I look around. It’s a typical meeting — I am one of maybe four women in a room filled with 40 men. I feel a familiar tinge of isolation as my gaze wanders across the room. Growing up, I knew many girls who were fascinated by technology. Additionally, there are plenty of well-known programs today helping drive young women toward technical careers. Despite all this, however, after attending conference after conference where I have come to expect quick access to the women’s restrooms, I wonder why women are still so under-represented. I miss the camaraderie of women who might have similar career goals and work-life balance challenges. Being a woman in a technical role in an IT company can feel lonely at times.
I love what I do. I’m paid by a great company to constantly elevate my technical knowledge and then share that across our account teams and with our customers. Sorting through a plethora of information, experimenting with it and distilling it down to recommendations to fit specific customer needs is the definition of my role as a solution architect. I’m grateful to have access to the tools and the additional expertise of more focused specialists and consultants to help raise my value to our customers and, therefore, my company.
Many, Many Mentors
Being passionate and thirsty for knowledge has led me to some incredible mentors along the way. I’ve had colleagues with different yet complementary strengths. These include a couple of Andrews, Jims and Kens, plus a Matt, a Frank, a Joe, a Bryan and a Mike. I would not be where I am — confident, knowledgeable and enjoying my career — without their acknowledgement that, as a woman, I am just as capable as they are. They’ve taken the time to help me push past my old boundaries.
There are also women outside of my direct team who have driven me to become better and reach higher. A friend and prior CDW consultant demonstrated to me that as women in tech, we need to “take up space.” Speak up, be louder, use the space that you take up… don’t shrink into a corner as the only female in the room. I try to stretch myself in this way constantly.
During my now 13-year career at CDW, I have not been belittled as a woman in a technical industry. Instead, I constantly receive the gratification of people being impressed with my approach, my knowledge and my ability to help customers move along their path toward better and more secure communication, collaboration and productivity.
Gender in the IT Workplace
Although the company is generally balanced in terms of gender, as a solution architect I am one of very few women. CDW encourages all employees to follow our dreams and make the most of our strengths. In many cases, career opportunities are broadly shared internally before they are opened to external candidates. Upon hearing about openings for technical roles, I’ve approached qualified women and am always met with similar answers like, “I don’t think I’m qualified” and, “I have too many family pressures to make a change now.” Being isolated in my gender within my field makes me hyperaware of how gender generally tends to impact career goals within technology.
My strengths and weaknesses within my career have more to do with my personality than with my gender. Yet history defines us, both organizationally and personally. And it’s hard to fight “the norm.” It’s hard to fight my quiet nature when in a room full of people who tend to have deeper and louder voices. It’s hard to convince women that making a career move won’t have a negative impact on their family life when the truth in that may lie in their determination to stand up to the norm and demand more balance.
I’ve watched women I admire move up through the ranks of management. Even there, women tend more often to stay within their comfort zones. The company offers numerous support avenues. Women receive benefits, respect and accolades. There are networks for women supporting both our career and family goals. And yet, as a gender, we’re fighting history to make a different future.
Work-Life Balance Is Everyone’s Responsibility
Historically, men haven’t challenged job expectations when they interfere with family nearly much as women constantly feel we must do. As mothers, our biology requires that we are present for our infants. When pulled in opposite directions because of career demands and family pressures, the stress of having to choose is much higher when your biology pulls you toward your children and your career goals pull in the opposite direction. Working for a company that encourages and offers support for work-life balance has been a boon to finding a satisfying career while being a very present mother. However, like many women, I can’t deny that I could have gone further, career-wise, if I’d been more willing to sacrifice time with my children.
I would love to have more female and LGBTQ colleagues. I would like to see more women pushing toward more technical roles. I would like to see technology team leadership reaching out to more women who may not seem immediately as qualified or confident but have the thirst and passion to learn and share their knowledge. I would like to see more men stand up for their equal rights to be present with their families, specifically in the face of career demands that may be pulling them in the opposite direction. Women can’t have it all until men also demand the same.
The Many Benefits of Workplace Diversity
As demonstrated by Management Consultant and Diversity Researcher Rocío Lorenzo in this short TED Talk, all companies benefit from a more diverse workforce. Being a woman in a male-dominated role has made me passionate, not just about technology, but also about women in technology and about balance across the genders in terms of career and life. I’m proud and lucky to be part of a company that supports these changes. As my career continues to progress, I continue to look for opportunities where I, personally, can more strongly support these changes both culturally and within my company. Because, overall, it’s individual people who can advocate for, demand and contribute to greater balance and diversity.