My grandmother was denied higher education because she was a girl… For her this meant she had limited choice and agency in her own life. She made sure ALL her offspring, in particular her daughters and granddaughters, engaged in an education of their choice. Needless to say, my gran was a massive inspiration for me. She might not be an IT Girl in today’s meaning, but her story deserves its own post in the very near future.
For now, let’s get back to IT Girls and our stories.
What is IT (Information Technology | I.T. )?
I have been reluctant to use IT, I.T. or Information Technology. To me, IT meant the guys and gals who worked in IT support, and I didn’t feel that it was reflective of my career in the software industry. Until I started looking for a definition:
Stands for “Information Technology,” and is pronounced “I.T.“ It refers to anything related to computing technology, such as networking, hardware, software, the Internet, or the people that work with these technologies. Many companies now have IT departments for managing the computers, networks, and other technical areas of their businesses. IT jobs include computer programming, network administration, computer engineering, Web development, technical support, and many other related occupations. Since we live in the “information age,” information technology has become a part of our everyday lives. That means the term “IT,” already highly overused, is here to stay.Christensson, Per. “IT Definition.” TechTerms. Sharpened Productions, 2006. Web. 27 January 2021. <https://techterms.com/definition/it>.
I have now dusted off and started using IT to combat the lack of shared, universal language about all things computing and tech. And I love how I can playfully use IT as it. To me, IT encompasses everything tech, computing, computer science, AI, software development, cyber, UX, product management, design thinking or anything digital. IT may help our conversations. IT may reduce misunderstandings caused by our individual interpretations.
It’s also important to note that IT is the foundation of most solutions, across industries. Digital literacy and online participation are indispensable to health, education, business, and social interaction, as highlighted by COVID-19.
IT is what underpins how we work, and this is NOT going to disappear. We all need to understand and engage with IT. Become real IT Girls.
When it came to selecting my own career pathway, I had a few criteria:
- It had to be a field that could make a major difference across a breadth of areas,
- I wanted to use my brain – both sides of it,
- I wanted to prove that girls can do what boys can do,
- I wanted to build on my maths, science and language skills, and
- I wanted to study and work overseas.
After contemplating options like medicine, teaching, marine geology and electrical engineering, I settled on Information Technology (IT) or Computer Science as we called it then. I enrolled in a course called Computation at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). This was a well reputed university, endorsed by the Norwegian Department of Education, so an obvious choice.
Many of my fellow students were in the same boat as me. We came into IT out of excitement about the opportunities of the future, and not from a place of experience. Manchester in those days offered a very rich social life, but I’m afraid the learning experience was all but rich. The professors were “ancient” with zero understanding of the need for integrated learning to encourage initiative and innovation.
Despite this, the course and IT attracted a diverse group of people who saw the potential and we all persevered. In our year, there were 13 girls out of 85 students, so just over 15%. If my memory serves me correctly, the girls were from Norway, UK, Malaysia, India, China, and somewhere in Eastern Europe. Every single one of us graduated and have had fulfilling IT careers across software, government, health and education. We were some of the early IT Girls.
In the early 90’s, there were about 35% women in key IT roles in developed economies. Unfortunately there has been a downward trend since, and in Australia we are under 20% with less than 5% girls in undergraduate courses. Time for change. We need more IT Girls.
Let’s unpack some IT Girl stories
I’m not very techie… get to know IT
I hear this all the time… From women who clearly know their way around tech, women who have leadership positions in tech, women who run their own businesses, even from some of the most proficient women programmers, technical consultants and architects.
Why is this?! Have you EVER heard a man say he is not techie? Whether he is or not.
My partner is a sports coach. When I met him 15 years ago, he hardly knew how to switch on his PC (yup, one of those tower ones where he stored his photos). He has now learnt how to use G Suite, Microsoft Office and social media. He is very proficient running his business underpinned by tech. He considers himself to be techie. You should too. Own IT!
Because of my background in education and the software industry, I often become the “IT/Tech/Digital expert”. I am okay with that, even when I don’t have a clue about the specific tech that we are talking about. Because I can find my way around IT. Anyone can. All it needs is critical thinking, creativity and a collaborative, problem solving mindset. If you can’t find IT yourself, have a conversation with someone… Join a community of people who are keen to enable and empower each other, and create a more diverse and inclusive IT culture.
Let’s start with a ‘can do’ attitude. You CAN do IT! Let’s do IT and be IT Girls.
I’m not enough – I don’t know all of IT!
This is not IT specific, but something that women experience across the board. When we look for jobs, we look for the ones where we know 12 out of the 10 things listed, and we don’t put ourselves forward for roles where we actually believe that we could do a really good job.
Did you know that most job ads are either a list of what the person currently in the role does, OR the employers’ wish list of everything they would like.
