Though women have come a long way in the field of information technology in recent years, when we think of the quintessential tech worker, chances are many still picture a guy with a pocket protector and thick glasses. This image has to change if we’re going to attract more women to the field, according
to the panelists who sat in on Computing Canada’s Women in IT roundtable. Enrolment for women in technology-related courses remains low and young women need to realize that tech work is about more than just sitting in front of a computer all day, our panelists said.
Catherine Aczel Boivie, senior VP of IT for Pacific Blue Cross, Krista Scott-Dixon, author of Doing IT, Yaro Woloshyn, senior manager of corporate treasury at RBC, Terinia Smith, national IT ops for data communications at Deloitte, and Anne Hodkin, director of IT at Holt Renfrew joined Computing Canada’s editor Patricia MacInnis and assistant editor Poonam Khanna to discuss the issues facing female IT professionals.
Computing Canada: Why is it important to continue talking about women in IT?
Catherine Aczel Boivie: I think we are wasting opportunities for young women who are coming up from schools. If they don’t see a role model, they may not go into technology.
Krista Scott-Dixon: There’s a pervasive sense that problems have been solved: So now things are cool in the workplace, women have these opportunities, technology is gender-neutral and all the problems that exist in other kinds of fields have gone away. And I think it’s very clear that a lot of those problems are very persistent – pay inequities, problems with balancing work and family. Women have a lot of competing demands on them. So I think we need to be open and say, “”Well, it’s interesting work in some ways – exciting and interesting. But at times there’s a lot of this old baggage that comes with it.””
Anne Hodkin: I worked through a British system, and then I came into the Canadian system, and in the British system at Marks & Spencers, they had addressed an awful lot of these work inequities, and on lots of the senior management and the management in Marks & Spencers – we had about a 100 IT people who were women – so there was no inequity in the group coming up. But because a male tradition – now I’m talking going back a few years, a lot of the old boys network weren’t IT. And so the new senior management were young anyway -the men were younger and the women were younger – and the job went to the best person. Here, when I came up to Canada, there were a lot less women in IT. I don’t know if that’s because of the schooling and the education, and the youth favouring one thing versus the other, I can’t really talk to that. But even in the interviewing process, there are a lot less women coming through. And that is an issue, because you’re employing for the best person in the job. I employ for the best person in the job. We have no gender issues, we have no race issues, so we don’t have those kinds of things, and I don’t know if that’s because there’s a woman in charge, or we’ve actually got over that hump, I can’t talk to other big business.
Terinia Smith: We have women in IT, and there are opportunities for them. They’re doing very well. Within Deloitte, I’ve never come across any instance where being a woman was downplayed. I couldn’t say for sure with the other women, but from the conversations I’ve had with them, it’s equal opportunity.
Yaro Woloshyn: But I think it’s important that we keep talking about women in IT. Women and men tend to look things differently. No matter how you want to slice it, we all think somewhat differently, as well as different races and cultures. That’s the kind of workplace we have today, so to encourage women to move up, and at the bank, generally, there have been a lot of women in IT – but not as many at the senior level in IT where they’re influencing the strategy and direction of the bank. And that’s been a lot of the more recent efforts and a lot of ideas with it, so therefore, if you talk about those things and focus on there actually being a real career for women in IT that is rewarding, and has impact on what they’re doing and value and so on, then even the men need to encourage their children, their daughters to go into IT. Because, otherwise why bother if you’re not going to go anywhere.
CC: Today, we have less women enrolling in technology-related college and university courses than in the past few years. What is the role of both government/industry to change this?
AH: I’d be going to the why question. Why are less women enrolling? Why are they…I don’t know why they’re not.
