Historically, men have typically called the shots in the world of technology. However, efforts are being made not only to make tech fields more attractive to women, but also to create a more appealing working environment for women who excel in the field.
Here at Bizmosis, we completely support this movement and are actively involved in fostering the professional development of women in the tech industry.
For this reason, we wanted to share with you this insightful interview with Audrey Hammond, a Senior Consultant at Innovative Architects, a well-known and nationally awarded local Atlanta IT consulting firm:
Q: Technology is a field mainly dominated by men. What steps should be taken to attract more women to tech?
The solution is three-fold.
First, early STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) education must be a priority of educators, parents, and every company that depends on IT workers. Introducing a concept or topic during early education normalizes it so that it seems less foreign later in life. Every student in the United States needs to begin learning a programming language in elementary school. Coupled with that practical skill, we need mandatory curriculum in our schools that focuses on critical and logical thinking.
Second, we need to take a hard look at our perceptions of IT careers and where those come from. The entertainment industry, with a few notable exceptions (Hidden Figures and AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire to name two), plays up the stereotype of the socially awkward man who hides in a closet and frantically writes code all day.
Or even worse in my opinion, the token female programmer who “just has a knack for it.” Our young women aren’t going to look at characters like these as aspirational; they’re going to turn away from them or see them as unattainable.
Those who have the power to do so must be better about portraying women in technology as less of an exception and more a rule. We do not want to show a young woman that to succeed in a technology field she must fit a particular mold or have a natural gift. As much as I hate to admit it, a blockbuster romantic comedy where the female lead just happens to be a senior software developer would do some good.
Third, we must become better at encouraging and mentoring our young professionals once they enter the workforce. Those of us who have had successful careers in IT have a responsibility to mentor and support those who are joining us. I have been very lucky to have had a few amazing mentors in my life, both male and female, whom I credit with my success.
Q: Women in the field of technology are definitely a minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?
Funny story, I didn’t pursue a career in tech. I enlisted in the Air Force in 1995. I had good test scores, so my recruiter asked me if I would be interested in being a computer programmer. I had taken a Turbo Pascal class in high school (Thank you, Ms. Austin!), and thought, “Sure. I can do that!”. I did not even realize at the time that I was doing something out of the ordinary.
It was not until I got to my first duty station and saw that I was the only woman in a division of 63 people that I began to suspect that women in IT were a rarity. In my case, youthful optimism and naivete worked in my favor. However, given my odd entrance into the field, there are many reasons why I’ve remained in IT.
First, as mentioned before, I’ve had great mentors. They have encouraged, supported, and occasionally cajoled me into the career I have today.
Second, IT is at its core about solving problems. I have learned that I am at heart a problem solver. This career lets me think about big and small issues daily.
Third, and possibly most practically, I have an opportunity to make a very good living doing something that I’m pretty good at.
What people don’t realize is that technology is a great equalizer. The technology doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman. It doesn’t care if you went to MIT or learned on the job as an Airman. It surely doesn’t play favorites when it doesn’t like what you’ve asked it to do.
Q: What would be your message/advice to women trying to get into the field of technology?
I have one piece of advice for entering the field, and a few for those who are new to it.
If you want to do this, you are going to have to put in the work. You need a solid, tangible skill that you can build on. You need to study concepts and ideas. You need to know the history of your discipline. You definitely need to be ready to learn and keep learning daily. Join a MeetUp or a professional organization. Network. Put yourself and your skill out there.
And once you get that technology job:
1) Speak up. We are conditioned to believe that if we don’t have a fully formed and correct thought that we should keep quiet. Be fearless about making mistakes. Own them, but do not apologize for being wrong. See failure as progress—it’s one more option off the table.
2) Rock your femininity. You do not have to compromise your version of femininity to be successful in IT. You want to rock stilettos and fire engine red lipstick? Do it. You want to wear jeans and a t-shirt? If your dress code allows it, go for it. Your unique perspective and personality makes the team better. Those who can’t see that do not deserve you.
3) Go if you don’t grow. If you find yourself in a toxic work environment, leave. It is not a failure to walk away from a situation that does not allow you the opportunity to grow. If you don’t feel that your supervisors or teammates are there for you as a professional or if you feel like you aren’t being heard—go. There are great companies out there that will nurture and support you.
4) Own your uniqueness. Being a woman in IT is an advantage, not a hurdle to be overcome. You must believe this. If you are in a room with five men, chances are you see things a little differently. Embrace the idea that you bring something unique to the table. Great teams are made up of people with different backgrounds, ideas and skills.
5) Some tips. Finally, a few very practical things: Don’t gossip. Don’t date your co-workers—it rarely ends well. Never use your womanhood as an excuse for anything. Be on time and deliver. Be prepared. Always follow, “I don’t know” with “but I’ll find out.” Treat people with kindness and compassion. Lead with gratitude. Give credit where it is deserved. Say thank you. Pay it forward.
By taking these suggestions into consideration, the world of technology can open up for countless women.