It's not easy for women to work in male-dominated environments such as the IT industry, but the elements of empowerment and encouragement can help bridge the gender gap
It is important to encourage young women to explore career options in more male-dominated industries. Too often, even if they express an interest in science or technology, young women are not given the encouragement they deserve. For instance, at school, I wanted to do something related to science and chose languages and science as the subjects for my final years. However, the schedules of these classes clashed, which caused a problem and was apparently not acceptable. The teacher in charge of scheduling called me to her office and asked me to change one of the subjects to help resolve the scheduling problem. She told me “girls don't do physics, girls do history.”
I was shocked at her attitude, as it was the first time I had heard that sentiment expressed so blatantly. Even at that age of 14, I knew she was wrong and I resolved to prove her wrong. Ultimately, I did history, not because of what she said to me, but because my maths was not strong enough for physics. However, I took a side course in computer programming. We used Basic on BBC Micros, which were the epitome of technology at the time. I have a school report that states: Nichola can write her own computer programs—one day I will frame it!
The gender imbalance is obvious
In a few years, I began working with the British Ministry of Defense as an analyst/programmer. This was the time when it was possible to join the Civil Service as a cadet programmer without a degree. I was outnumbered by men by quite a considerable number, but I always expected to be treated as an equal, and I was. It’s never easy as a woman working in a male-dominated environment, especially the military, but I never had any real problems with it.
This was the beginning of my long career as an analyst/programmer and I worked in insurance, government projects, the telecoms industry, and mining. I also worked on the Y2K problem for Air New Zealand in Auckland. After a while, I decided to give up coding and became a technical writer, a long career in software security and enterprise software, which I continue to enjoy.
In my fairly long career journey in the IT industry, I have never come across overt discrimination because of being a woman. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe it happened and I didn’t notice. There's an old joke in the IT industry: The number of women in an IT company is roughly equivalent to the number of blokes called Dave. I can vouch that this is true given my experience working in such environments. Why is it true, though? The work we do is not physical. There’s no benefit to being slightly taller or stronger. So why is the gender imbalance so obvious?
Reality is different from the general perception
One of the main issues is perception. When I started in IT, the perception was that people in the computer industry were men with long hair and beards, wearing socks and sandals and green cardigans. Whilst I actually did meet some guys like that, the reality was generally different. Now, the perception is sweaty nerds with dubious personal hygiene who talk knowledgeably about absolute nonsense. The reality, of course, is different.
I’m sure the perception puts many girls off even thinking about a career in IT. They think you have to be super nerdy or incredibly technical to even get a foothold in the industry. Many don’t know about the other aspects of the industry that could interest them. Technical writing, for instance. Use your technical abilities and your communications skills. I work with some incredibly talented technical artists. They are indeed technical, too. They produce great art for our product and also write code for their own consumption.
Girls must be encouraged to take up science and technology
I do hope girls are told encouraging things about the IT industry, so they can enjoy great careers in the industry. They must be encouraged to take up science and technology, as I believe we have come a long way from the outdated ‘girls don’t do physics, girls do history’ idea.