Funny enough, I didn’t initially pursue a career in tech. I enlisted in the Air Force in 1995 and had good test scores. My recruiter asked me if I would be interested in being a computer programmer. I thought, Sure. I can do that!
It didn’t even cross my mind at the time that I was doing something out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t until I got to my first duty station and saw 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 three main reasons why I’ve remained in IT:
- First, as mentioned before, I had great mentors who have encouraged, supported and occasionally cajoled me into the career I have today.
- Second, IT is at its core about solving problems. I’ve learned that I’m a problem solver at heart and 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 certainly doesn’t play favorites when it doesn’t like what you’ve asked it to do.
However, given that technology has historically been a man’s world, there’s a strong need to bring more women into this male-driven profession. As a Senior Consultant at Innovative Architects – and a woman – I see the goal of encouraging more women to enter into technology careers as a three-part solution:
1. Invest in Early STEM Education
The first step is increasing early STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education. This emphasis must be a priority amongst educators, parents and every company that depends on IT workers. By introducing young women to the concepts or topics of technology at such an early age, the concepts will become normalized. As a result, young women will become more familiar with these concepts later in life.
Moreover, every student in the U.S. 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.
2. Reinvent Perceptions of Female IT Workers
Second, the perceptions of IT careers need to change.
One such example is the entertainment industry. With a few notable exceptions (Hidden Figures and AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire), most instances of women in IT in TV and movies perpetuate the stereotype of the socially awkward person 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 reject them or see these careers as unattainable.
In order for this misconception to change, those in a position of power must be better about portraying women in technology as less an exception and more a rule. Rather than perpetuating the stereotype that a young woman must fit a particular mold or have a natural gift to succeed in a technology field, it would be better to show everyday occurrences of women in technology.
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.
3. Remember the Importance of Mentoring
Thirdly, those of us already in the industry and who have had successful careers in IT must become better at encouraging and mentoring young female professionals once they enter the workforce. That is our responsibility. I, for one, count myself very lucky to have had a few amazing mentors in my life – both male and female – whom I credit with my success.
Tips for Women Pursuing a Technology Career
For girls and young women interested in technology fields, here’s some advice:
If you want to do this, you’re going to have to put in the work. Work on a solid, tangible skill that you can build on. Study concepts and ideas. 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.
However, just securing a job in a technology field isn’t enough. Once you’ve broken into the industry, here are four rules I recommend every woman follow:
We’re conditioned to believe that if we don’t have a fully formed and correct opinion then we should keep quiet. Be fearless about making mistakes. Own up to them, but don’t apologize for being wrong. View failure as progress – it’s one more option off the table.
Own your femininity
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 don’t deserve you.
Know when to leave
It’s not a failure to walk away from a situation that doesn’t allow you opportunity to grow. If you don’t feel your supervisors or teammates are supporting you as a professional – or if you feel like you aren’t being heard – then it’s time to go. There are plenty of great companies out there that will nurture and support your professional development.
Play to your strengths
Being a woman in a tech field is a strength, not a weakness. You must believe this. If you’re 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.
Here are some other tips I’ve learned over the years:
- 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’s due.
- Say thank you.
- Pay it forward.
It’s unfortunate there exists so much struggle surrounding women in technology fields. However, steps can be taken to rectify it. That’s what we’re trying to do here at Innovative Architects, and I’m proud to work for such a supportive and industry-leading IT consulting company.