KS-D: Maybe I can talk about that. I’m working in education, and in fact I just had an interesting conversation with a woman who is in computer science, completing a Ph.D. program who has dropped out. And we’re seeing fewer women are enrolling in North America. But once they’re there, they don’t stay either. As they move up the ranks, you find fewer and fewer women in positions of seniority. And so this woman was being supervised by guys who had gone through the system 30 years ago and they had a lot of different attitudes and were socially maladjusted. And so here’s this young, incredibly bright woman who’s interested in all these kinds of cool topics who was saying, “”I’m sorry, I’m going to drop out, because I just can’t take it. I can’t take the lack of support; I can’t take the lack of decent, sensitive positions; the lack of encouragement for women.”” So that’s one example, and it’s certainly anecdotal, but my sense is that the climate, the institutional climate in the educational field is a problem. That being said, I think most of us did not come to our skills through an IT education or computer science. What I found in my research is that it’s quite uncommon – women almost stumbled into IT by mistake. AH: IT is very analytical. If you don’t have the analytical mind, can you cross if you can’t analyze? You can be the greatest (manager), but if you don’t understand what you’re actually managing technology-wise, and how the whole thing hangs together, can you actually analyze these things?
YW: So there are some similarities. I didn’t go up through IT. I wanted to, but I ended up in mathematics. But obviously you have to have an analytical mind whether you take mathematics or not. You need to have an analytical mind in order to be able to understand any business and support it in some fashion. And if you’ve been in one business all your life, it would be difficult to transition to another, because those solutions don’t really apply.
AH: In all of the jobs I’ve had in the IT department, the programming part of the IT department is very introverted. They want to be in front of their computers. They’ve been through that, they’re not people-skilled people. And especially for my age group and above, they haven’t necessarily got those interpersonal skills, so you get some of the disfunctionality in terms of not knowing how to treat other people, that kind of thing.
Also, women tend to think more socially. You get some introverted women into the IT department, but it’s not seen as cool. But it’s quite interesting, because I’ve been taking kids out of school, and they come for a three-week period and they see what we do, and this guy came from Humber college, and I asked them before they left “”What do you think about it.”” And he said, “”I’m changing my major.”” And I said, “”what do you mean?”” “”It’s too stressful. IT is too stressful.”” It’s not that we were stressed; it’s what’s happening around us. We change things. We make new marketing initiatives, this is what we’re going to do. We need a network connection here, can you do that. And it’s high energy. And the guys are saying, wow I’ve been doing my network courses at university. Now it’s both male and female.
CAB: This isn’t just related to IT. I’m wondering if some of the things we can do is provide an example. At Blue Cross, 60 per cent of the VPs are women. It’s hectic, and it’s part of the culture. I wonder if it is up to us to provide an example that it is a valuable career for young people.
There are a lot of organizations that have special programs for women, but some women look at it as, “”Why should I be treated differently. Why should we appear different than senior men do.””
AH: When I started – I mean I was one of the first women to be invited into the luncheon club at Marks & Spencers. It was a men’s luncheon club and the comments were made: “”Why are we going to invite her in, it’s wrong.”” But we’ve moved a long way from there.
I think the key is the marketing of IT to women. And that marketing has to be at a younger age, and it has to be: There are actual women in the business, it is a cool business to be in and it can be exciting. Because people think IT is programming and some of the roles where I think women absolutely excel is in the project management world, because it’s major multi-tasking, it’s major communications. You’re persuading, influencing, negotiating people to do their part of the project. You have to get a relationship going, and you have to be able to go from talking to the programming people to talking to business. And I think there’s some great roles there for women. So one of the things you look at is – and this is, I think, why I’m successful in my role – is you look at what you’re trying to explain technically to business, and it’s like trying to explain something to a child. You put it in terms they can understand. When you talk about what’s wrong with the network, and they go, well, what’s the problem with the bandwidth, and I say, “”Well, it’s like a pipe. You’ve got oil going through it. Sometimes it’s full, so you can’t get any more oil in it. Sometimes it’s half full, so you can put some more oil in it. But if everybody tries to shove oil through the pipe at the same time, there’s a backlog, and that’s when bandwidth isn’t working.”” Now I can explain that to any of the VPs. So you are explaining a lot of things. So I think for women in IT roles, yes there are women in programming roles, and some of my best programmers have been women – great attention to detail. Some of my best project managers have been women – multitasking, great ability to communicate. So I think there are roles across all of them. That’s not to say men can’t be project managers, but I actually find that women have the ability to multitask and switch from subject to subject at the drop of a hat. You have to be able to switch. So it’s that ability to switch that I think is prevalent in women. Women multitask as soon as they get out of the womb.
