Survival guide for women in IT

Some time ago, I shared the story of how I ended up in IT, and some of the challenges I faced on the way. Now I am in the process of gathering personal stories from other women in IT.

The more stories I hear, the more I realize that we are still in the dark ages.

According to a recent report by the ACS women make up only 28% of staff in ICT industries, well below the average of 44% across other industries.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, we can see that for technical roles (operations, development and database specialists) the number drops as low as 18%. Even though it might seem the situation is improving in some companies, there’s still a long way to go before we can reach gender balance, we are talking about survival.

The IT industry today is full of threats: you might be overrun by zombie ops team or drown in a fast stream of overtimes. Females need to be warned and trained against common hazards to survive in this male dominated environment. Desperate times call for desperate measures. This is why I am working on a Survival guide for Women in IT.

I already shared some snippets of my Survival Guide at the Agile Australia conference in Sydney, and the LAST conference in Melbourne. Today, I am going to share it with you.

My first chapter will cover “Survival techniques for the hiring process”:

Do not give too much credence to the job description. Treat it as a wishlist. If you recognize 20–30% of those hieroglyphics then you are almost certainly qualified. You need to apply!

There are lots of articles about how current job descriptions discourage women from applying for certain roles. Here is a good discussion about some of the words used in those ads.

It is important for hirers let their applicants know when their company supports flexible working hours and working from home. I wouldn’t advise any woman to be the first in the company. I will actually say in the guide: “Make sure that there are other women working there in similar roles. You don’t want to be the first one”. I have been in this situation at least three times during my career and it is hard, there are too many biases to overcome. But someone needs to be first, so only do it if you are really up for it and you already have some experience in IT industry.

Each chapter of the guide will include a section called “Know your enemies” where I will list a couple roles/character that might be challenging to deal with.

For the job section, the number one enemy is the Recruiter.

“His natural habitat is the murky swamp between LinkedIn and his mobile phone. He has very bad habits, like: telling you that IT is a ‘boys club’ or you look too young for such a senior role. The best defense against this creature is to simply ignore him. Apply for the job anyway.”

That idea came to me after my ex-colleague told me the story of her job-hunting endeavours. Unfortunately, there are very few online resources where companies advertise their IT roles directly and most job seekers will have deal with recruiters, who will filter out potential candidates based on their prejudices.

During your search endeavours the second enemy might be an HR representative. I won’t share here the details about that one, will keep it for the book :)

The third enemy is yourself.

If you think you are not smart enough or IT is not for you — I cannot help you defend against yourself. This survival guide will be absolutely useless. You should forget about IT and apply for a job with lower bar and fewer requirements like the president of United States. You have to be better than the current one, right?

I can’t give much advice on this subject, but here is a good post from Danya Azzopardi on impostor syndrome.

I am still working on advice for the interview process, creating a good CV and attending meetups etc. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts!

In the second chapter I will focus on working in a team and everyday office hazards.

On the first day in office your main task is to survey the battlefield. Create a detailed map of the office premises. Locate the nearest exits and plan your escape routes. Memorize the locations of the bathrooms — they will make a great safety shelters or panic rooms.

Blend into your team environment. Dress appropriately, wear glasses to look more authoritative. Welcome your team members with sugary snacks in the form of cake, doughnuts or cupcakes. Home baked is the best, but if, like me, you can’t bake — DOUGHNUT TIME shops are very good.

Many people will judge your skills just based on your looks. That is how the human brain works; we recognize patterns. And if you are, let`s say, a timid foreign woman coming into a male-only team in a technical leadership role — you might not be taken seriously. Here is one example from a lady working in technical support recounted to me, “I got asked by a middle-aged man to get him a coffee and to find him a man to talk to”.

There could be many different issues with your co-workers, from inappropriate screensavers to blatant sexual harassment. Almost every woman I know in IT has had at least one awkward or inappropriate situation with her male colleagues and some of those are very recent.

I am still actively working on these chapters, so for now I have little more to add aside from this:

Be organized and efficient. Assemble an everyday emergency kit, including: spare clothes, a megaphone, headphones, overtime food supplies, beauty essentials and stationery. This will come in handy during office hours and overtimes”.

There will be many more chapters on building your trust network, extreme work conditions and overtime, meetings, corporate parties etc.

Please send me your stories! I’d love to hear about your successes and challenges!

Twitter @SurvivalWomenIT

P.S: Big thanks to everyone who supported me during conferences and contributed their stories. Special thanks to Erica Smith and Michael Vigilante for their massive editing effort.