Women in Technology: Turning the Tables

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

When it comes to women in the workforce, society and the media traditionally place them in nurturing or social fields such as nursing, teaching, or administration positions. With time and a savvy business acumen, that stereotype is changing as we are seeing a shift in women joining fields that are traditionally held by men. June is National Women in Science and Technology Month, it celebrates the roles females play in what is traditionally considered an industry dominated by males.


In the United States, only 20% of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are held by women. As technology begins to take over every aspect of our personal and business lives, it only seems natural that more women would, in one way or another, find themselves embracing the field, and allowing their own career paths to lead them towards technology.

The Tables are Turning
“When I was growing up there was a scarcity of women in leadership and highly visible positions in STEM, other than women teaching science and math and even then, the men outnumbered the women in those departments,” explains Carrie Borchers, Director of Sales at IT Resource. “Today, we have Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard CEO), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo! CEO) and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) all over the news so it will be interesting to see if this plants seeds of opportunity in young minds.”

As more women fall into the technology field, whether it be on purpose, or by way of a happy accident, we will see more of a shift. Amanda Regnerus, Vice President, Marketing, US Signal Company, explains that historically woman have worked in help or service industries. “I'm sure statistically, there are less than 20% of jobs in the service industry that are held by men. As time goes on and we continue to move toward gender equality in the workplace, these numbers may even themselves out.”

Perhaps another reason we see such an unbalance in the workforce is because of the gender roles created by media and other family members. Kim Helmers, Sales and Marketing Assistant at IT Resource explains that if women follow the career paths of other females in their lives (sisters, mothers, etc.) who held positions in healthcare or retail, they may have a lack of interest in the technology fields simply because of what they were exposed to at home.

Is Gender A Barrier?
Being the minority in your field can come with its own set of struggles, but the outcome is directly related to how you handle the situation. Lori Brandt, Help Desk Manager at IT Resource, fell into technology, then followed up her self-learned knowledge with a related college degree in the field. She explains that she feels her degree validates her knowledge, but the path didn’t come without resistance. “I don’t feel that I had many struggles once I made the decision to base my career in technology. Doors were always open to me, but they did not open on their own. I had to make the effort to go to the door and open it.”

Most of the women I spoke to did not see their gender as being a barrier for their success in this field. In fact, a few even pointed out that it’s not so bad being the minority. “When I go to an event or environment when there are one or two women and 50-60 men, it’s a lot easier for people to remember me, as opposed to one of the many ties and flys,” said Borchers.

Along those same lines, Regnerus indicated that she thinks it’s a great opportunity to be a part of a field that is always evolving, growing, changing and continually challenges you to learn new things. “I love the field of technology and don't look at my gender as a barrier.  But, that's just me, I don't really look at anything outside of myself as a barrier to success.”

I began to see a common trend among these women. All successful in their own right, and each understanding the skills it takes to succeed in the workforce. Molly Reid, Senior Account Executive at IT Resource, explains that in a field that requires a plethora of skills to survive, she is happy to be someone that can critically think to handle problem solving, decision making, and  analysis for her customers. “I love to see a client that has a problem, get it resolved and know that the engineers and I helped so that they can focus on making their business thrive,” says Reid.
Abundant Opportunities In An Ever-Changing Field
Whether women are interested in technology in college, or fall into the career later in life, there is always opportunity for them to thrive in this ever-changing field. Catherine Lazarock is the owner of Symplicity Communications, a Grand Rapids based telecommunications company. She encountered a lot of criticism when generating her start-up, but she believed in what she was doing and seven years later she is running a successful business. She recalls how she stumbled upon the technology field and how it changed her career path. “My background was public relations and marketing and a job change brought me to the door step of the technology industry.  I like to think that I was pushed off the cliff,” says Lazarock. “This industry is so exciting, with fast, evolving products and a huge market, what’s not to love?  I literally can go anywhere in the world and sell technology services.” 

Women Can Make A Statement
Given the hurdles and challenges these women have faced, would they recommend this mostly male field to up and coming females? Sarah Van Elderen, Marketing & Event Coordinator, US Signal Company, says young females should not be afraid of joining a field where they are the minority. She indicates the most important thing to remember when selecting a career is to find something you love. Van Elderen says she came from a techie family so she had always been interested in the field, but it wasn’t until she landed at US Signal, which she describes as a “right place, right time” situation, that she embraced the technology field as a career. “I came in as a Pricing Analyst with no telecom experience, and learned everything about telecommunications, network services, and cloud hosting from the ground up,” says Van Elderen. “My biggest accomplishment is more of a general feeling of success. When I look back to four years ago when I started at US Signal, it’s amazing to me how much I have learned and how much I have grown.” But, VanElderen explains, there is a flip side. “My biggest struggle has also been the amount of information I have had to learn. Because technology is always changing, there is always new information to learn.”

While there will be struggles, when you enter an ever-changing industry, Lazarock says “Embrace it!  There are so many opportunities for women in technology. Because it is dominated by men, women can truly make a statement, and quickly, within this industry. Because we are the minority, naturally we are going to stand out if we create a solid niche and move forward with strong integrity.”

The advice and beliefs that each of these women shared was not simply related to the technology field. As successful business women, they all think on a global scale, which translates across many platforms when it comes to advising other young women.

A New Image For “Tech Geeks”
Technology is an industry that’s here to stay, and the image of the lone “tech geek” working in the basement is being overtaken by a new wave of intelligent, up-and-coming people who are paving the way for this flourishing industry. This field is changing the way we think, the way we live, and the way we work.

“The term “girl geek” is actually somewhat of a compliment to me. In recent years, the term “geek” doesn’t have so much of a negative connotation anymore. A geek is now someone who is incredibly intelligent and ahead of the game on technology,” says Van Elderen. “To be referred to as a girl geek would make me feel as though I’m part of the inner circle of technologically savvy people in this era. I don’t think I have reached girl geek status yet, but I hope I’m on my way!”


Contributors:
Carrie Borchers, Director of Sales, IT Resource
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