CAB: I think part of the issue isn’t just whether you’re a woman or a man, but how you accept it. Whether you’re willing to spend the time to talk to people and explain technology. Or whether it’s I know all the buzzwords – you just have to catch up.
I think women work better in a team environment. I find that in the when I had an all-men team I had to lead – I never led an all women team – (when there wasn’t an all-male team), it was better communication, more willingness to share information.
AH: Women don’t need power as much. I’ve worked in men-run teams and women-run teams, but it depends on where people are coming from. Because even women, if they have a different agenda, I actually think they can be even more brutal. I think women know how to be devious. I don’t know why. So, depending on whether you’re on side with a project or not, I think some women try to totally derail things. And I think men try to derail. It’s about different agendas. And I think that’s business. People have agendas that you don’t agree with. But I agree, I think women want the whole project to be successful. There’s not, “”We did our bit.”” When IT delivers a system, and walks away, and it doesn’t work, (they claim) it’s not their fault. I say, “”What do you mean it’s not your fault? It’s not delivered unless it works and people are actually using it.””
It may just be the people. Some people are very practical and some people aren’t, but I always look to the how. How are you going to use it, when are you going to use it, how are they going to access it? How often is it going to be accessed, what’s the kind of stuff that’s going to be done on it? And have we got the people to the level of training that they’re actually going to be able to use it? Because there’s some very cool technology out there, but you know.
CAB: Going back to the question though, I wonder if women don’t have the obsession with careers that men have. We have several other priorities that we look after, while men – they focus on careers more than we do. We’re not absolutely devastated if we don’t get the next promotion right away. But I’m just asking the question – is this one of the factors that men are more focused on their careers?
AH: Maybe. I mean there’s always that saying, “”Men are what they do.”” They focus on what they do, and when some of them become unemployed, they tend to fall apart a lot more because they’ve lost their identity. Their identity is what they do. I don’t know if women’s identity is on that.
YW: I think you can find both. I don’t think men and women differ that much from that standpoint. There are women who are specifically career oriented, who maybe don’t have families and just are. And there are men who focus on personal lifestyles, and so on. I don’t think we differ gender-wise that way to a large degree. I do think a blend of the two is what you’re looking for.
But the willingness of a team to work together is what really makes a project successful. And if they have different agendas – no matter what they are – it’s just not going to happen.
KS-D: Sorry, I just want to get back to the question of education, because I think it’s an important one. And just to what you said about the importance of having an analytical mind. I started out in fine arts. I mean I’m not quite sure how I ended up running statistical data but anyway, I ended up here somehow. IT lends itself to hybrid jobs. For example, I work a lot with librarians, and they’re fantastic about thinking about how we process information and use information and access information. And so that is their entry to working with IT. Another huge filter for women is Web design. But they come in from a fine arts or graphic design or a photography angle. They come in through psychology or business. So I think encouraging technical education is one part of it. But I think we also want to show them: Look, you can be technical, but come in through a variety of points of entries. I think when you can broaden the appeal – I think someone said something about marketing. You’ve got to market it. I think networking is heavily represented here, but there are so many other things, and that’s the beauty of the field.
YW: But I think from a marketing standpoint and thinking of marketing careers, that always sounds very glitzy. Or if you’re going to be on a trading floor, that looks really neat, because they’ve got TV programs about these kinds of things. And Britney Spears is definitely not technical, and there are role models out there of women who – they’re really far away from anything we’d be doing at this point. From a government standpoint how are those careers promoted to people? And then how do you tie the technology around that? Because marketing and the delivery of marketing is very geared around technology, especially with the Internet and all that. How do you tie all that together?
CAB: I have an idea: Why don’t we have an IT version of the West Wing?
