There seems to be a lot of interest in Women in IT at the moment, I am not sure if it is fashionable or if there is a real grass roots movement to promote it but every conference at the moment has some kind of WIT content. So I thought I would share my thoughts, perhaps I am not radical enough as I always feel weird about this subject as it has never really affected me too badly. I don’t know about equal pay, I don’t know what my male colleagues earn and the equal pay issue is not IT specific, I haven’t been kept down because I am a woman, and I have had good and bad bosses both male and female.
I used to stay away from the subject but have I must admit used it to my advantage to get press coverage and even blogged once about how I have no issue about being a Woman in IT.
I don’t want to be part of a movement that is about constantly moaning about our lot, perceived or real, and if I am on a panel and the conversation goes down the ‘how did I juggle child care and working’, I will get up and leave. Having children is a lifestyle choice and all choices need compromise, but compromise does not mean settling for less. I love to scuba dive, but I also fly a lot and you can’t fly within 24 hours after a dive. I am not discriminated on because I fly, it is my choice. If I want to dive more I need to change my working patterns. In the same way if you choose to have children you need to decide how you will balance your needs. This shouldn’t be just a woman issue, but often it is and that can be difficult but it is not a problem specific to IT. I must say I have worked for great employers who have flexible working conditions, and sometimes it is men who have chosen to take advantage of this. Many successful woman I know have house husbands and in my own case I had a husband who worked 9 to 5 and was happy to be the main carer when we decided I should move into consultancy to further my career. Our choice, our problem and not something that needs a whole movement behind it.
I also feel that way about roles within IT, you don’t have to be technical! I started as a COBOL programmer but chose different roles to suit me. When I got married and moved to be with my husband in Berlin there was an analyst / programmer role available there so I moved into that role, then when I had my daughter and moved back to the UK there was a role available in Unix and then to move to Ireland I took a role in support that allowed me to work when and where I wanted. As I said above I moved into consultancy when it suited us as a family. A project manager with a good IT understanding is a very important part of a team, choosing to do a non technical role is not a crime.
In the post I mentioned earlier I had just been asked to join a London based WIT group, and the first event was great all about Social Networking and building your online brand, however there was absolutely nothing about the evening that was for women only. But I am a member of two other groups, a Microsoft Group called the T Party which is excellent, such a blast, it is about women getting together and having a fun time whilst learning from other women. Yes the topic is usually about woman achieving but it is about encouraging women and their events are such fun but probably wouldn’t appeal to a man, An Alice in Wonderland Tea Party, a 40s street party, just such a giggle. And then there is OWL the Oracle Woman’s Leadership group, again the speakers are women and we have a lovely meal in a lovely setting and a real ‘ladies who lunch’ fun time. Once it deteriorated into 'a life after divorce' conversation but it was still an encouragement to all.
So why do I believe in WIT if I have so many concerns? Well the reason we are under represented in IT is nothing to do with today’s employers it is to do with career advice or even lack of it. In my daughter's school everyone was told they would be users of IT but only boys were encouraged to follow IT careers. Luckily she didn’t take any notice of sexist advice, she is now an officer in the British army with one very proud mum and being a woman has not held her back. To get more women in IT we need schools and universities to encourage girls.
There was recently an article in a business group I belong to in Belfast asking for help in bringing STEM to a wider audience and I volunteered, but all they wanted was for my company to spend money with this group, what I wanted to do was to talk to girls in schools and encourage them, but I think that was an isolated incident.
At UKOUG Apps2013 I am really pleased that we have two speakers about this, Oracle will talk about their programs for Children in Schools, ALICE and Greenfoot and then the Chartered Institute for IT (formerly British Computer Society) will talk about their graduate programs.
I was asked to be on the WIT panel at RMOUG and it was really good, the questions were about mentoring and I am really pleased to see that the OakTableWorld WIT at Oracle Open World is already talking about this. I am honoured to have been asked to join the panel there although my own schedule means I can only do one of the two sessions (Monday) but I am really looking forward to being part of this.
And in the meantime I will enjoy the only positive thing about the low numbers of women in IT being low, the smaller queues for the restrooms at conferences.