Women face different IT challenges

Roberta Fox has taken an unsual path to a career in IT. Her journey began on the family farm in Ballymote, Ont. and moved on to jobs ranging from musician to ceramics teacher, before finally stopping at her current position as a respected IT consultant.

Her story seemed to resonate with other women present during a March talk entitled “Women in IT, Yes we are different.” Her presentation, in Kitchener, Ont., was part of the Canadian Information Processing Society’s (CIPS) March-long celebration of “Women in IT” and hosted by the CIPS Grand Valley chapter.

Most women, Fox said, fill positions on the softer side of IT such as business analyst, project management, and help desk.

Another thing most of the women at the meeting had in common was they were discouraged from entering into a career in IT either from family, friends or high school guidance counsellors. Fox said the words of discouragement from her own guidance counsellor still resonate with her.

“[Cousellors] are still discouraging girls and it is driving me nuts,” she said. That is why Fox attends career days in public schools to encourage young girls to pursue a career in IT and telecom. “It is [in public school] where we make career choices,” she said.

Fox speculated another reason why women may not pursue a career in IT and telecom is they don’t want to be perceived as “geeks” by peers.

As well, Fox raised an alarming statistic showing female enrollment rates in IT and engineering colleges and universities across Canada at their lowest levels since the mid-1960s. She doesn’t know why this is happening, but said this decline would not support future industry recruiting requirements.

Fox’s presentation highlighted the differences between men and women in IT. One such difference is, for women, building relationships and “friends” is very important, sometimes at the expense of their own needs and careers.

“I wish I could make young girls understand, we don’t have to be friends with everybody. Sometimes it is okay for people not to like us,” Fox said.

Despite some differences, men and women in IT do share similarities such as the need to do interesting, challenging work that is constantly changing. As well, career challenges for women in IT include ensuring their managers know what their capabilities, goals and directions are since their bosses cannot read their minds.

“The glass ceiling wasn’t because we were women but because we as women didn’t know how to play the game of business politics within companies,” Fox said.

Even with challenges and differences, Fox said there are benefits to being a woman in IT. For example, she said most women naturally possess people and relationship-oriented skills that are becoming future skills required in IT and telecom.

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