YW: Was any one of them an IT professional?
CAB: We talked before about hiring women, and they’re equally qualified with the men.
AH: But do we pick the men?
CAB: That’s my question.
AH: I’m so desperate to have more cross communication within IT that if I had a man and a woman come in equally qualified, I’m sure I would take the woman, because I need them to talk to one another. Right. They all sit in their little cubicles, and I want them to talk. Even if that means they do less work, I want them to talk more often. In my interviewing now, I’m interviewing for fit, rather than technical skills because I can go send you on a course, but I need you to fit in the team so you’re working as a team rather than an individual in a cubicle. So the skill – the communication and the team skill – is much more important to me now, because I can train the technology. I can send you on a new course. The code is changing so fast, that if it’s .Net now, I’m going to train you on .Net, because I want to keep you, because you’re a really good team player and you can communicate.
KS-D: I think your point about skills is really good – it just goes back to special skills development. Your point is really well taken I think, because when I do hiring, I get all these resumés from IT guys. We try to hire students and make it a part of the learning process. But you know, they have these skills, they have this thing they can do in a limited way. But that’s not what I want. I need a problem solver and I need a communicator. And the one guy I hired recently. Yeah, he was technically good, but what was really impressive is that we asked: How would you do this? And he sat down and he thought about it. And you could see him really planning it out. And we thought, well, we want this guy because he thinks things through. And that’s what’s so much more important. It was so much more important than skills. And students are being told, you have to have this skill, and you need to have this certification, which most of the time is not worth the paper it’s written on, frankly. But they can’t think, they can’t problem solve, they can’t learn more.
CC: What are the specific strengths women bring to technology careers?
TS: I think project management most definitely. I like what you said about the multitasking. Being able to switch gears just like that. Actually being able to communicate to different levels, it doesn’t matter what the level is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a vendor. It doesn’t matter if it’s your CIO. The ability to communicate, and effectively. Not wordy. Get to the point. Get it done. That is one thing women do tremendously well.
AH: I think you choose it whether you’re wordy or not. Because if they don’t get it you might have to be more wordy.
YW: You have to gear it to your audience of course, absolutely.
TS: I agree with that.
YW: Women don’t mind getting to the detail level. So if you have a project manager and it’s a woman, she doesn’t have a problem going down to the detail level to find out exactly what the issue is and fixing it. Because maybe that individual that’s trying to do it hasn’t got the skills yet.
AH: But with the guys, you know, it’s “”I gave it to him – he hasn’t delivered it.””
CAB: Are we saying women are more inclusive? Is that what we’re saying?
AH: Well, is it the women, or is it the job you put them in? For me, if I don’t understand it, I won’t talk about it. And I’ve got colleagues who will talk about things they don’t understand.
CAB: You know, I was shopping for a new car with my husband. My husband said my wife is buying a car. I would ask a question, they would answer my husband. And not just one place, at several places. So I don’t find the same discrimination with the people I work with – when I speak, they listen to me, much as if I were a man. There may be some areas in this culture where they don’t accept us as ones who think for ourselves.
YW: Well, this is where the communication comes in – where if you’re in a team of men, and there are maybe just a couple of women in that team, and the men have really their old boys club, they all speak the same language, and you don’t really speak that language. So you say what you want to say, and it’s just not good enough. So you have to keep speaking louder. What you have to do is figure out how they speak – otherwise you’re not heard. Right. And so I do think the women who are successful in IT, have moved up through the ranks. They have figured out how to be heard and that’s certainly difficult when you sort of go up through a different culture. You know, you’re not included in that boy’s club when they all go out for drinks.
CAB: So, do we network more than men?
AH: I don’t think we do, because we also concentrate on our priorities. How many of us go play golf every two weeks with all of our IT friends? You know, I’ve been in a director position with a lot of other IT directors and yet they can find time to go play golf. And that’s just a mind set, and maybe we should be going out and playing golf every two weeks. I don’t know. Maybe it’s more accepted. Maybe it isn’t golf. If we went out and did something, would it be accepted in the environment if we were out . . . maybe having coffee together? Would that be the same thing as going to the golf course, I don’t know. I don’t know what your diary is like, but my diary is planned, it’s organized. I don’t put into that, “”Oh, I’ll just go and meet a couple of mates.”” My priorities are projects.
