry can do differently to attract more women, and to support their advancement?
Alison: The IT industry as a whole is very broad. I have worked with some very respectable women and men in the few years that I've worked in this industry, and I have learned from them. I suppose there are more men than women in the IT industry, but that is not something that I really think about. I entered the industry to get knowledge and skills that I can use, both at work and at home. If any woman is interested in IT, she should just go for it; like in any other industry.
Michele: I believe that in order for the IT industry to attract more women to the field, we should be focusing on Education. Attracting young women to programs in Universities and Colleges will play a key role in dismantling the stereotypes that persist in technical fields. The industry can also address these barriers by recruiting female students and providing mentorship programs so that smart and talented women will be inspired to pursue a career within IT.
Victoria: I don’t think you can force anyone to be interested in a field that they simply are not. However, for those that do have a passion and aptitude for the field there needs to be the right support in place. Mentorship programs are great, for both men and women, and can definitely aid in ensuring that people are given the opportunities and support to forge the path they desire. Technology is continually advancing, making the technical nature of IT far more interesting than ever before. There are still some stereotypes of your classic “IT dude” and the concept of the ‘brogrammer’. There is even the stereotype of what kind of geeky girl you must be if you are in a technical role in the IT industry. There needs to be a push to break these boundaries and misconceptions if women are going to be attracted to working in the industry.
Jennifer: Although I think it has started to head in that direction, it is important for everyone to continue to support women in IT. The IT industry should promote more inclusivity and advancement for women so they can feel more comfortable entering such a male-dominated industry.
Deanna: I believe the IT industry has done a great job already, in attracting more women. Microserve has always been very supportive to me.
4) What advice would you give to young women pursuing an education or career in tech?
Alison: I would advise young women (or men for that matter) to find an industry that they like, whether it be IT or something else; and then work at it. We spend a lot of hours at work in our lifetimes, so it is important to like what we are doing. If we like it, we will be more attentive, we will work harder, we will be happier with life, and that is success.
Michele: It is not easy being a woman in a technical career, but I think the biggest challenge that young women face is self confidence. There will always be people that do not believe in you or your abilities, but you will be surprised by how much you can accomplish when you fight self-doubt. Stereotypes exist, and rude or sexist remarks still happen even though they shouldn't. You cannot take these comments personally, it will only hinder your success and prevent you from doing something you enjoy.
Victoria: Firstly, don’t let male dominated classrooms and job positions discourage you from entering the field. There is a plethora of hard and soft skills that you have to use to your advantage. Anyone can excel in the industry regardless of gender, but if you do come across discrimination in the workplace, don’t be afraid to speak up. Despite the stories that you hear of sexism in the industry many of your male colleagues will stand by you in support.
Jennifer: Don’t let the views of others influence your decision in pursuing an education or career in tech – do what you are passionate about or interested in.
Deanna: If you are thinking of pursuing an education or career in tech, I would highly recommend it. I meet a lot of amazing people everyday, and have a lot of fun doing the work I do. The course I took covered quite a few different areas. If you are not sure what you might like, talk to someone already in the industry. There are a lot of opportunities out there.
Image is from Flickr by WOCinTech Chat.
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