Women in IT

I must admit this has been an open topic in my mind for a very long time. Years actually. Ever since I realized the female population was absurdly low in the IT world and that’s going to be 18 years ago now. It’s eluded my capacity to write something decent about it to such a point I never even wanted to try drafting it.

I should also say that I do consider myself lucky, not just for the fact I did work for and with awesome female leaders in this Industry but also because I have worked for Companies that do make a difference: all of them have high ranking female officers and there is a more balanced distribution of genders in leadership or management roles through the ranks than there is in other industries I’ve experienced.

I was only able to give this article a title and start putting sentences together after I realized, not long ago, I had missed the opportunity to participate in an awesome open session with that exact same title, led by Monika Fahlbusch, Chief People Officer at BMC.

I didn’t attend this session but I was inspired by it through some of the comments I heard afterwards. It was such an empowering event that most of my female colleagues that attended still remember it vividly. Still, what lingered in my mind was the title of the Talk. It was simple and it summed up my thoughts. I then figured that’s exactly what the title of this article should be, that is what I wanted to write about.

When I first approach IT I was as many people of my same generation, around 12 or 13. I didn’t know of course it was IT, we just called it “computing” back then. Commodore was big then and my C-64 hooked to an old TV did wonders for me. I still remember the LOAD “filename”, ,8,1 command I used to get my games on. Back then the “Blue Screen” was a good thing. Then came the DOS / Windows based PCs and one day, can’t remember if it was ’94 or ’95 I got my first modem. BBSs were my first approach to the “interconnected” world that would later become so obvious to everyone as the Internet.

What I remember most about that time, I would say between 12 and 18 was that women were rare in that space. Of course one goes from the absurd dorkiness of a teenage boy who doesn’t know how to talk to girls, to the ending years of your second decade…and still not knowing how to engage a girl. Only in my case, getting into Information Technology only exacerbated my problems addressing women, as it seemed to me there was something around 1 girl every 15–20 guys.

Self-esteem issues aside, it looked odd to me.

Then I turned 18 and needed to find a job. First job ever (working for a company that is) was at a Tech Support call center, helping people access the Internet for the first time. First boss? A woman. Can you imagine the challenge for me? I came out of teen land being all shy and super geeky and my first boss was this strong woman who, without being rude or nasty, impressed me with an air of absolute control and knowledge.

She was one of the Supervisors at that call center and everyone paid attention to her. I was also surprised of what she knew. So far I hadn’t met any girls who knew Technology better than I did and that changed right then and there. I was actually…relieved. It felt natural. Why wouldn’t she know what I knew, and even more? She was more experienced than me, held a hierarchical position and she had the power to give me a job, to teach me and make me better, which she did.

What impressed me the most though was that she was tougher than any other supervisor there, yet back then I didn’t think why that impressed me. I was just proud to be part of the team of someone who could hold everything in control and keep a smile up even through any unexpected crisis. She was inspiring.

I’ve worked under other female leaders as well and I learnt from them, a lot. From one, who I only saw in person less than a dozen of times as we lived in different countries, I learnt the importance of communication through results, specially when working remotely. I worked 4 years for her, and 2 out of those years she named me Top Performer of the year. From her I also learnt that even the coolest boss can be wrong sometimes and when that happens you don’t need to gloat, but rather support that person.

The last one I’ll write about was the toughest female executive I’ve met. I reported to her for less than 2 years. Before being my boss and working at the same Company I was working for at that time, she spent some time working in the Middle-east, which hardened her she said. She joined our Company as a Manager and quickly became a director: she had a plan, she knew how to stick to it and she would not take nonsense from anyone. She ran an organization of hundreds, all alone.

It wasn’t until I met her in person that I realized the toil that working like she did took: she looked tough and acted tough but you could see she was exhausted. I wondered why. After spending some time with her, in person, I remember thinking that she was tired because of the way she was forced to work: she would not take any “special” treatment just for being a woman and she would work twice as hard as her male colleagues. I was impressed, I had never met someone with so much drive in my life and she was, as my first manager ever, so confident and strong. She even told me the last time I saw her that she didn’t care for the differences Companies made between men and women as that would never stop her.

I am still a bit of a nerd, but I like to think I’ve come a long way. I’ve learnt some things and I hope I’ve given some of that back, yet when I look back I still find more male faces than female ones looking back at me. Even when I do find some female ones, they tend to be hard, sometimes cold, maybe in imitation to those of men. It just makes me remember that Director I mentioned, her weary eyes and tough face.

It still looks pretty odd to me. The ratio has gotten better, but still appalling, I would say 1 woman every 6–10 guys, specially when you look at executive positions.

Almost 20 years after working for my first boss, I see a lot more women working in IT in many fronts. I’ve met a lot who make a difference, from programmers and DBAs to CEOs and Company Owners that thrive in the IT world. This industry is still expanding and still growing, and becoming more equal as well. It has the unique opportunity to become a beacon for other industries, one to show the path to achieving gender equality, but we haven’t quite reached out to that potential.

I wonder why.

As a male manager, I wonder why there aren’t more female leaders everywhere in the Industry. As a person that’s been in said industry for some time, I wonder why are we so shy about this topic and why did it take me so long to mumble my first words about it? Why is it still a hushed discussion at most management meetings in most IT Companies? I know I am not alone wondering, but sometimes it feels that way.

I believe that the first step on any quest for change must be a voicing a question or a doubt, bringing it into existence outside of your mind. The topic must be something that makes you wonder, search for answers and changes and that’s where I find myself right now: taking that very first step, questioning, wondering, thinking out loud, finally.

As I finish the article all there is left to me giving all my reminiscing and free thoughts are feelings: as exciting as it is to be part of a changing Industry, it is equally frustrating to see that those changes are still not deep or fast enough. All the excitement of being actually able to participate in the change dims a bit when I turn around and still see more men than women staring back at me. I still wonder if it’s possible that most men are still big nerds inside as I once was.

Maybe once we achieve equality this topic will become what all big changes become: a standard, past settled and agreed upon.

I will leave you with this question that becomes the final set of words for this article but it is actually both the first step in a quest that we must all take, and also what brought this article to life. Do not think of the answer yet. Think on just the question, then speak it, whisper life into it by just wording it. Once it’s alive we’ll be able to take the next steps into finding and acting upon answers.

Why aren’t there enough women in IT?