“I thought you were a man,” the young female consultant exclaimed. “Excuse Me?” I said. “Oh, when the team said their manager was coming, I assumed you were a man.” I wondered to myself, how do I respond to this and is this 2019 or 1950? But in reality, the consultant had a good reason to think that I would be a man.
Both the US Census Bureau and the Bureau for Labor and Statistics estimate that women make up only 20-25% of the Information Technology workforce. Men are 4:1 more like to be employed in the IT industry. While statistics aren’t readily available on the number of women in IT careers who are over the age of 50, logic would follow that the IT landscape is not teeming with 50-something women.
The reasons for the disparity of women to men in technology fields are varied. Women who are currently in their 50s did not grow up with personal computing or mobile technology. The higher education landscape was vastly different in the 1980s and very few women pursued technology careers. Women were still pushed to teaching, nursing, secretarial work, and child rearing.
Stanford University did a study showing different reasons why women are the minority in technology careers. The number one reason, “men make them unwelcome from the beginning.” In the May 2018 edition of Inc.com, writer Minda Zetlin reported on the Stanford research. Among other reasons for gender inconsistencies include the challenge that technology fields often lack work-life balance, women in technology are generally tasked with soft skills jobs with more challenging endeavors going to male counterparts, and the environment is regularly more conducive to a frat house than a professional workplace, especially with start-up companies.
While women still lag behind men in IT fields, there is a reason for hope. A quick look at some of the biggest, most popular, technology companies include women in leadership positions. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, will be turning 50 this year. Susan Wojcicki is the 50-year-old CEO of Youtube. IBM’s CEO is Ginni Rometty who along with Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard, are both in their early 60’s. Women 50 and over also hold upper leadership positions at Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle to name a few. These powerhouse women are paving the way to gender balance in technology fields.
Women are taking charge and empowering other women to enter the profession in other ways as well. Organizations such as Women in Technology (WIT), Women in Cybersecurity (WiCys), Women in Technology International (WITI) and others have made it their mission to empower women who are in or are entering technology careers.
An interesting caveat to women who are in technology careers, they are often not “technical.” More often than not, women are not running systems or coding but more likely working on the front end of technology. Of the aforementioned CEO’s, many are not writing code or developing technology products, but managing and selling those technologies.
This distinction is important when we consider encouraging a younger generation of women entering college and the workforce. Anneke Jong, who writes for The Muse, likens this to women in music who are not musicians. We need representation in both arenas. I don’t have to be a plumber to know how my pipes work, but if I want to fix it myself, I should have rudimentary knowledge so I can follow along with the Youtube video.
Technology jobs are now being touted as one of the best choices for women over 50, looking for a career change. Technical writing and the related computer programmer made Balance Careers top 10 careers list.
We still have a way to go. As someone who changed careers at 51 and spent over 20 years immersed in technology in higher education, I wasn’t surprised when greeted by the hostile male workplace at my new job. It was a subtle attempt to undermine my appointment as an IT manager. Despite holding a doctorate in Technology Education, a Masters in Instructional Design and Technology and having won my husband’s heart in the ’90s using pine email and owning an Apple 2e, someone started a social media campaign claiming I was only offered the job because I was a woman.
While disheartening, it didn’t take long to prove myself, though I wonder if a younger man would have had to prove anything. I’m happy to report that all is well and several colleagues have apologized for their not-so-welcome inauguration. It just goes to show, we still have ground to cover when it comes to women being equal in the IT world.
Equal respect, equal pay, equal opportunities, equal education, equal expectations, and equal confidence in a woman’s ability to do the job as good or better than a man is still a click away.