Women in tech: A survival guide to working in IT

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Emily Jarvis|Updated June 15, 2021

Did you know about 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and computer science? Did you know 57 percent (aka the majority) of women participate in the workforce in the US? These large numbers make me so happy until I’m smacked with the realization that women only make up 26 percent of the tech industry and only 19 percent are sysadmins. Additionally, women are more than twice as likely to quit an IT career than men. There is an obvious disconnect at play here; why aren’t more women in tech, particularly in IT?

I have spent most of my working career in male-dominated, computer-related fields, and I know how challenging, frustrating, yet very fun and rewarding it can be. In response to these grim statistics, I’ve put together this handy survival guide to working in IT for all us ladies out there. (Oh, and of course you guys are more than welcome to read it too.)

Know your worth

Refuse to accept that you are less than those around you. Don’t ever forget the hoops you had to jump through to get to where you are. I’m sure it was not an easy feat since you may also have added domestic responsibilities on your plate. Don’t let the gender gap in tech dictate thoughts about yourself. You deserve your career just as much as the next person. Remind yourself daily that many others would likely collapse with all you have to do.

Have confidence in your skills and yourself

As women, we are often trained from an early age to be meek and not brag. This thought process can lead to women downplaying their abilities. In several studies men and women were given the same task and asked to self-assess the results. Women gave themselves an average score lower than their actual score while men gave themselves an average score higher than their actual score. To survive in a minority role, you must have the confidence in your skills and your abilities. This is especially important for those that already hold a bias towards your level of expertise and women in tech in general. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by a roomful of men.

“Be confident in both verbal and written conversations. Anything less will be immediately interpreted that you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

–Mary McIntosh, Desktop Support Technician

“I know a lot of ‘Millennial’ women (myself included) suffer from impostor syndrome with thoughts of “I can’t believe they chose me for this job,” or “I don’t think I’m worth my salary.” Being self-confident, even if you have to fake it until you make it, is probably the most important way you can get people to take you seriously. At least, it worked for me. Wicked shoes might have helped a little, too. ;-)”

–Monica King Von Holtum, Systems Support Specialist

“Do not downplay your efforts or accomplishments. We are socialized to be humble, and this can be a detriment in the work environment. When a project you’ve completed is acknowledged, instead of saying things like, “it wasn’t a big deal,” or “it was no problem,” say instead “thank you” and “I learned a lot about X while working on that.” Use this as a time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished.”

–Kathleen Firth, Desktop Support Technician

Learn to say no

While I hope this never happens to you, there may be times others will ask you to do tasks that are not your responsibility. Tasks that are rarely, if ever, asked of men. For example, ordering food, getting coffee, and making copies to name a few. Learn how to say no, or suggest others also share these tasks. Avoid passive language and stand up for yourself.

“Exercise your ability to say NO to people in person, on the phone, and via email.”

–Monica King Von Holtum

Stop apologizing

I would hope this goes without saying, but I too often fall into this trap myself, so this is as much for me as it is for you. Stop before apologizing and ask yourself, did I actually do something wrong? If the answer is no, then don’t say sorry. Remove that word from your vocabulary unless it truly needed to be said.Don’t ever be sorry for coming up with an idea, speaking your mind, creating a better solution, or even ensuring something is done right the first time.

Stand out

You might be wondering why I added this since you likely already stand out like a sore thumb, however, that’s not what I’m referring to. Stand out by having great abilities, for being yourself, and not conforming to some ideal or stereotype. Don’t ever let yourself be put in a corner. Luckily, the IT industry generally operates as a meritocracy where better performing employees receive favorable treatment regardless of gender. Work hard so your job performance can speak for itself and achieve the recognition you so richly deserve.

“Always, always, always voice your opinions and make sure your resolutions for things are heard, even when others try to drown you out.”

–Mary McIntosh

Avoid loneliness

It can be discouraging not to have other women in tech to talk to, so be sure you find other women with which to relate. Even if you are the only woman in your company, there are many resources online to connect with women in the same field. Find a dedicated support network.

“If it’s possible, befriend the other females in your department and form a solid working relationship with each other. It could almost be called a ‘Girl’s Club’….”

–Mary McIntosh

“You need work allies. Other women in IT may be a good source for them. (The two other women at my company are wonderful and supportive, and we get along like a house on fire.) What you’re looking for here is not someone to coddle you, but someone to make sure that you don’t get pushed aside and minimized in meetings. One good tactic that I read is to reiterate each other’s ideas, making sure to acknowledge the person who said them. e.g. “I think Mary’s idea to look into FOG instead of MDT for image management made a lot of sense.” Remember to be a good ally in return to them.”

–Kathleen Firth

Find a mentor/Become a mentor

This might seem daunting at first, but a professional mentor that understands your circumstances can go a long way in advancing your career. Look for women that you want to be most like. Recognize what makes a good mentor, find a good fit, and come prepared to each meeting to make the most of the time.

Never stop learning

As we are all aware, the tech industry is changing at a phenomenal pace. Stay on the cutting edge by following tech blogs (cough cough, this one), watching your favorite tech YouTube channels, and so on. Seek out opportunities for training and development within your company; if that is not available, look outside for it. Never lose that drive to learn. Plus, you will always be the go-to person for the latest information.

Invest in a good wardrobe

If your work does not allow you to wear jeans or pants, due to strict dress code, be sure to invest in some good bike shorts. You are likely to end up crawling behind computers, or having to stand on a ladder. Oh, and don’t forget the shoes.

“Good shoes go a long way, both mentally and physically.”

–Monica King Von Holtum

Embrace gender differences and rise above

As controversial as this next statement may be, I’m going to say it. Yes, men and women have different strengths and weaknesses and always will. This does not mean that you need to change who you are to conform to something you are not. We are meant to have differences and complement one another like yin and yang. Neither side is inherently better than the other and the whole is stronger than its individual parts. Women bring different perspectives and skill sets to the workforce, embrace that. All that said there may still be times that you find yourself feeling out of place. While you don’t need to change, brushing up on some possible unfamiliar “dude-facts” also never hurt anyone. Some examples are sports, animated adult cartoons like Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, Rick and Morty, American Dad, comics, super heroes, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, and video games, to name a few.

Enjoy the small perks

While not always the case, you may find yourself working with, shall we say, the more socially awkward type, male and female alike. However, I’ve found that these types usually have some of the best senses of humor. You may have fewer work parties to attend. Get away with less makeup. Be able to skip that one extra step while doing your hair. There is good to be had in every situation, even gender diversity in tech. Enjoy every one of them. Also, there is something incredibly satisfying to see the look on someone’s face who was expecting a man when you show up.

Have some tricks up your sleeves

Everyone needs to have tricks up their sleeves. You know, those couple shortcuts that make you into an absolute rock star to others? You, my friend, need some of those tricks. I would be remiss if I failed to mention how PDQ Deploy and PDQ Inventory can be those tricks for you. (You could use other programs, but really… why?) Knock the socks off your boss and coworkers with how fast you can complete deployments and magically have your organization’s computer information at your fingertips. You can even set up deployments of new versions of applications while you’re away from your desk.

Wrapping up

There is hope out there that women may one day dominate tech and we will be reading a man’s survival guide. Heck, it could happen, we saw it with school teachers. However, until women in tech are the majority, do not forget we are Wonder Women and we are not alone!

Special shout out to Kathleen, Mary, and Monica; current PDQ users who supplied me with great insight and quotes for this topic.

smiling woman
Emily Jarvis

Emily was an employee at PDQ.

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