It’s everybody’s responsibility to prove careers in tech can be exciting, interesting and extremely rewarding if we’re to attract school leavers to the IT sector, says Zoe Wilson, Head of Enterprise Collaboration and Productivity at Agilisys.
When I first started working in IT, fresh out of university, my workplace was typical of the situation back then – it was full of middle-aged white men in most positions of power.
I remember very often feeling as though I was talking into a vacuum. I remember a situation, working with a young man with similar experience to myself in the same deskside support and business relationship role, interfacing with the business and an external provider. He was an internal candidate promoted because he knew a lot of people, whereas I was the person that came from outside the organisation, because I knew the technology and had that strong technical background. I’d sit next to him and people would come to us with questions. I’d provide the answer, but they wouldn’t hear it until he repeated the answer. That really annoyed me.
It was in that same organisation that I first started getting more involved with SharePoint. There was a SharePoint manager, who didn’t really take me seriously. One day, when he was in an all-day meeting, there was a major problem. I went onto the server and I figured the solution out for myself. When I told him what I’d done, he finally realised that I knew my stuff. The point is, I had to prove myself so much more than males in the same roles did. In my early twenties I wasn’t really taken seriously at all.
These days, while there are still lots of occasions when I’m the only female in the room, I’m no longer ignored and people do listen to me, which shows how attitudes towards women in the workplace – and IT – have come a long way.
However, we haven’t come far enough. While my experience has been positive, there’s still a lot more to do. You only have to look around most of the teams I work with to see they are still male dominated, something that’s probably more reflective of the wider market. I’ve recruited many people into technical teams and it would be nice to bring more women in, but the pool of experienced senior female technical talent is really small in comparison to the number of men in the marketplace.
That’s one of the reasons why I go and speak at events, host workshops or embrace opportunities to work with schools. It’s important to show girls who wouldn’t necessarily pursue a career in the field that they can have a really exciting career in IT. So often, I hear from high-performing girls that they’re looking to pursue heavyweight subjects like law and economics and traditional subjects like that. Last time we worked with students I probed a little bit deeper to find out why and I found that IT isn’t seen as a serious career for women to go into. That’s because we’re doing a really bad job of marketing the careers that are available.
IT can be exciting, it can be interesting and varied and extremely rewarding as a career. I entered the sector because I’m good with people and technology – and I think that’s what it’s all about. In our areas of expertise, we’re using IT to improve processes, enhance working lives and improve outcomes for citizens and local businesses. The people who are going to do well with us are those that are empathetic, can understand people, relate to them and really ‘get’ the convergence of people, processes and technology. It’s about real-life business and people problems and how technology can solve them. I don’t think we’re selling this well at all to young girls and we’re certainly not starting early enough; we need to start introducing the idea of a career in tech at primary school level.
There’s a bottom-line benefit to be gained from encouraging more women into tech too, which we shouldn’t ignore. There are numerous studies out there that prove if a business has got a diverse team it will be better performing. Where company boards or senior leadership teams have an even gender split, as an organisation you have more unique perspectives that complement each other, which means you will be higher performing and perform better financially.
From a financial perspective there are clear benefits, but it makes sense from a people perspective as well. If a woman sees their female peers moving into senior roles it gives her the belief that she can achieve this too, driving motivation and making further recruitment of previously untapped talent easier.
This, coupled with us all working hard to market our profession to the next generation of talent, we can make gender equality a reality.