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Leading ladies

Leading ladies 

Many have wondered why there were so few women involved in IT, both in employee and executive roles. Was there something about IT that was off-putting to them? Were they simply not interested in working within this industry? These and other questions have gone unanswered for a long time.

Fast forward to today. Several of the top technology firms now have women under their employ, and some even hold executive roles. IT continues to be male-dominated, but not as much as in the past. It’s been somewhat of a difficult climb, but women are now discovering that there are some opportunities for them within this industry.

But despite that, there is still much to be done to attract women to this field. To help put this in perspective, IT in Canada spoke to Patricia Florissi, vice president and global CTO for EMC about why the time is now for more women to consider working in IT.

IT in Canada: IT is a field that is often been described as being male-dominated. Why is this?
Florissi: The statement is a reflection of the reality we live in. Traditionally, the world of IT has been predominantly male-dominated, at all levels of the hierarchy. It may as well be a continuation of a trend that started centuries ago where men typically held engineering jobs, and IT is no exception to the trend.

ITIC: Why are there fewer women holding IT-related jobs?
PF: Studies show that girls get disinterested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as early as in fourth grade. Perhaps because there is a misconception that professions in these fields are for boys and not for girls. Perhaps because there is an implicit association between mathematics and the portrait of a genius, such as Einstein. Perhaps because we lack more role models that inspire young girls to pursue STEM.

Perhaps because the main icons of IT entrepreneurs are men, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Perhaps it is because there is common knowledge that there are fewer women in these professions and young women do not want to go to a working environment that is male-dominated. Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above.

ITIC: What can be done to help make this field more attractive to women?
PF: I believe that this is a topic that needs to be prioritized and be given the attention required. We need to make room for more women to come to IT.

We need to make a conscientious effort to create the right conditions for women to embrace this field, from an age as early as elementary school, to at every level of the professional ladder.

At that young age, we need to proactively educate and inform the next gene ratio of professionals. We must raise awareness, we must promote the role models, and we must bring the fun in IT out for a walk.

At the professional age, we must work hard to eliminate biases within companies that prevent women form moving up in their career. We must create and nurture an environment that fosters diversity. We must attend to the needs of mothers and care takers. We must take the time to truly understand the root causes that are pushing women away from IT and make a serious effort to address them.

ITIC: In the past, the concept of the “glass ceiling” was discussed regarding career advancement for women. Is this still an issue today?
PF: Absolutely. I believe that women suffer from both barriers to career advancement: the “glass ceiling” and the “sticky floor.” On one hand, women may not be given the opportunity to move up or may not even perceived as a contender for a higher up position. On the other hand, once women find their comfort zone, they start measuring the risks of a move as far outweighing the benefits.

I have also seen way too often, situations where men are given a promotion under the premise that they will develop into the position, where women have been denied the same opportunity because they have not proven themselves yet. There is a tremendous amount of biases everywhere.

In essence, for one reason or another, women ended up making an excessive amount of lateral moves, which is then perceived by the organization as another “failure” on the women’s part: the inability to move up.

ITIC: What does the future hold for women in IT?
PF: An uphill climb. I believe that having women as CEOs of major IT companies, such as IBM, HP and Yahoo! is a great start. But we are far away from where we need to be. And we will only get there if more and more men will embrace the cause and help us. We women cannot absorb all the actions that need to be taken. We must divide the shore. We must work together on this journey.

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