Tracy Pound, MD of IT firm Maximity, CompTIA member and finalist in the PCR Woman of the Year event, talks about the lack of young women coming into IT from education.
I’ve been in the IT industry for a couple of months shy of 30 years, so I’ve seen quite a lot of change. When I started out in 1984 as a programmer, the PC market was in its infancy – the IBM PC had been launched with a 4.77MHz processor and one of their main rivals was Apricot with their brilliantly designed snap fit connections and infrared keyboards! There was no GUI – everything was text based - and as for mobile devices…
Looking back at some of the jobs I’ve had, there were companies who employed staff on merit where the ratio of men to women was more equal, and there were more ‘traditional’ companies that were male oriented. Working in the automotive industry for eight years really brought this home to me, as I was the only female member of the management team in both the companies I worked for. The funny thing for me is that it never seemed to cause me any issues. In fact it was more of an advantage as I stood out from the crowd.
I think that because when I started work the opportunities in IT were growing so fast, no one ever told me I couldn’t progress because of my gender, so my attitude has always been one of ‘can do’. I was a manager by 21 years old – no one told me I couldn’t so I went for an interview for a management position and got the job based on attitude and ability.
When I was head hunted at 25 to work for Dunlop Topy Wheels as IT manager, I got the job because I understood what business is about and knew what an FMEA was - nothing to do with gender! But when my MD told the team at Topy Industries in Japan that he’d appointed a woman to the management team, they were more than a little surprised.
For a long while I was the youngest and only female member of the management team but I didn’t get treated any differently there – and actually wouldn’t have tolerated it well. I was never turned down for a job because of my gender; but then I’ve had my own business for the last 14 years so I’m out of the recruitment game.
What I do see though is a lack of young women coming into IT from education. IT and engineering seem to both suffer from the same stigma of being geeky and not female friendly. In addition I don’t think it’s as accepted that women are good in senior positions. There are a few well publicised exceptions but by and large women steer away from IT and from senior roles, and I think it’s because society still has an unspoken expectation of what a woman should do that translates into business people not considering women in IT or senior roles as viable options.
As a member of CompTIA’s Executive Council in the UK we are in the process of setting up a group to help women advance in IT. There is already a group running in the US and we are looking at what positive impacts we could make within the industry to help girls consider a career in IT whilst at school, and how we could help women move into IT roles either as part of a planned career change or in coming back to work.
We’re not looking to effect a change that means women take a disproportionate number of roles in IT, but simply to achieve a level of balance where positions are filled on merit not gender.
My advice to girls and women is to decide on a career in something you enjoy and not worry about what other people think. There is nothing wrong with standing out from everyone else and IT is a very varied and rewarding industry to be part of.
Technology is always evolving; there is always something new to learn and someone who can benefit from using that new technology. Whether you want to write apps, develop a tech product, be a consultant, train people, provide support – it’s a vast industry crying out for more women to bring their skills to the table.