Women in IT: dispelling the myths

Almost since its inception the information technology industry has battled with images of computer geeks sat in dark corners of offices writing code. Whether it’s because of this reputation, the shortage of female role models or irrelevant information and communications technology lessons, IT doesn’t exactly rank highly on many young women’s lists of dream careers.

More than computer programming

I was lucky enough to actually have a positive experience of IT during my education. At the time we were on the cusp of a technology revolution and some people I work with now can’t believe I had an email address when I started secondary school. It was at city technical college and then university, where I studied international business rather than a specific IT course, that I got a taste of how IT touches everyone whether in your work or personal life. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered that almost two-thirds of the world’s transactions run on an SAP system. And as I didn’t want to do the same thing year after year, I knew a career in IT would offer a constant challenge and numerous opportunities throughout my working life as technology is always evolving.

I quickly learnt IT was a broader field than just computer programming, with roles to suit all manner of skills. Even within SAP, there is huge demand for people to create new technologies in areas like cloud computing, mobile technology and databases, but there is also a need for people like me who can act as the bridge between our technology and companies’ business problems.

In my role, I combine soft skills and technical expertise to work with our customers in manufacturing to help solve their challenges with our analytics applications, whether this is to determine capacity utilisation at the touch of a button or to analyse the number of defects by component supplier on their iPad in a car park before undertaking contract negotiations. Attributes like discretion and empathy, perhaps more typically associated with being a woman, have helped me establish trust quickly with customers. In a role where I often need a deep understanding of my customer’s business problem to be able to help them solve it, ensuring they’re confident sharing confidential information with me is crucial.

Network, network, network

When I joined the graduate academy in 2008 I was really glad that SAP recognised the challenges I might face being a young woman and paired me with two female mentors: one within the sales environment like me and the other our HR director. I often went to them for advice on things such as business processes and how to establish a sense of authority in meetings with customers twice my age with more experience. They really helped build my confidence and if given the opportunity, I’d definitely recommend finding someone who is able to mentor you. Contacts can be some of your most valuable assets. And although many women feel awkward about networking, especially with a group of successful men because they think it might be perceived as something else, I’d say get to every event you can, walk in the room with confidence and you’ll soon shake off any hangs-ups you may have.

There’s no denying that entering a male-dominated working environment like IT can be daunting at first. It can be tempting to put on a cold, steely exterior but being yourself is the first step towards building relationships that will help you do your job better. And just because I’m a young woman working in an IT company doesn’t mean I have to shun my love of fashion. I’m a firm believer that as long as you’re smart and presentable you shouldn’t feel the need to kick off your heels, don shoulder pads and trouser suits unless that’s you of course.

There’s a huge variety of jobs available in IT, so don’t be put off by the geeky stereotypes. You just have to look at Google or Facebook to see how technology is changing the world and there are many companies you may never have heard of who are touching your day-to-day life, whether that’s letting you access your bank account on your mobile or ensuring you get relevant offers sent to you based on your spending habits. If you want a fast-paced career in an industry that is at the cutting-edge of innovation, IT could be for you.

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