Tech industry warms up to women workers

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Once the domain of men, the technology sector is now welcoming more women than ever. These days, women of all stripes are working in the office or from home, running their own businesses, and getting involved in the tech industry on their own terms.

“Technology has changed so much in the last 20 years that we’re almost not talking about the same industry anymore,” said Tabitha Creighton, vice president for services at Vancouver-based Knowledgetech Consulting.

Creighton and Joanne Hausch, founders and cochairs of the B.C. chapter of Canadian Women in Technology, spoke to the Georgia Straight in a downtown coffee shop. Both say they are seeing women getting into technology like never before, at work and at play.

“Find me a woman today who has no interest in any technology,” Creighton said. “It’s such a pervasive part of our culture.” Getting more women working in the tech sector is no longer a challenge, she said, and her own field—information technology—is a great example of this.

“There’s a massive labour shortage, frankly.…We can’t hire enough people,” Creighton said. “And I know from talking to my colleagues in the [IT] consulting industry that I’m not alone.”

Finding and hiring qualified people of any gender is the real hurdle, according to her. The jobs aren’t just in software development either. There’s demand in IT for roles like business analysts and project managers, Creighton said.

“And I think that’s actually where women shine—in the management, in the customer side, understanding the user needs, and running the team,” added Hausch, a chartered accountant and an associate partner at Deloitte & Touche. “But they have to go through that hard-core programming phase to understand how to run a team that’s doing that work.”

“In high school, girls are doing better than boys in science and math, so I think there’s going to be a shift,” Creighton said. “There are some ways in which women do well in software development and architecture, more so than men.”

Women who want to get into IT should “just do it”, Creighton advises. “Don’t be intimidated by it,” she said. “It’s a great time to be in technology. Reach out and try a course and get in there.”

What it means to work in technology has undergone a complete metamorphosis over the past 10 years, thanks to social media and other communications technology, according to the CanWIT B.C. cochairs.

“You can work at home, work online, [and] be just as engaged as if you were sitting in a desk [at the office],” Hausch said. “Technology has allowed that, and the tech sector embraces that.”

Case in point: Creighton was recently able to work remotely while she, her husband, and their new baby travelled to France, Spain, the Maritimes, and San Francisco. She answered emails and held conference calls from her laptop.

But the move toward gender equality in the technology sector is not complete, argues Carol Parnell, the national president of the Wired Woman Society, which provides networking, education, and mentoring opportunities for women in technology and has 2,200 members across Canada.

“A lot of them [Wired Woman members] feel that they’re not being heard in their workplace because many of them don’t have role models,” she explained to the Straight over the phone.

Many Wired Woman members aren’t in the senior ranks at work, and Parnell notes the corporate culture at some companies is still to blame. “I hate to say it but it’s still the old boys’ club,” she said, though she admitted it’s definitely better than it used to be.

Parnell’s seen many very qualified women—“all the way up to PhDs”—who couldn’t get a job, even though the industry is saying there’s a shortage of skilled workers. But she said it’s hard to say whether this is because of gender discrimination or the economy.

Still, the number of female entrepreneurs in Vancouver is steadily increasing, Parnell notes. According to statistics from the Royal Bank of Canada, four out of five businesses in Canada are started by women. “These women are basically shaping the world that they want to work in,” said Parnell, who is riding the entrepreneur wave herself. She’s a cofounder of Ecotype.ca, a digital-media consulting company.

Hausch and Creighton also said they’re seeing more female entrepreneurs in tech.

On November 4, Status of Women Canada announced it would give $299,600 to the Vancity Community Foundation in order to help women entrepreneurs in Vancouver to take advantage of growth opportunities.

CanWIT is also working with Status of Women Canada to develop an e-mentoring program. They’re recruiting mentors and mentees for the online program, which will be launching in B.C. in January 2012.

Creating your network is key, Parnell, Creighton, and Hausch agree. It can be as simple as finding a company you like and inviting someone you admire from that company out for coffee, Creighton said.

Parnell is keen to see what changes will take place over the next 10 years.

“Women and girls will be able to shape the technology,” Parnell said. “It’s something to look forward to.”

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