Date: 2006-08-23 Category: Interviews
Women in Technology: The ITWales Interview
by Sali Earls
Its been well documented that the UK is facing an IT skills shortage. The situation is not improved by the limited number of women entering the profession. As the title of a recent BlackBerry debate on the subject put it, "If IT is such a great thing, where are all the women?"
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that just 17 of students staring computer science degrees, and that only 21 of those employed in IT are women. With that in mind, Sali Earls spoke to some leading female figures in the technology industry to find out more about their career paths, and their thoughts about the future.
These women are enthusiastic advocates of women in business and are keen to encourage other women considering IT as a career option.
Clare Barclay is UK Head of Small Business at Microsoft. She has been working in IT for 14 years, and has been with Microsoft for 8 years.
Ann Beynon joined BT in June 1998, as National Manager, with specific responsibility for developing and implementing the commercial strategy for Wales. In July 2004 she was appointed as Director Wales.
Charmaine Eggberry is Vice President and Managing Director, EMEA at Research In Motion, the makers of BlackBerry. She has overall responsibility for RIMs EMEA business, including its growth targets and all sales and marketing activities. This includes managing the companys expansion into new European markets and establishing strategic partnerships across the region.
Amanda Jobbins is VP Marketing, EMEA for Symantec, where she is responsible for driving Symantecs enterprise marketing activities across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Why did you decide to work for a technology company?Ann Beynon: I have always been interested in technology as a change agent. After graduating in Welsh I did research for an MA on renaissance Grammar comparing Welsh and Italian grammars which demonstrated the key role printing played in transforming peoples thoughts and ideas. Printing was to the Renaissance what digital technology is to the 21st Century.
Charmaine Eggberry: I have always had an interest in progressive technology, especially when it changes the way people work and interact with each other. With BlackBerry we have a great product and I am proud that those people who carry BlackBerry devices find they have a positive impact on their daily lives.
Amanda Jobbins: Ending up in IT was a bit of a lucky accident for me...I was a languages and business major and was hired by a technology analyst firm to do market research into technology markets.
How did you get where you are today?AB: Determination and a willingness to take calculated risks.
CE: In 2002 I joined Research In Motion as Marketing Director for Europe. At that time regions outside North America accounted for 5 of the companys total revenue. Since then we have grown significantly and we have positively contributed to the companys exponential growth. Regions outside of North America now account for 25-30 of RIMs total revenue which is a fantastic achievement for us. BlackBerry now has 5.5 million subscribers worldwide and this year we passed the $2 billion annual revenue milestone.
From a personal level, I am definitely a challenge orientated individual. I have great passion and enthusiasm for technology and the teamwork that goes into creating groundbreaking products, and I am honoured to be associated with products that have such a positive transformative impact on their users.
AJ: By being flexible, dynamic, driven and curious as an individual and also by being able to enjoy change, in fact by embracing change. These are key attributes that lead to success as an IT professional and I thin that in my case, theyre helped by a willingness to take on new challenges and the ability to take deeply technical information and abstract it into concepts that the man on the street can understand . These factors have been key to my success in the IT industry.
What achievements have you made in the technology world?AB: Pushing for all Welsh exchanges to be broadband enabled.
CE: Our success has come because of a great team effort. Everyone at RIM is 100 committed to delivering the best and most progressive products for our users. One of the most rewarding achievements has been to help elevate BlackBerry to Super Brand status. Its amazing to think of BlackBerry in the hands of hundreds of major celebrities as well as millions of customers around the world. Weve even had BlackBerry commissioned to display in the London Design Museum and the V&A.
From a business perspective the team and I have successfully managed RIMs expansion into over 30 countries in EMEA and established strategic partnerships with the leading telecommunications carriers across the region. Im really very proud to be part of the BlackBerry phenomenon, which reaches milestones every single day and is breaking records in a hugely competitive sector.
AJ: I have been involved in some amazing projects including helping some of the third world telecommunications companies set up their first Internet service delivery capabilities. I helped deliver Internet connectivity to frontier locations around the world, including in the Ivory Coast and Indonesia.
In addition I was the author of one of the first gateway standards to connect the old world of X.400 messaging to the new world of SMTP back in 1990. The proprietary X.400 messaging standard had been used for a number of years by private and public sector organisations to facilitate interconnectivity of their in-house email systems. With the advent of the Internet and the use of SMTP mail over the Internet IP network the world was about to open up. The first step in Europe was to connect the established business and public sector email communities on X.400, with the primarily US-based community now increasingly using the Internet backbone.
The gateway standard I had implemented at Cable & Wireless and documented with other members of the European Electronic Messaging Association was adopted as the leading standard for the interconnectivity of these environments going forward. Joining these two communities across the Atlantic was one of the key tipping points in the advent of the global email community we see on the Intenet today.
Why do you think there are so few women working in IT? What do you think can be done about the situation?Clare Barclay: The perception is that its a masculine and unexciting industry. In my experience, this is a misconception. Its a fantastic, fast moving, exciting, powerful industry where people are passionate about contributing and improving the world in which we work and play.
Inclusion strategies need to be created to attract women into the industry and create an environment where they can confidently network with other women. Those who already hold roles within the IT industry have a responsibility to evangelise the opportunities that the industry provides and offer mentoring and support to skills development initiatives that will enable them to get the word out that women make a huge contribution that adds real value to the world of information technology.
AB: People think its a science when actually its an art. Very often what is needed in IT is logical thinking and an ability to read patterns - much like grammar really. Lots of language graduates are good at IT.