CAB: I do make the time to meet with people – whether they are women or men, I don’t discriminate. I just set aside the time to keep up with contacts because I feel in IT, by the time it gets in the book, it’s too late. I need to learn best practices from other people in the field.
AH: I go out to symposiums and find out what new technology is coming up.
CAB: I don’t think it’s limited to technology. It’s what they do in business. This is not a theoretical exercise, so I look at it from a business point of view, and say what will it mean to the project?
CC: You said that women should be networking more often. How do women fit that in the mix when they have jobs that are demanding, families that are demanding? Where are the opportunities for more professional networking?
KS-D: I know women in IT are bombarded with “”shoulds.”” There are things we should be doing and layers and layers of guilt because of the things we’re not doing. But I think to be successful, we need to have a sense of ourselves as people who require networks and support in order to survive. In my case, on my team there are people with technology. I’m second from the top and I make very sure that not only do I network horizontally, finding out what’s going on, seeing what’s happening, but also that I mentor people who are coming up underneath me. And so as I network and I’m not talking necessarily about going to play golf. I mean that’s part of the same thing, but you really need to think about strategic connections in our working lives because women often feel – and this is a male-dominated field – that they’re isolated. That they’re the only ones who feel this way, that they’re the only ones who feel uncomfortable. And there’s a temptation I think to network using the same rules that exist. But I think we all need to think about how to create strategic connections among like-minded people or supportive people.
AH: I think it’s true. When I was in the U.K., I had a huge network. When I came to Canada, I had no network. And it takes you a long time. Canada is very different. In the U.K., we would go to a pub after work and then go home. But here everybody drives, so you can’t really go drinking. So the whole thing is very different. You don’t have that non-working time with your colleagues.
CAB: But if you’re very creative you can do it.
AH: Oh, you can, if everybody’s not busy rushing off.
YW: What we used to do in previous positions, but really haven’t done here, we used to get together for lunch every six weeks, sort of a peer group that was involved in certain projects that were similar across the bank. And we’d share and you could bring other people if you wanted to. It just was a social thing. Everybody has to have lunch. I mean, yeah, lots of us eat at our desks, but if we went to lunch once every six weeks it’s not a big deal. Also, in another position, we never were communicated to at a middle management level. But we got pieces so what we did, is we got together once every month or two months and found out what’s going on in the company because the company didn’t communicate down.
CAB: That’s how we started the CIO Association of Canada – by other people wanting to do that.
AH: That’s a great thing. For me it’s finding out where the world is going to. Because you can’t just sit at your desk reading all the stuff that’s coming out. You’ve got to keep going with where technology is headed.
CC: Are there areas within technology where women actually perform better than their male counterparts?
KS-D: What I notice is that women talk a lot about being bridges or translators, and I think we’ve heard a lot of that here today, whatever form that took. And they were proud of themselves for excelling in that area.
YW:Part of that is being a good listener. You know, the ability to listen to what someone’s saying and understanding. Where I think that men don’t always listen.
AH: As a generalization, my female project managers have more attention to detail in the project plan. They’re not afraid to go down the route of risk analysis and say, “”I need to understand this more.”” You do what is necessary to get the job done. And you’re more open.
YW: Yeah, you’re getting the job done as opposed to just managing the project. There is a difference.
AH: I don’t know if it’s good or not, because it may be about your drive to succeed. But I know that when I had a project that was derailing, I went in on Saturday and I ran the script. But it meant I actually knew it inside out and could talk about it knowledgeably. That’s one of the things – you want to talk knowledgeably about your stuff. You don’t want to go into a VP meeting and not be knowledgeable about stuff. Other people are very comfortable saying, “”I’ll get back to you.”” I’m not very comfortable with saying, “”I’ll get back to you.”” You’re paying me to be an expert in a field.
