This is a guest blog from Sian John, Security Strategist at Symantec. Sian is a finalist in the 'Inspiration of the Year' category at the 2013 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards.
Most women working in technology will have been in a situation where they have been the only woman in an office or a meeting. While the percentage of women working in IT is proportionately lower than men, there is an even larger gap in specialist areas such as Information Security. I have spoken at many conferences where I've been the only female delegate, and whilst this makes the queue for the toilet easier than usual, it's not always the most reassuring place to be. However, whenever I return from events such as these, my passion to promote more women into the industry is reignited with gusto. For me, the challenge isn't about more men being hired than females but about actually having the talent pool of women available to recruit and for IT to become the career of choice.
While this often leads to initiatives around women in technology, as has been said in previous columns, these initiatives aren't and definitely shouldn't be around complaining about men and the important role they equally play in IT. They should fundamentally be about pulling together a greater diversity in the workplace with a mixture of different cultures and backgrounds which will ultimately provide a richer working environment. In many cases, women have a different approach to their male counterparts, which can ensure balance.
For me, one of the biggest challenges that we face is encouraging women to view IT as a plausible career in a first place. This isn't simply a case of making technology 'pink', or other similarly patronising initiatives. It needs to be far further reaching as was demonstrated by the wider campaign from the European commission that promotes the profiles of women in science and both the challenges / rewards of a career in science.
We need to ensure that women see this as a career that they can enter and enjoy, the aim shouldn't just be to encourage young females but people of all backgrounds starting out to look at a career in IT and see it for what it is; a varied and people driven career.
My employer, Symantec actively supports events such as TeenTech, which encourages 12-13 year olds to consider a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing). What is noticeable from being involved in TeenTech is the change in attitudes of the children from considering engineering careers to be underpaid, boring and overworked to understanding how challenging, interesting and rewarding it actually can be. This change is visible in the girls who attend, demonstrating that it is not just a case of running dedicated events but ensuring that the content delivered is relevant and compelling in order that they respond positively.
The final piece is to look at changing the stereotypes that appear to persist which give females the impression that it's actually not a male dominated career. As we see IT move to a more consumer driven world it is not only helping to change the perception of IT as a career but it is equally important to embrace this change to provide strong examples of women who are successful in these careers - and there are plenty to choose from! It's certainly positive to note that females seem to increasingly being the character of choice as the computer expert / hacker on many of today's entertainment shows (e.g. Hunted, Arrow, and Criminal Minds), however we now need to convert this into a reality seen in the workplace.
Initiatives such as the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards, which I feel extremely privileged to have been selected as a finalist for and Computer Weekly's Top 25 Most Influential Women in UK IT Awards certainly help to highlight success but as a collective group we need to work on changing perceptions every single day. By providing support to young women in the office, helping them to understand how they can personally succeed in their careers and inspiring the women we meet to consider a career in IT - whether they are still at school or considering a career change. IT is truly a rewarding, challenging and people centric career to which women can bring invaluable input, expertise and insight.