CE: In April, as a precursor to the BlackBerry Women & Technology Awards later this year, we held a debate asking "If IT is such a good thing, where are all the women?". Whilst more and more women are entering the IT market, compared with a few years ago, a lot of companies still need to adapt to supporting diversity in their organisations. It is absolutely vital that we all continue to showcase and encourage women working in technology. This years Awards are set to be bigger and better than ever and we are keen to hear from any of your readers that might like to be involved. They can find more details at www.blackberrywomentechnologyawards.com.
AJ: I think part of the reason for this is that the IT industry is seen as a highly technical place, when in fact it is just as much about people and lifestyles as any other, perhaps more women-friendly industry - such as the fashion or consumer businesses. The IT industry has just not been marketed as a great place for women to work, whether they have a technical background or not.
How can the education system change to encourage more girls to consider computing?
CB: In the UK, the education system has positively embraced IT as a way to bring learning to life in the classroom at an early stage in the educational process. More and earlier exposure to IT will remove barriers to ease of use and aid in gender inclusion as individuals adopt IT as a common tool for learning, work and play.
Creating a higher awareness around the variety of job roles and career opportunities is a must as its not just about software development and gaming. We also need to remove the association of IT and male nerds and support inspiring female role models in the IT industry and to provide an environment in the classroom that encourages women to participate - this could be led by a female IT teacher.
AB: Understand the above plus make science relevant to practical skills and teach it up to the age of 18. My daughter did the International Baccalaureat which requires maths and a science to be studied as part of the package. It did her the world of good and she passed well having believed initially that she didnt have an aptitude for science.
CE: There is no doubt that the talent is there - after all, girls tend to outperform boys in all subjects in school these days!! However, I really believe that the education system should, at every level, encourage girls to consider IT as a career path. This should include insightful career advice, the showcasing of successful female role models and encouraging girls to use IT in extra curricular activity, such as computer clubs.
AJ: I think that we need to encourage teachers to use computing themselves to get ICT used across the curriculum. Girls need to see computers as part of everyday life - not just associate it with games although the same also applies to boys!
ICT has already been made a mandatory subject in the national curriculum, but I think part of the issue is also the social perception of IT as a career and here marketing can play a role. Initiatives such as this one will help a lot and also we need to make role models of women in IT - perhaps more through the press and other mediums. We need to demonstrate that there are a lot of women in IT having a great time, making a great contribution and that actually IT can be a glamorous career where women can make a difference.
How can IT company culture change to encourage more women into the profession?CB: Employers have a responsibility to communicate the fact that the IT industry promotes equality, offers fair pay packages and promotion opportunities and provides a safe working environment that accommodates the individual needs of both genders - childcare, health and support.
AB: Recruit from a broader base. Work more closely with the University departments to ensure that the IT courses match industrys requirements.
AJ: As with all work places, the IT industry has to get more creative and tolerant of flexible working practices. Its a practical reality of life that women are going to want to slow down their careers for a few years mid-career, but in terms of the long term value of that employee, that is really a very small price to pay to retain a skilled contributor. Unfortunately this is influenced by the view of the financial side of most businesses as to the number of heads or headcount a company has - this is an incredibly outmoded view of the workforce and a practice that simply must change as we move more towards the era of the portfolio worker.
What skills would you look for in young people that want a career in IT?CB: Id look for someone prepared to keep an open mind about the possibilities and with passion to make a difference through information technology.
AB: Understanding what the technology can do. It isnt an end in itself.
CE: Successful business is all about teamwork. As a result, when building a team I look to hire people who combine intellect and passion for their chosen field. BlackBerry is successful because of our peoples energy, enthusiasm and commitment.
AJ: Energy, curiosity, dynamism, self-starter, eager to stretch themselves, intellect, emotional intelligence.
What advice or top tips would you give to other women in the IT field, or those considering a career in IT?CB: Its not just about IT support and programming, there are so many job roles that contribute to the industry; marketing, sales, research, training, helpdesk, administration, project management. Think about what excites you. For me its about helping small businesses understand how technology can help their business and allow them to compete on a level playing field with larger competition. I get a huge satisfaction from working with small businesses and helping get the most out of their technology, staff and their business.
AB: In addition to focusing on the key skills think more broadly about the other skills you may need to complement them e.g. business skills. These days IT projects have to be brought to market very swiftly - an understanding of how the market is changing and how customers are changing is fundamental. It is the IT solution that best meets the customer and business need that will be most valuable.
CE: IT is a fantastically diverse and challenging field where you work with the best and brightest. Every day is different, and if you are looking for an exciting and varied career with plenty of opportunities, then this is the right place for you.
My advice to women wanting to join IT would be that this is a career choice that will see you being at the forefront of one the greatest changes in the way we live and communicate, and whilst academic abilities such as maths and science are clearly required what is equally important is logic, the ability to think out of the box and that you have a real passion for what you do. You will always offer so much more if you choose an area of business that you have a real passion for and ultimately, this will make a successful career all the more likely. At RIM Im always on the look out for very smart people who clearly have a real passion and affinity for their chosen field, so if you fit that criteria wed be delighted to hear from you!
AJ: As Ive already mentioned, curiosity helps, as does being open to that new opportunity to stretch you - you must get outside your comfort zone if you want to move ahead. I think my number one tip would always be to ensure that you learn as much as you can about every aspect of the business - I have seen a lot of individuals who dont like to feel out of their depth and consequently stay in one field or area of the business. By doing this you are missing an incredible opportunity to grow and extend your skills. In my experience, the IT industry is the most vibrant and fast moving place to work with an amazing workforce of fun, highly intelligent and driven individuals and will give you the opportunities of a lifetime if youre willing to take them.
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