CAB: The other thing in the question of what women are better at. They reach people at a personal level more – take the time and they listen.
TS: I know things about all my members’ personal lives – their kids names, their birthdays. My husband is a manager at Deloitte as well and there’s no way he knows any of that about his members. He doesn’t even know my birthday. And that helps form a better relationship (for me with my members).
KS-D: The downside of that is those kinds of skills, because they are “”feminine”” or seen as feminine, are not as valued. So they’re invisible in certain kinds of ways, and so, yes I know my colleague is divorced, not that I want to go there with him. So that emotional work is not valued. It’s interesting – I talk to women in business and we talk in the field of women’s work about unpaid work. And people think about housework and childcare, but in a way there’s a lot of unpaid work done in the workplace. Remembering people’s birthdays, taking up a collection for the Christmas party.
YW: Why is it that the women always have to organize these things. Why?
AH: Women organize better. I think they’re fantastic at organizing things they’re interested in. All the men in my department get their wives to do it for them.
CAB: What we do (at Pacific Blue Cross) is, the last to be hired has to do it.
TS: What I’ve also found with women as opposed to men, is that the women as project managers are not afraid to go outside the bounds. It isn’t exactly their responsibility in their project that they’re doing, but it has impact on something else, they make sure everything is in place or work with a colleague to get them on side to pull them in so the whole thing is good. Whereas many times, the male project managers I had are, “”Well, it’s not my job.””
CC: Let’s talk about the specific hurdles and challenges women face in IT-related jobs. Can anyone share their experience on this front and how they’ve handled it?
KS-D: In my case it was compounded by the fact that I wasn’t just female, but I was young. It’s an important dimension of that experience. And so in my case, project managing a research project development nobody knew what they were doing. This project had never been tried before, so I went in and I did my homework. I said to the IT people, I think we can do this, based on this, this and this. And they said no. And I said, “”Look, humans have solved several fundamental problems, such as unwanted body hair, clean water and databases. (These) are some of the things that we’re really on top of. I know that this will work.”” And they said no. And so there was this long process, and eventually I had to get pretty aggressive about what I wanted to do and the kind of solutions I wanted to implement. And I got all kinds of, “”Well, it just wouldn’t work.”” But I had to really work for that legitimacy – it didn’t matter that I had a Ph.D.; it didn’t matter that I was their boss. They wanted to preserve that territory, that knowledge, that superiority. And everyone else was cowed by that IT department because, well, they’re women, they’re academics, they’re not technical. If something doesn’t work, it’s their fault, not the fact that the technology was dumb. People who consider themselves non-technical tend to blame themselves when things go wrong. They say, “”Why did this thing go wrong; it doesn’t make any sense.”” So I had that knowledge where I could go in there and say, “”Look, it’s not working. It’s your fault – fix it.”” In a nice way, but I had to get quite aggressive and say, “”Look, I’m in charge of this project. My solution is well researched, it’ll work. Please do it.”” You try to negotiate, but sometimes you have to say, “”This is how it’s going to be.””
CAB: I can remember recently, my director coming to me and saying, “”Here’s an issue.”” And I’m going, “”What am I the answer to every one of your problems?”” So we had a new solution: If you had a problem you had to come up with at least three solutions.
YW: I’ve had quite a few examples, so let me think. There’s a recent one that would have been a roadblock. And it probably was a combination of woman and IT. I took over this role that I am in now, which has a corporate treasury function. I used to be director of finances in another life. So I had knowledge of what they do and could understand what they’re talking about. And then there was the IT portion, and most of them thought they were technical gurus as well, and had basically helped or not so well helped set up the system. And so we used to have these steering committee meetings that were just riotous. I mean at the executive level. Ultimately through communication we over came that. And I went to my first meeting and I’m a very good facilitator and I managed to get through my meeting. And I go, “”Oh my God, this was awful.”” And they were actually surprised that I managed to get through the whole meeting, but in the end, I managed to. (I asked) what do you need and how can I deliver that. And let’s work in a partnership and I’m not going to tell you exactly what you need to do, but I will understand what you need to do. And you can’t tell me exactly how to do it, because that’s my responsibility. I’ll listen to you, but ultimately I’ll get you your solution. And it was through communicating and changing a whole bunch of things that gave them the right indicators that say my IT shop has been taken care of. And that took me months to figure out. I had the male IT guys so how could I know the IT piece? And then the finance piece. So I had the double whammy there. But it’s through communication and work – talking at their level and also to my team – getting my team behind me too.
