Tech – The Great Equalizer? For Women?


Confession. I fell into Tech more by chance than by intention.  It’s hard to imagine, but back in 1996 there were a number of large companies who preferred (yes preferred) to hire people who didn’t go to school for Computer Science into their tech teams.  (Gasp!) Why?  Two words. Legacy systems.  No Computer Science program (at that time) could prepare a would-be tech person how to navigate the systems that had been developed, patched, and then re-patched within a company’s massive walls.  So the leads of teams preferred to take people like me (innocents who had not be shown how things “should be” ) and train me in their “ways” .

I never though of tech as an option for my career but I had a position that didn’t work with people and I was miserable. My boss agreed to release me back into the company work pool on one stipulation – I could only look for a position that had me interacting with people daily.  There was a tech support role.  I applied. Took an assessment. Got the job. Got trained and the rest they say is history.

It never occurred to me that because I was a “girl” that I was breaking new ground.  The reason?  The tech team that trained me was made up of mostly women.

Wait. What?

Yup! 1996 and I was in a tech team made up MOSTLY of women.  I didn’t know it was odd. I didn’t know it was strange (even back then).  It was all I knew.  The company had created a system for hiring internally. Upon my arrival I was told by the leader (also a woman) “We can teach technical skills if you have the aptitude. We can’t teach social skills. You’re here because you have both, so let’s get started.” As my technical skills grew  I would end up on teams made up of mostly men.  Sometimes there was another women in the room, sometimes there wasn’t – and it didn’t matter.

What I discovered early on is that tech really is a great equalizer.  There are numerous articles and issues about there not being enough women in senior leadership positions, in tech positions, in politics, etc.  I get it. There’s a crisis. But for this article, let’s look at the benefits of being in Tech.

One of the benefits of being in tech, one of the things I adore about this industry, is this:
You either know what you’re talking about or you don’t.
It either works or it doesn’t.
Your technology is either running the way it is supposed to or lighting up your call center.

Isn’t that wonderful?

You can’t sit in a room with your various administrators, developers and project managers and be clueless about what is being discussed – you will either be eaten alive or completely ignored.  (Contrast that with other roles I’ve had working with major brands where I once was forced to sit through an hour debating two different colours of blue and what should be used on the website.  An ENTIRE hour! On the colour BLUE. I’d have left earlier but I needed to know the hex code to finish our work. BRUTAL.)

Every industry has people who try to pontificate on things they know nothing about to make themselves look more knowledgeable than they actually are. Having worked across five industries I can assure you that it’s everywhere – including Tech.  Yet, when it comes to Tech there is something unique that happens that I haven’t seen in other professions.

There’s this moment when you have the team in a room… maybe you’re troubleshooting a showstopper or trying to map out some infrastructure – the leader has reverted to an old school whiteboard and everyone else is heads down on their tablets and PC’s.  Some are frantically researching, your developer(s) are sighing under their breath “…but its working on my machine. &^%$!”, and it is literally ALL hands on deck.  Finally, someone says “Does anyone else  have any other ideas?” It’s like magic.  A voice will fill the room “Have we thought about trying….”  The room pauses and then there’s an instant flurry of activity.  Then the sweet words that fill the air “Ya know, this could work…”

It’s Tech’s most glorious moment because in this moment everyone is equalized.
It doesn’t matter if you are male or female. It doesn’t even matter your years of experience. ALL that matters is getting the problem fixed.

In my early career, I sat in war rooms constantly and it was always the same. All these years later and it make me smile how little has changed.  The behavior is largely the same but the laptops and phones are SIGNIFICANTLY smaller.  Since that time, I’ve held other positions in other industries where we’ve had to troubleshoot.  Yet, whether the tech industry realizes it or not, this leveling of the playing field just doesn’t happen in the same way.

For me, Tech has provided me with a solid platform (no pun intended) to stand on. When I’ve experienced bias (which I have) it has provided me a sword with which to fight.  Knowledge truly is power – and in Tech where it’s either “working” or “failing” there is a true north that is entirely appealing to me.  Yet, as I reflect on my career I realize there were a number of things that brought me to Tech that organization’s should understand as they try to diversify their workforce.

Attracting more women to Tech is one issue, attracting more women to YOUR Tech Company is another. For this article, let’s focus on how you can attracting existing women in Tech to your Tech Company.

First, I was not a “woman” working in “Tech” – there is nothing more insulting to a person then to tell them they are being hired because of something they have no control over (like their race or gender).  I was hired because I had aptitude and social skill.  That validated me as a professional.  Put your focus on the fact that you are looking to hire strong talent.  Period.

Second, talk about how you level the playing field within your organization.   Do you have KPI’s in place?  Have you created an environment that is about actual outcomes or is it about who’s golfing with who?   When looking to work for a Company this can be a huge indicator for candidates on how you value your people and create an environment where anyone can be rewarded for their contribution. (News Flash: We women don’t want ‘favoritism’  based on our gender anymore than you do. We don’t mind competing. We just want a fair competition. )

Finally,  women experience bias all the time.  Don’t insult our intelligence by telling us “it’s just in our heads” or that it doesn’t exist at your company.  (Pretty sure I didn’t imagine the ignorant and inappropriate comments that have been said to me over the years.)  Acknowledge this happens everywhere and not just to women.  What is your organization’s approach  to creating an inclusive environment? Show me an organization that promotes respect for everyone and I just may believe that you really take equality seriously – and THAT ultimately is what most people want (including women).