As part of #IWD2020, I’d like to share my story, as well as some tips for anyone wanting a satisfying and successful career in Tech.
In the 60s my class did a class outing – we went to an aquarium and some other stuff before visiting a computer centre on the way back. I remember being fascinated by the computer centre – we got to watch tapes going round, punch cards being fed into the card reader, and a BIG computer with lots of blinking lights – all in a special room. I remember being particularly impressed with the woman in the room – she was wearing a trouser suit – which was almost revolutionary in the day!
It was then that I seriously thought about a career working with computers.
I had always been a sci fi nerd – although the term didn’t exist back then. I’d watched in awe as man walked on the moon for the first time. I spent my days devouring sci fi by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clark and Robert Heinlein among others. When I was at secondary school, unlike a lot of my female peers, I actually enjoyed Maths and Science, which was considered weird – in an all-girls school you were supposed to like English, History and languages, it was nearly acceptable to enjoy Biology, but Physics was definitely not a girls subject. However, at my school we were lucky enough to be exposed to computers (located of course at the Boys college), and I remember writing my first program in Fortran back in 1975 on mark sense cards.
At University I decided to study Computer Science, deciding against Physics, Maths, Chemistry or Engineering. My decision was solely based on the fact that I found computing fun – I enjoyed solving problems, rather than on any commercial considerations. I was 20, optimistic and maybe a little naïve.
After graduating I was abruptly brought back to reality with my first job interview. Two men, from a company that was once one of the leading computer companies, patiently explained to me that women didn’t make good sales or technical support people, and also that I was most likely, after completing my 4 year degree, to immediately start producing babies, and hence I was not a good candidate for the role. I fumed! Then, on the advice of my university supervisor, I applied for a job with IBM and was accepted – one out of 10 successful candidates from over 100 applicants – and an equal mix of men and women. In subsequent years I was often competing against the other company – and won more times than not – proving that talent and aptitude were more important than gender.
Prejudices & Stereotypes
I now know that I was lucky to get into IT when I did. In the 80s IT was a new field, in subsequent years it became less attractive to many women – partially because it was associated with ‘nerds and geeks’ and partially because of how we women were treated.
In my career I have heard the following comments
- IT is too hard for a woman
- I would never want to work for a woman boss
- Women are bitchy in the workplace
- Who does she think she is..?
Sadly these comments were all made by other women, to whom I reply, quoting Madeleine Albright:
“There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."
I’ve also heard the following said by men about me or my female colleagues:
- I would rather resign than work for a woman
- She can’t be any good she’s too pretty
- She just needs to have sex, that will calm her down
- She’s too emotional
- She’s too bossy
- If we have to pick a women candidate, lets pick the best looking one
- She’s not dressed appropriately
- She doesn’t know what she’s talking about
My #metoo moment came when a man with power over me passed me a note in a meeting inviting me to ‘fool around’ with him. I knew that if I had reported this to my line manager that I would have been the one who suffered, so I stayed silent, and tried to avoid being alone with him.
And, yes, I’ve been mansplained, I’ve been paid less than men doing the same (or less), and my ideas and suggestions have been ignored in meetings.
Diversity can literally save lives
We now know that increasing the diversity in middle and upper management results in more innovative thinking, and in these days of disrupt or be disrupted, if you’re not innovative you won’t be around in the future.
A lack of diversity leads to poor decisions and can even be fatal.
Back when airbags were first made available – there were deaths – women and children died. Why – because the crash test dummies were modelled on the engineers developing and testing the airbags. No one thought to make a model of a child, or someone of smaller stature.
So Tech needs more women and more diversity.
But why should women go into Tech?
Technology industries are still expanding, and, for example, in Silicon Valley, there are simply not enough people to fill the projected roles. Tech is full of opportunities for women.
My career has taken me from New Zealand to the UK, France, Luxembourg, Germany and I have worked with colleagues from Canada, Pakistan, Italy, Korea, Israel, Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and many other countries. I’ve lead strategic programs and projects that touched many parts of businesses and created technological and cultural change. I’ve met some fantastic people – men and women and had the pleasure of working with them.
9 tips to keep in mind to develop your career
After finishing my last project a few years ago, I decided to move to a coaching role where I could directly work with people, teams and organisations to drive change – to help people to develop their leadership and business skills, to find ways to create better work / life balance and to have an overall more successful and satisfying career and life. I’ve worked with teams to help create better team dynamics so that all voices can be heard, to reduce toxic behaviour patterns and to introduce agile practices. I’ve worked with organisations on their evolving organisational culture. My career has been and continues to be satisfying.
Based on my experience here are 9 tips that I would give any person and especially any woman wanting a successful and satisfying career in Tech (or in practically any industry)
- Find yourself a Mentor – someone who will help you to navigate the company culture and politics, who will believe in and support you and your career.
- Develop yourself professionally – invest in upskilling yourself and getting the qualifications that are recognised in your industry
- Develop your Emotional Intelligence and Leadership skills.
- Come from a growth mindset not a fixed mindset – if you can do your job perfectly then it’s time to move upwards. If you’re offered a promotion and feel that you don’t have all the skills you need, then take the job and learn while you’re doing it.
- Ask for what you are worth – the pay rise, the promotion, and be prepared to negotiate.
- Build you brand and reputation – make sure that people know what you do and how well you do it.
- Support other women - help them get their voices heard
- Build a Network within your organisation and outside of it
- Aim for excellence, not perfection. And remember that sometime just good enough is all that is required.
And if this list feels overwhelming, create a plan and consider getting a coach to help you with it.
I’ve written a compiler on punch cards. I can remember fighting to have 1K of storage space. I have seen the birth of the personal computer, cloud computing, IOT, the smart phone and AI. I look to the future with wonder and anticipation.
We don’t live in a perfect world - maybe technology will help us to find solutions to some of our current and future problems and it will probably create some new ones.
Yes, Tech has cultural challenges, and we need to change that.
We desperately need more diversity in Tech and related industries.
A career in Tech offers us all huge opportunities.
It gives us a chance to solve some of the problems facing our world.
Become part of the change.
PS if you’d like to talk to me about how you can have a satisfying and successful career please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.