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Diversity in Technology

What a photo does and doesn't tell you

Fredric Paul posted a portrait of his mother-in-law's 1954 computer training class as part of his Oct 13 blog post, where he discussed Satya Nadella's comment that female workers needed to trust that Karma would bring them the raises they deserve.

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Courtesty of Fredric Paul - 1954 IBM Computer Training Class

More recently, here's another picture of a bunch of IT folks - Microsoft's System Center MVPs - taken at the Microsoft MVP Summit in 2013. The resolution isn't the greatest, but there is exactly one female in this photo - me.

MVP Summit 2013 - System Center MVPs

While this was taken at Microsoft, I doubt Satya has any responsibility in determining who is chosen to be a System Center MVP, even though he did lead System Center before being promoted to CEO!

I don't know how much less women are paid than men to do the same jobs, but there are definitely fewer females in the high-tech marketplace. The question then becomes whether the lack of females is by design.

I became involved in IT as an afterthought - as a teenager I wanted to be an attorney when I grew up. In college my bachelor's degree was a major in history and a minor in political science. Meanwhile, I was paying my bills by taking temp jobs in data entry. I decided I wanted to know more about what happened with all that data I was keying in, so I began taking electives in computer science and management information systems - enough to have an unofficial minor in the area. When I graduated, I decided that rather than take a job as a librarian or a teacher - which is what I was qualified to do based on my major - I landed a job as a programmer.

Consider the gender ratios in various computer-industry related professions. Data entry is close to a 100% female occupation. Business programming tends to be more balanced between the genders; at least in my experience. From that first job as a computer programmer, I branched into database administration, which is also rather balanced - user group meetings I attended were about 50% male, 50% female. I then moved into system administration and discovered nearly all my colleagues were male! The upside was I never have to wait in line for the bathroom at conferences and user group meetings.

I recall once when we had an open headcount, one of the interviewees was a female. I was asked if I favored this person getting the position, the implication being that of course I would - and I should! This surprised me, as I believe the person best suited for the position should be the one to get the job. Microsoft has said they would gladly hire more females for technical positions, but few women apply for those jobs.

I don't think there's a skills-related reason for the more technical jobs in IT being male-dominated, other than women tend to take responsibility for tasks such as picking up kids from school when they're sick and thus are perceived as being less reliable / available in a profession where you may be on call 24x7. And because they have these responsibilities, they don't apply for those positions where your job is a 24-hour a day occupation. Women may actually be more inclined to try to have work / life balance than men - in IT, this phrase is typically used because it sounds good - but watch out if you try to adhere to it!

As an independent contractor, I write books in the Unleashed series. If you look at the list of authors and contributors of books I have written, you may notice the gender imbalance. Until my last book, everyone else was a guy. (Thank you, Kathleen Wilson, for contributing to System Center 2012 Service Manager Unleashed!) However, I've never really thought in terms of gender in my profession, I've looked at it more as wanting to see the most talented individuals as coworkers and colleagues.

However, while these observations may answer the question as to why there are so few women in IT (and these pictures), it doesn't address the compensation issue. Is it because, as Satya claimed, women are less aggressive in asking for raises? Perhaps someone with a background in Human Resources can shed some light.

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