Women shouldn't be put off by techie label

Working in IT is not just about being a "techie" - by increasing your exposure to the whole of the business it can open doors to wider career opportunities

KarenLaidler_150

Working in IT is not just about being a "techie" - by increasing your exposure to the whole of the business it can open doors to wider career opportunities

As a woman in IT I have never come up against any kind of discrimination. I have never been treated badly because I was a woman, or held back, or been turned down for a job. And I have never seen any reason why women cannot make it in IT.

People often think the IT department is all about engineers - "those techies over there in the corner" - but I never saw it like that. I have always been driven by what IT can do for the business.

When I left school in 1977 I was guided towards what was then seen as a safe career. I went to work for Lloyds Bank for a couple of happy years and rose to assistant supervisor. However, I decided this was not for me in the longer term, so I decided to try something new.

I got my first glimpse of IT in my next job, working as credit controller for an engineering company. We implemented a new accounting system, and that experience started to show me the potential IT had to really enable a business.

In my first fully-fledged IT role at Ericsson I worked with a team doing IT training and software demonstrations about word processing. One day the regional manager said to me, "I don't know why I need you in this team." That really fired me up to prove myself.

There is nothing I like more than a challenge, which is just as well, as there are some big challenges at all levels of IT, especially when problems arise, when the customer is shouting or the team is despondent. It is so easy for people to blame us.

At the same time, the ubiquitous nature of IT within today's businesses means that a career in IT provides a fantastic opportunity to see how the business works. From my time at Siemens-Nixdorf, Unisys, Capgemini and now in my role at O2, it is clear that all areas of the businesses need to be enabled with technology, so I have to understand them and get involved.

These days I walk into O2 retail stores and call centres and see that our people are supported by IT and that it helps them to deliver the best possible customer service. That is very satisfying.

It might be "just" infrastructure, but you cannot live without it - so it is very rewarding when you get it right. You get a lot of pride from it. IT people do not get the plaudits they deserve - they are just expected to keep everything running.

But there is more of a drive now to be creative. If you think hard about how you can use the technology you can get much better results. You also need to be brave. I have always had an "I'll have a go at that" attitude, but equally I have always been prepared to learn by making some mistakes along the way.

Government initiatives for women in technology are an excellent idea, but they need to position IT in a different way -  to see it as a mainstream career, not necessarily just a job about nuts and bolts. I do not have a degree or qualification in computer science, but I do understand business. That is what matters.

Karen Laidler is chief information officer at O2

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