Women And Information Technology

Overcoming issues between men and women when women join the Information Technology field.

The Information Technology field has steadily increased in importance over the course of many years. The field of IT has also been traditionally controlled and advanced by men. In the last few years, perhaps due to the increasing salary benefits, more and more women are embracing the world of IT. As with any field not used to an influx of the female gender, there are some growing pains. Women often face problems with sexual harassment; suffer from a general lack of faith in their technical abilities; and are often kept out of the loop.

Sexual harassment happens in nearly every environment and thus is not unique to women in IT. There may be a difference only in that in a higher paying industry that is so dominantly ruled by men, the incentive to keep quiet is stronger. Women take these IT jobs for the same reasons as men such as financial rewards, advancement, education, and pure enjoyment. That said, it makes sense that most women don't want to stand out simply for their gender. As with anyone else they are there to do a job and gain the skills needed to advance. Let us acknowledge that there are differences between men and women both physically and emotionally. What is often overlooked in such a male environment is how sexual harassment can be devastating for a woman in Information Technology. There is a certain amount of respect one has to gain when breaking into a new field and unfortunately for women, claiming "sexual harassment" is not a good way to do it. Women must skate the line between maintaining respect while not making her gender the main focal point of the workplace.

Men have worked in this industry longer and thus have gained technical expertise that any one new to the industry may not have. It is clear that with time working in a field comes experience. Women, many being new to the field, must overcome the disrespect and criticism that comes with lack of knowledge. This lack of knowledge is often emphasized when the person is female verses male. If a male colleague, who is an old fishing buddy who just entered into the industry accidentally mistyped a line and caused a system outage what would be done? Now picture it is the new woman who just started? Who would be more likely to be given a second chance? Unfortunately, men are more likely to recommend men to work in their environment just for sake of comfort and this is a major disadvantage for women. If one cannot get their foot in the door then one cannot start gaining the hands-on knowledge that one needs to learn the industry. Women must just learn to have faith in their own abilities because there will be plenty of times when no one else will. A woman must be careful though to make sure that what she calls faith is not really over-confidence. She must not be afraid to say, "I don't know" but must make sure to follow it with "but I will find out" and then make sure she does. She cannot take criticism of her abilities personally but rather see it as a task list of things to improve on to further her career. It will take time but eventually she will find herself with the knowledge she needs to answer those questions. Knowledge alone will help a woman build up most of the respect people have for her and her abilities and make her work environment a more pleasant place.

We have established that the industry is very dominated by men and that men like to bring other men on board. Where does that leave women once they do manage to break into the industry? Breaking the "boys club" mentality can be easier than it seems. Although any one of the following scenerios may occur, they are not hard to handle. One possible scenario is that a woman sits alone at lunch every day while the boys go out to Hooters for food and drinks. Or maybe she notices that as she approaches a group of her male co-workers who gathered around the cooler talking about a technical issue that they tend to scatter or just ignore her. Or even better her boss comes in and shouts, "Hey guys, what's been going on?" Being excluded from thought and the regular activities of the office can make her day to day work more difficult. The trick is not giving up. Just keep in mind that it is an adjustment period for everyone. Co-workers are probably doing what they have always done and may not realize initially that the types of activities they are doing are excluding her. Her boss most likely did not mean any disrespect by saying, "Hey guys" it's just that until she got there that statement was accurate. I think anyone will see that even a joking addition to his statement such as "..And gal" from anyone will correct his behavior. So the next time she comes back from working on an issue only to find the office vacated and an hour later the male members of the team return from lunch she should not get angry. She should simply ask "Hey guys, next time you're going to lunch grab me, I'd love to get to know you all better." The rest is up to them but the line should at least be cast. The new person always has to make an effort to integrate themselves into the team, don't let yourself be alienated.

Women face a variety of obstacles when entering this high tech and competitive industry. It is just key to remember that whether the problem is sexual harrasment, lack of respect, or trouble breaking into the "boys club" that the benefits far outweigh the cost. High salaries and respect are a payoff that come from a job in Information Technology, a far cry from the days of a woman's duty to be a secretary or receptionist. Having self-confidence enough in ones own abilities and finding the balance of respect and understanding can avoid all three of these taboo issues.

© High Speed Ventures 2011