This is a guest post by Katy Bairstow. Katy has worked in the IT industry for over a decade for companies like EDS. She currently works as a freelance web designer and developer and blogs infrequently at whatkatydid.org.
Once again it’s Ada Lovelace day, when people across the globe tip their hats to the daughter of Lord Byron who, in the 1840s, became the world’s first computer programmer. I’m not going to write about Ada though, or about Grace Hopper, Edith Clarke, Erna Hoover or Sophie Wilson (if you don’t know the names, look them up, you owe them a lot).
Back in the nineties, when I began my tech career, a female technologist was unusual and for some people the arrival of a female support technician at their desk-side came as a nasty shock. Today we make up about a fifth of the IT workforce and no one gasps in surprise when you tell them what you do for a living.
So I want to talk about the women in technology today, the women who are out there, right now. The developers, sysadmins, network architects and support techs. They are school leavers, university graduates, established technologists, managers and board members. They are tomboys and girly-girls, fashionistas and fashionphobes. There’s not a stereotype in the world than can encompass them all, they know their stuff and if we want to encourage girls to consider a tech career, they are the people we should be celebrating.
Often articles that decry the low percentage of women in tech are impressively self-defeating. The industry is presented as a boys club, closed, antagonistic, unwelcoming. Women who want to work in the IT sector face huge obstacles, they tell us. This is hardly going to encourage those with an interest to pursue a tech career, nor in my experience is it even accurate. Never, even in the early days, have I been met with anything but a warm welcome from male colleagues, and have never been rejected for a tech job on the basis of my gender. I would imagine that most women currently working in the industry would say something similar. If it was that bad an industry to work in, we wouldn’t stay in it.
I’m not claiming that there are no gender issues within IT, the pay-gap for instance continues to be a problem (hot tip, go into interviews knowing the average market salary for the position, that’s your starting point for negotiation.) There will be some discrimination in hiring and promotion too, no doubt, but presenting the IT industry as a misogynistic dinosaur is self-defeating and highly dismissive of over 200,000 everyday tech heroines who are an essential part of the industry.