Women can shape the future of technology

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      By Tabitha Creighton

      When future generations seek to understand what influence their mothers and grandmothers had on the technologies that helped shaped the century, what will they see? I hope they will see that this is an important and transitional time when women as professionals, entrepreneurs, mothers, and single women played a pivotal role in shaping the intersection of technology and culture. More than ever before, this is the era where our choices about how we incorporate technology into our professional and personal lives influence its future development.

      One need only look at the advances in everything from pharmaceutical research and on-line gaming environments to the future of cloud computing to see the influence that women have in the evolution of advanced technologies. Women like Linda Stone, director of the virtual worlds group in Microsoft’s advanced technology and research division, or Gerianne Tringali, CEO and lead inventor for FemmePharma, which is developing the next generation of women’s health products. This influence is a vast potential resource for attracting women into or back to the advanced technology sector. Move beyond influencer to enabler! Graduate from technology stakeholder to technology developer! It is this same influence that is also the critical point that guides us toward insight about the role that women play in technology professions today—and tomorrow.

      For those women already within the advanced technology sector, realizing the opportunity to direct and enable consumer need and desire is not without its challenges. A recent set of surveys conducted by University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, in association with the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance’s Women in Technology Forum, sought to explore perceived barriers to the growth of women in Canada’s advanced technology sector, as well as potential resolution strategies. The survey’s responses were fairly congruent with challenges that women have historically faced in more mature industries. These are the more traditional gender-based challenges, like feeling the need to work twice as hard to gain the same level of recognition as male peers, or not having access to the same opportunities because of exclusion from gender-oriented events (e.g., “boys’ nights out”).

      Additionally, the results were harmonious with contemporary cultural trends, for instance the desire for greater “work-life balance”. Similarly, there were relationships to advanced technology employment trends, like the need to establish more mature human-resources practices around management training and planned career advancement.

      Does this mean that the challenges for women in technology aren’t important because they aren’t unique? I don’t think so—quite the contrary, in fact. They represent challenges that transcend industry and company size, specifically because most companies today have some type of information-technology department. As we influence the direction of technology through our choices as consumers, we also influence the direction of our workplaces through our choices as women in technology.

      The survey also pointed out that the majority of solutions were driven through changes women made for themselves including their ability to alter the negative aspects of their workplaces. However, it leads me to wonder how much more we could achieve if we reached out to embrace the common experiences that we share with others, regardless of gender and industry, and welcome the opportunities to collaborate for the betterment of all.

      One of our gifts as women is our deep desire to nurture (and I choose the word deliberately) and improve the environment that surrounds our families and their future. In our professional lives, we can reconcile this gift with professional fulfillment by creating spaces that focus on working together, sharing solutions and joining together our influence to effect the change we want. CATA-WIT is one such organization, drawing together senior women leaders, mid-career women, and those just joining the workforce to build on individual successes for the advancement of all women who choose technology as their profession of choice. Technology is changing our lives and the lives of future generations, so let’s ensure we are exercising our influence to make that a positive change.

      Tabitha Creighton is a cochair of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance’s Women in Technology Forum.