Get over IT! Put your hand up for the opportunities, because you don’t need to know ALL of IT. You ARE enough. And, you will bring a very valuable, different and individual perspective to the conversation. Contributing to and creating better solutions to real world problems.
We know that men will apply for roles where they only have half of the skills listed. They interview with the knowledge and confidence that they ARE enough. And if the bosses don’t recognise that they are, they will let people know, and move on if that is the best action.
So should you. IT’s all in the mindset. If we learn nothing else, we need to learn that girls are IT and we are enough. We also need to back ourselves and each other.
Own what you already know about IT and don’t let people talk you down. Own your expertise, and connect and co-create with others in areas that is their area of expertise. And make sure you CALL IT when someone acts as if you are not enough.
Am I worth IT? Prove you’re an IT Girl!
Many women have this internal conversation whether they are selling services and products directly or negotiating salary.
This is a hard one for me personally. I have always found it very challenging to set a price on my own programs and engagements. Especially because I want to enable and empower women and other underrepresented population groups to step into IT. My entire working career has been in an industry that pays well, and consulting fees are high. I know what other people charge for IT. My challenge then becomes a balancing act between doing good, and meeting my financial obligations.
I was discussing this conundrum with my coach one day, and she said… “have you ever come across a man that negotiates his price down before even talking to customers?”. I had to admit that this was a very novel idea to me.
When I first started looking at pricing, I reached out to a friend who loves sales and business development. She is the ultimate closer… the person who gets any sale over the line. That is her superpower, not mine. However, I do need to understand and own the value I bring and set the price. She told me to check what the competitors charge, and use that as a baseline. I baulked… Who were my competitors? Was I not unique? Were they not better than me? After a bit of coaxing, I finally got across the hurdle and identified a bunch of comparable products and services. This helped tremendously with setting a baseline and boosting my confidence. And I can be flexible. This was super sound advice, and it works for everything, even if it was hard to get started.
You could also try asking your customer/client/employer what your offering is worth to them. If you are in a community of potential clients, ask them. More often than not, they will suggest prices that surpass your expectations. Even if there may be a discrepancy between what they say they will pay and what they actually will pay, this can be a great guide. Have you tried asking a potential employer about the budget for a specific role? The answer might surprise you.
Asking a potential customer / client / employer is great way of setting a baseline and building your confidence. I tailor all my programs and engagements for the individual client. Together we explore what they want to get out of it, co-create the program, and agree on price, which creates win-win relationships. This is another pricing strategy you may want to look at.
Finally, there is the challenge of putting a value on your experience and expertise. Why can it cost $5000 for what looks like 5 minutes of work? Davy Greenberg caused a bit of a commotion when he tweeted the following in 2019:
Opinions were many and varied. He raised awareness around the value of expertise. The verdict that most people agreed on was that if you want expertise, you are happy to pay for it.
I also love the story about the retired engineer who agreed to come in as a consultant to fix a machine at his old job. When he arrived, he walked around the machine a couple of times before he grabbed a hammer and banged the machine. The machine started again. He gave them a bill for $5000. The boss argued and said he needed an itemised bill. The engineer provided the following:
- Bang the machine with hammer: $5
- Know where to bang the machine: $4995
Priceless! Make sure you memorise and keep that in your back pocket.
Whatever you do. Know that you’re worth IT!
Why these particular IT girl stories?
I chose to focus on these three stories that women often make up and tell themselves because these are the things that we can fix ourselves. Apart from a tiny bit of a nudge that we need from each other, ourselves and our allies, the above are all within ourselves to do something about.
I encourage all IT Girls in the world to nudge yourselves and your girlfriends when you notice that you /they fall into these stories. Let’s help each other change the narrative.
And let’s all agree that:
- You are IT, Ms Techie! The world needs your perspective to create better tech.
- You ARE enough! You may not know all of IT, but you know something really well. Own IT, and collaborate with others.
- You are totally worth IT. You CAN do good, and get paid for your expertise.
Where can we take IT?
One of the things I do, is to provide affordable business coaching and mentoring for women in IT/tech roles and organisations. I am also planning to run group mentoring circles and would love to hear from anyone who might be interested. My programs are suitable for any woman who is either in IT or trying to get into it.
The programs build skills, confidence, shared language, collaborative relationships and entrepreneurial mindsets. I work with the client to understand what outcomes they are looking for and together, we tailor our engagement for her needs.
The coaching is suitable for any women who:
- Are in IT roles or organisations now, and are finding it hard to navigate
- Come from a non-tech background and want to move into IT
- Have or are starting their own tech / IT business and need a sounding board to help take their business to the next stage
- Are curious about all things tech / IT and want to learn about the industry and how to into it
In summary, all current and wannabe IT Girls.
I am based in Perth in Western Australia, connect and operate globally and will make it work for your time zone. I absolutely love inspiring and helping IT Girls discover their STEAM or superpower, and unleash their potential in tech and for positive social change.