TS: I started at Deloitte in the Winnipeg office and two years after that, I transferred to Calgary, and took over the Western practice for IT and I was working in Vancouver. I had just started a role and we decided to merge with a company – in other words, we bought them. But they weren’t happy about it. There was a lot of infighting. They were this very small company, but they were very mad at their upper management for selling them out. Regardless, we had to merge them in – their networks, their data, so the one meeting that I remember sitting in on – the first one – there was this senior manager there. And he was an older gentleman and I had never up to this point experienced discrimination based on the fact that I was young and/or a woman. So this was very disturbing for me. He would sit in the meeting and wink at me and smile at me, but any time I talked, it was as if he looked right through me. Or he totally disregarded anything I had to say as being nonsense. And I got through the meeting fine, but that was just the prelude to the relationship that we would have for the next two years. And at one point, I did level a complaint into the complaints department. He had to formally apologize to me and recognize that he was being extremely discriminatory. Not on the sexual sense – even though he would smile and wink – I didn’t give a rat’s fart about that. What I did care about was the fact that the man would not listen to me. Even though I was a manager for the region, if he had any problems he would go to my manager above me. He did not want to deal with a woman. So we had to eventually get around that. And I moved to Toronto and that fixed it all. He never made it any further.
AH: was in logistics – and there were very few women in a men’s warehousing department, and I was in a logistical project. And things like being invited to eat in the luncheon room – you had to be very senior to be invited – you get questions, like, “”Who is she sleeping with.”” My answer to that question, is actually no one in this business – I wouldn’t even dream of it. Men in retail. Sorry. You had to deal with that. IT is seen as an enabler, not a leader. We don’t have IT representation in any strategic level, and my goal is that we actually have that. I think you have a value to bring to the business.
CAB: The only thing that I could think of is that when women – when I stand up and believe in something and very firmly respond to something, it’s called being bitchy, when a man does it, it’s being decisive or assertive.
CC: In a survey by Catalyst, one-third of women said what holds them back from top management position is stereotyping and preconceptions of women’s role and abilities? What is the most effective way of addressing stereotypes?
YW: I think what women don’t do well is blow their own horn. And what is really important is when you do a good job, you have to make sure that other people know it, and you need to tell them because it’s not necessary anybody else will. And women are not accustomed to saying to themselves, “”I’ve done a great job, look at this.””
KS-D:There was a long term study done at Carnegie-Melon, and they wanted to see what made male computer students different from female computer students, and the only difference they found was that men perceive themselves as more competent, and women perceive themselves as less competent.
AH: But I don’t think that’s just IT. Women appraise themselves at least one or two points lower than any of the men. Nine out of ten times, I would say that women appraise themselves less.
YW: With men, you’re doing performance appraisals, and they’re saying, “”No, no, I think I did better than that.”” You have more of those discussions. With the women, you’re right, it’s “”No, you did a great job there.”” “”No, no, I could have done better.””
CC: The same survey said that 37 per cent of CEOs said that policies at the were responsible for holding women back.
KS-D: I think that’s something we need to talk about, because that is a huge dimension of women working. IT is in a unique position because there are these tools that allow us a certain level of work flexibility. Working from home. They asked people who work part time, why do you work part time? I think it was four per cent of the men said I do it to balance out my responsibilities. Forty-six per cent of the women said I do it for the same reason. So we really need to address the need for flexibility. As the population ages, we’re going to need elder care. Care for parents, care for children. So there are these structural things – flexibility, autonomy. I think particularly for women, because they’ve got all this responsibility.
