Canadian author uses ‘chick lit’ to address women in IT issues

You won’t find many insights about IT in Bridget Jones’ Diary. And Confessions of a Shopaholic is not about buying too many servers.

That left an opening for a Canadian author to dive into the so-called chick-lit publishing genre with a novel about how women are dealing with technology — for better or worse.

Sheryl Steinberg’s Opportunity Rings, published last month by Key Porter Books, tells the story of Erica Swift, vice-president of marketing at Rockit Wireless.

VIDEO: Interview with Sheryl Steinberg

Despite a good job and big responsibilities at work, her personal life becomes unravelled and it is in part her ability to master technology that helps her find true love and success.

You might assume someone working for a company like Rockit Wireless would already be highly IT-savvy, but Steinberg says she chose the book’s subtitle – “It’s not what you know, it’s what they think you know” – for a reason.

“Erica definitely in the beginning bluffs her way through technology,” she says. “Since I’ve written the book, a lot of people, including a lot of women that I know in tech, have said, ‘That sounds like me, but don’t tell anyone.’ I think that technology moves so quickly, you can never keep up with everything.

And technology can be intimidating. I think that as a marketer, it’s impossible to know everything, and especially someone who’s not a programmer or technically inclined.”

Steinberg is one example of a marketer who has gone on a similar journey.

A former publicist for well-known vendors, such as Lexmark Canada, she regularly helped clients craft their messages to the media and the public even when she had to deal with a personal learning curve. This is a challenge many marketing execs face, whether they work for a vendor or merely have to use technology in the projects they undertake.

“I didn’t know everything. A lot of times I knew what they were talking about, sometimes I thought I knew, and sometimes I just didn’t know,” she admits. “Sometimes you sit in meetings and you just take a mental note, ‘I’ll Google that later,’ or ask questions. You always have to educate yourself.”

Opportunity Rings takes a light-hearted approach to this problem. Steinberg, who studied comedy writing with the Second City, opens each chapter in the book with a pop quiz such as the following:

Technically, if you’re having problems with cookies:

a)      You should work out for an extra 30 minutes to compensate for the extra calories.
b)      You may want to try using less baking soda and more chocolate chips
c)      There’s a reason you keep getting Internet pop-ups about your favourite stores’ holiday sales

Jokes aside, Steinberg says it’s important that users understand that even sophisticated IT systems can be mastered with time and training.

“The message of the book is about empowerment,” she says. “I want readers to not be afraid by technology or anything else. I truly believe if you try something you can do it.”

Steinberg says she learned this lesson first-hand. Though she has recently spoken on women and IT at events in Toronto, she said in the early days she was all to ready to pass off technology chores to someone else.

“I used to rely on my husband as my IT manager. If we needed a new piece of hardware to install, anything technical, he would have to do it,” she says. “Finally he reached a point where he said ‘You know, you can do this yourself. And you’re going to have to, because I quit.’ He kind of forced me to take control of my technological destiny.”

In Opportunity Rings, Erica does the same thing, even installing her own wireless network, Steinberg says. There is also a moment when she takes a critical step of turning her smart phone off for the first time in years.

“She feels kind of naked, because she’s always been connected,” she says. “I think we’re always on. In some respects that’s good, and in some respects maybe not so good. I think the challenge for all of us is to find a bit of balance.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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