Wednesday 6 October 2010


I don't normally do this. I really don't. But this is important so it must be done.

I've just signed up to a petition being run be e-skills UK. They are also running an IT Ambassadors rollout which will eventually see people who sign up going into local schools they are paired with and speaking about why they are in IT. With free CRB checks included.

I've signed the petition and I've volunteered to go and talk tech to some teenagers despite avoiding public speaking like the plague. Here's why.

17% of the UK IT workforce are female.

I could stop this blog post right here. Everyone reading this knows that to be a fact. Everyone reading this knows why this is a bad thing. Everyone reading this has undoubtedly had a discussion with a woman in tech at some point in their career which has come at the problem or issue from such a different angle to the one you were coming at it from that you've been blown away.

I'm not a rampant feminist. I just think every sector that delivers a service to 100% of the population (because everyone needs IT) should be representative of the people it serves. Occasionally, girls see things differently. Our best ICT Project Manager in our organisation is a woman. She is focused on detail without being mired in it, MS Project is her weapon of choice and she deploys it well, she is trustworthy but knows when to break that trust for the good of the project, and more importantly perhaps, while I have no idea how much her boss values her, she is the one PM whose name you can mention to anyone, and I do mean anyone in the organisation and to the last, the very last, the person you are talking to will visibly brighten (or relax if it's in terms of that person managing their project) and have marvelous things to say about her.

I shouldn't really need to be making this point but I she is not alone. I know a few women who IT project manage and are damn good at it. Three of the girls on our IT helpdesk are women. They outnumber the boys. Each one of them I trust implicitly to know what I'm talking about, I don't need to filter the tech, I just tell them the problem as I see it in my hodge podge mix of geek and non geek talk and they understand and fix it. So do the blokes. But tellingly, not all of them. And it's people skills where those blokes fall down.

Historically, employing techs meant conceding that perhaps inter-social and customer service skills needed to be sacrificed. The world has changed immensely in the last 10 years. But there is something to be valued in a tech who has excellent customer service skills and still knows how to be calming, polite, empathic and gentle with people. Tech is still scary to a lot of people, you might think they understand what you're saying - truth be told they're probably doing what a rather nice lady I had a chat with the other day about this does - sloping off with their tail between their legs, never daring to ask another question because they've just been geek talked into oblivion and back and would rather die than have it happen again.

This is not the way to do business. This is not the way to provide a service.

Empathy is inherently a trait we all possess. I think perhaps women are better at being comfortable with displaying it. Is the reason that so many women work in customer service because it's traditionally been a low paid role, or because women are simply better at listening to what people are actually saying, what terms they're saying it in, and then mirroring the questioners terminology and phrasing in order to make that person feel more comfortable? Is that they can hear fear in someones voice, or can remember feeling that fear and want to reassure before moving on to solving the problem? Is it because we are comfortable with delivering information slower, sacrificing speed for ensuring that a message really is received and understood.

I'm not for a second suggesting men don't do their jobs in tech well. I'm not suggesting there are some things women can do which meant can't. Everyone can learn. What I am suggesting is that the lack of women currently in IT is depriving us of some great minds, inspirational viewpoints and differently motivated people who have an awful lot to contribute and who are contributing to almost every other sector of society pretty damn well thank you very much. Except ours. And that's wrong.

So, please sign up. Pick it up and pass it on.

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