AH: I went to pick up my daughter at gymnastics, and there are eight other women who have chosen to be stay at home moms, and they say, “”Well, I don’t want to be super woman. When the kid’s sick, you have to take them to the doctors.”” And I say, “”Why do you think it’s the women’s role to take the child to the doctor each time it’s sick. In my marriage, we share the responsibility.”” You have to have an understanding, because the men are just as responsible. The policy comes when you give people – men and women – four-day parental leave. We don’t have that, but the women do it. When women ask me, “”I say it’s your turn this time. Please let your husband know next time it will be his turn. Because I’m paying a good salary to you too.”” And I shouldn’t have to lose out just because I have women working for me – because that’s the only way we’re going to equalize this world.
YW: We’ve got a much more flexible work environment. I’ve had individuals who’ve had difficult getting baby-sitting services. There was a woman who came to me in tears who had trouble and half the time she works at home. And I’ve got a guy in another department and three days a week he works at home.
AH: But you’ve got to have the policy. I mean I had a situation once, where someone said, because I challenged a salary increase, “”Well he’s getting more money because he’s got two kids, you’re single.”” And performance related came in where? I’m the one who’s working all the hours because he’s going home because he’s got two kids. Loads of women, I find don’t stop and chat as much, because they have all this work to do.
KS-D: I think you want to create an environment where people are pushed. And also you want to pick good people. There’s this protestant idea, that if you work more hours, it’s somehow better. People will say, “”Oh, I was here all Sunday, I was up till 4 a.m.”” And I think, this is crazy, why are we proud of this. Is our work any better? We need to work better, more efficient and more sane because people are dropping out because of stress-related illnesses all over the place. I think we need to rethink what we value in the workplace. Because if working longer hours is valued, maybe that’s not cutting it.
One of the things I worry about is that we’re raising one of the most stressed out generation ever. Bringing a futon and keeping it in the broom closet so you can nap for a couple of hours – that’s just an ethos that doesn’t speak to anyone at this table.
CC: In the article in a U.S. publication, an executive recruiter, Judith von Seldeneck, was offering advice to women on the best way to position themselves for their next career move. One particularly savoury morsel of advice was regarding the style of apparel women ought to don if they want to be taken seriously. “”I think it means wearing St. John knits, jewelry and Ferragamo shoes. That’s what I wear every day. I think women should wear dresses, not pantsuits. Why don’t you ask the men what they think?”” von Seldeneck told the magazine. Your thoughts?
AH: Why do we care what the men think? You wear what you wear to feel comfortable.
KS-D: I find that very blaming though. I really resent that individual, you know, it’s your fault sort of thing. If I didn’t wear the right shoes, or showed too much cleavage. We all try to be appropriate and socially acceptable in the workplace, but more than that, I really resent the implication that if I’m impeded by something structural, like a workplace culture and policy, that somehow because I wore the wrong shirt…
YW: It has to be clean and presentable.
CAB: When I see young people come in, some of them are less than acceptable. You see their bellybuttons; you see 12 inches above their knee. There is a happy medium.
AH: But that is your perception on whether bellybuttons should be seen or not.
KS-D: Different workplaces, too, have different rules.
AH: I don’t think it affects the job of the programmer. There is some level of appropriateness. But I think you wear what you think is appropriate for the meeting you’re going to. I always think you have to be where the zone is. If to get respect at an executive meeting, you feel you have to wear a suit, then wear the suit. I personally feel that if I’m dressed for the occasion, I perform better.
KS-D: But I resent the implication…I mean, male IT workers are not renowned for their fashion sense. I mean I have this one data guy that works for us, and I adore him. We had this meeting in Ottawa and his concession to formality is that he wore a black sweatshirt as opposed to a sweatshirt with something on it. But he was the data guy, so no one said boo. Men don’t concern themselves with this.
AH: It’ sad, it’s sad that it’s still that way.