Omigod! There's a Woman in the Data Center!

Women in IT are, to say the least, a minority. Is there a woman in your data center?


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

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Posted November 22, 2006

James Maguire

James Maguire

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Being a woman in IT has had its strange moments, notes Amy Niersbach. While it makes no difference in her current job, as platform architect for the city of Chicago, not all her positions have been so gender-blind.

“Prior to working for the city of Chicago, I really struggled with some of the managers,” she tells Datamation. “It was just amazing.”

On one occasion, “I was on maternity leave, and they hired a gentleman to fill in. And when I returned to work, this guy would not voluntarily remove his belongings from my desk.

Tech Quotes
“That’s what it was like: this is a man’s world, and you’re in it.”

~Amy Niersbach, IT manager

“And there were days where [male colleagues] went golfing, and I was left to hold down the fort,” she recalls.

“That’s what it was like: this is a man’s world, and you’re in it.”

Part of the problem, of course, is that there are comparatively few women in IT departments. While other business professions have come closer to parity, IT remains overwhelmingly male. Forrester research reports that only 9 percent of IT professionals are women.

And even that figure seems high. “I’ve attended conferences, and whether there are 5,000 people, or 500, it seems like there’s a small percentage,” of women, Niersbach says.

She remembers being part of a tiny number of women earning a degree in electrical engineering at DeVry University. Out of some 200 students, “Probably five [women] started out, and maybe two or three graduated.” At the graduation ceremony, “When the women went up on stage, everyone started clapping – we just kind of stood out.”

To this day, she still gets an occasional double take when people realize she oversees an IT organization that runs hundreds of servers. “People will come to meetings and they’ll think you don’t understand what you’re talking about,” she says.

In contrast, Joanne Correia, a leading software analyst and managing vice president of Gartner, says that in her experience, gender plays virtually no role in IT. For example, “I have a team of men and women. And some people say women are better project managers, men are more serial focused, but I don’t find that in my team.”

However, she has experienced dramatic bias in overseas situations, particularly in the Middle East. “I’ve been at conferences where culturally women were not accepted into business,” she says. “I’ve literally had people stand there and say, 'I can’t talk to you, you’re a woman, I have to wait for a man.’ And I was like, ‘fine, stand there for three hours.’”

Diverse Workforce?

However low the current percentage of women in IT, look for future increases, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology.

“There are more women in the math and sciences now, and that’s typically where a lot of IT professionals come from,” she tells Datamation. Also driving new hiring trends: “There are companies out there that are looking for more diversification, so they’re proactively looking for more diversification [in hiring].”

In fact, “I’m seeing more women come into the field than I did even three, four, five years ago,” she says.

Another factor possibly drawing more women into the data center: the public perception of IT. Technology is more central to everyone’s lives than ever before. Many people – both techies and non-techies – are connected constantly. Many people carry an array of electronic portables with them.

“When I was in school I was considered to be pretty darn technical because I could use a Brother Word Processor,” Lee says. “Today, my four-year-old nephew knows more about computers than I did when I was 18 years old.”

In short, with the mainstream acceptance of technology, IT seems to be a more natural career choice for many people – including women.

Next page: Motherhood and Pay Levels

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