Jeanne Douglas discovered she was expecting her first child while working as a programmer at Mutual Life of Canada. In the early 1970s, she knew her options for returning to the workplace post-partum were limited: Public day care was non-existent and maternity leave was still a few years away from
making its way into Canadian law books.
Douglas chose to exit the workplace and become a full-time stay-at-home mom, an option she knows is not available to every family in Canada.
“”It’s a complicated world,”” says Douglas, now the vice-president of applications and professional services at Telus Enterprise Solutions in Vancouver. “”I had that luxury of being able to stay at home and raise my children.””
Ten years later, Douglas found her way back to the workforce and continued building her career in IT as an analyst, then a project leader and ultimately managing a workforce of 900 people at Telus. Today, however, she says she’s worried about the role women will play in IT in the future because of the dearth of women who choose to work in technology.
In IT departments across Canada, men outnumber women three to one. It’s a statistic that concerns Douglas and other senior women in IT, considering representation for women in IT falls well below the national workforce average of 50 per cent.
The opportunities for women in IT were hard won, says Murna Dalton, vice-president of consulting services with CGI Group in Toronto.
“”The pressure to take those opportunities away is still there and without continued effort, those opportunities won’t be there,”” says the 35-year IT veteran.
Dalton says it’s important to recognize that technology touches every industry today, and without some exposure, young women are limiting their choices beyond simply a career in IT.
“”Even if you don’t want a career in IT, everybody needs to be able to use IT,”” Dalton says. “”It’s as basic as reading and writing used to be; it’s a question of being literate in IT.””
Dalton’s fears are justified. It appears the vast majority of female students in this country are not considering a career in IT. An informal survey conducted by the Canadian Information Processing Society reveals that in 2002, female graduates from computer science programs in Canadian universities run anywhere from five per in Alberta to almost 25 per cent in Ontario.
That more women are discounting IT as a career choice is discouraging to Joanne Moretti, Canadian general manager and vice-president of sales at Computer Associates in Toronto. She says women bring a unique set of skills to the table, specifically a natural ability to multi-task, particularly valuable in the ‘do more with less’ atmosphere that prevails in most IT shops.
“”Multi-tasking is our nature; we pack the baby bag while the bottle is warming,”” Moretti says.
She says IT in general is suffering from a bad reputation owing to the Y2K spending frenzy that yielded “”no tangible benefits to the lines of bus