As the eldest and only daughter in a family of five, I always felt the need to be a somewhat responsible, level-headed and motivated older sister for my two younger brothers. I come from a well-educated, liberal family growing up in a suburb just north of Toronto. My father was the CEO of a human rights organization for 25 years and my mother is a social worker who helps disabled individuals acquire jobs and proper housing.
The thought of facing obstacles such as gender discrimination or hitting gender walls in a career never really crossed my mind given the positive, strong role models in my life. Perhaps it was my liberal upbringing, my open-mindedness, my inspiring professors or just being completely naïve, but I was raised to believe you can do pretty much anything you set your mind to.
When I moved to the UK in September 2012 I was hoping to find a suitable job that would allow me to develop and hone my communication and marketing skills. When I began working for an IT Consultancy company called FDM Group in Brighton, I was excited to dive into an industry that was so new to me and one that had the potential for growth within the company; for males and females.
Prior to beginning work I did what most of us do when confronted with new experiences; I went to Google. I was dismayed but not surprised to discover that for the most part the IT industry was pretty well a male dominated scene. It seems that women have always had a bit of an uphill battle breaking into the tech fields altogether. I was however hoping to see more encouragement for women in IT. Sadly there simply was not much championing of females in the industry.
It seems like most IT industry related discussions are focused on the remaining obstacles women face and overcoming gender discrimination. But rather than worrying about knocking down gender walls I strongly believe that women should embrace their careers as aggressively as men do. We should help create a working environment where men and women can equally thrive. We also need to positively focus on the importance of empowering women already in the industry. This is what will ultimately lead to breaking down the walls.
Sheila Flavell, COO of FDM Group, a high calibre IT services provider, is a perfect example of a determined, diligent female role model who entered the IT industry with a lot of drive. She admits that coding, developing new software and other technical works are not part of her background but she still managed to have a very successful career in technology. "There is such a diverse range of roles available within this industry," Sheila notes, "Success in this wonderful industry is open to anyone who loves to be creative, imaginative and a problem solver; all of which are innate traits in many women."
Although this industry is notorious for the lack of a gender balanced workforce, business technology will only continue to grow as our society develops, creating a higher demand for qualified professionals. As Sheila explains, the IT industry is rich with opportunities for all genders with a range of qualifications. So it's now up to us; your brothers, sisters, parents, colleagues and friends to disassemble these perceived, underlying gender walls; foster a network for job opportunities and advancement, highlight the critical part of female role models in IT and continue to paint a picture of the wonderful world of technology.
Sadly there are still many who believe that women do not belong in executive positions within IT. Let no one doubt that gender walls do exist but they become prominent only if we let them. Being from Canada, I am reminded of a quote from a past Ottawa Mayor, Charlotte Whitton, the first female Mayor of any Canadian city when she said, "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult."
While there is much humour in Whitton's observation it also makes a clear statement. Women have the smarts and ability to break down the gender walls and crack the glass ceiling. Strong female role models like Sheila Flavell tell us all we can do this with our heads held high.