Women in Tech
Millennial women face a different world than our mothers and grandmothers did. However, with recent Women’s Marches across the world taking over the news agenda, with economic equality and inclusiveness being central, organisations need to push for greater diversity in the technology industry. The prolific media coverage the demonstrations received, should give hope to a new wave of women flourishing in all sectors and ones that no longer focus on gender.
The gap is getting smaller, but at a slow pace, the tech industry today remains a boy’s club, with only 26 percent of jobs filled by women at any given point. The average woman faces a 3:1 male-to-female gender ratio in the industry, and it only gets worse higher up the management ladder. Also, recent statistics show that there is still a large gap in pay, especially for women in the early stages of their career. With women under 25 earning on average 29% less than men their age, while the gap drops to only 5% for workers over 50.
Luckily for Jeanette Allerston, software development director at MIS AMS, she experiences a work-force that focuses on skill-set and ability rather than gender. She now answers questions on her experiences and what she thinks needs to be done to try and narrow the divide and see more women in her industry and indeed her office.
Tell us a bit about yourself Jeanette
I’m Jeanette Allerston, Software Development Director at MIS Active Management Systems (MIS AMS), which has been providing solutions to Social Housing organisations for over 25 years. I’m 47 and live in Cheshire with my husband and two children.
What were you doing before you became the Development Director at MIS AMS?
After I completed Computer Studies at Liverpool John Moores (it was Liverpool Poly back then!), I got a job with CSC as a Junior Programmer on the Mersey Regional Health Authority contract. I worked there for four years working on the NHS Supplies warehouse systems. I then joined MIS in 1995 as an Analyst/Programmer to work on social housing systems, and have been here ever since.
Getting involved in Tech is still a new thing for women, what was the motivation for you?
I got into the Tech industry by default really, sounds awful I know – I failed my Sociology A level! But, it was one of the best turning points in my life. I was heading for a career in psychology, and had places at three universities. When I did not get the results I needed, my careers adviser pointed out that all my best subjects were the sciences and Maths, so had I ever considered computer studies. I hadn’t. I don’t know why no one had ever pointed this out to me before, but it was fairly obvious once you looked at it. I went to an all-girls school and computing wasn’t high on the agenda back then. However, like many teenagers in the 80’s, I had my own ZX Spectrum, which I used to try typing in all the lines of code for, just to create a game of hang man!
How have you found your journey so far and what has been your greatest accomplishment?
When I was offered the job at CSC, the interviewer (Male – in his 50’s – smoking a cigar) said to me “don’t worry there are other women in the office – there are two girls in admin”. I was quite shocked, it never even occurred to me to reference the fact that I was female. I just thought, how strange. On my first day, when he showed me to the office, I just couldn’t believe it. I was 20, fresh out of University, and I was surrounded by about 30 men who were all (apart from a few) twice my age. They all wore suits and ties too, so I stuck out like a sore thumb! The two women who worked in admin worked in a different office!
Once I got over the initial surprise, it never bothered me. The blokes were great, really easy to get on with, I’m still friends with some of them now. I guess I was quite a novelty for them. I remember teaching my team leader how to use a mouse!
What has been the most challenging thing so far?
Dealing with the staff resourcing problems that come with a large department have always been the hardest part of this job. Dealing with the technology is much easier than dealing with finding good people!
Do you think more women should get involved in Tech and why?
Yes of course, I’m hoping more women will move into software, it’s a shame to have a reduced resource pool. I don’t know for sure what puts them off, so I don’t know how to really fix it. It could be an image thing, it’s probably seen as really geeky. There is no getting away from the fact that it is extremely technical, and requires people with a sharp focus. So, looking at it from the outside, maybe it’s a bit scary. It could be that young women just can’t imagine themselves doing this kind of role as they have no idea of what it entails. Maybe there is also too great a focus on the coding rather than the design skills, or communication skills required to create great applications. I hardly ever get a female applicant for a software developer role here at MIS AMS and I wish and hope that is something that will change in the future!
What does it mean to be a female in the tech industry and what challenges do you think women face?
I’m very proud to be a woman in Tech and I thoroughly enjoy my job. I don’t really see any challenges in my role because I’m a woman, I would actually go as far to say I enjoy working with predominantly men. There can be a quite a bit of ‘banter’ and occasional bad language, but I must admit it isn’t always the men swearing anyway!
I do recognise there are issues in other companies and across the sector which is sad to see, especially the pay gap problem, something again that never comes into play here at MIS. I think if more women start to enter the industry, it will soon become the ‘norm’ and the treatment of women will adjust, and fast.
What would be your advice to a woman starting her career in tech?
Always get a good night’s sleep. Your mind will not work to its full capacity if you don’t charge it properly.
If you are ever stuck in a work environment, you need to bounce your issues, ideas or questions off someone else. I’ve always found, that when you explain the problem to someone else, you quite often find yourself coming up with the answer!
And finally, don’t take your work home. Your life needs balance. If you want a decent family life with a partner and children, you must give them time too. If this means that your career wont fast track like some others you may see (male or female), so what! Remember what’s important in life.