The future of IT is bright: New technologies are being developed at a faster rate than ever before, and our lives are increasingly integrated with and dependent on technology. IT talent, therefore, is in high demand.
A Careerbuilder & EMSI survey showed that the most in-demand IT positions in 2016 are information security analysts, software and application developers, network and systems administrators and computer analysts. The survey also showed that with the shortage of skilled IT talent, between 65 and 89 percent of these positions will remain open.
Yet, despite this bright outlook, the number of women in IT remains low. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, in 2015 only 25 percent of professional computing jobs in the U.S. were held by women. And the presence of minorities was especially low.
Of the women in the National Center survey, only 5 percent were Asian, 3 percent were African-American and 1 percent, Hispanic. The problem apparently starts in high school: Although 47 percent of AP calculus test-takers last year were female, only 22 percent of those taking AP computer science tests were female.
Clearly, while women aren’t lacking in aptitude, there are obstacles -- real or perceived -- to women succeeding in IT professions. Experts regularly debate what those obstacles are, discussing things like male-dominated work environments, lack of female role models and a failure by employers to accommodate measures that allow women to balance a career with a family.
But does all that mean women can’t enjoy a long, successful IT career? Absolutely not. Think of Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and the six female mathematicians who worked as programmers on the ENIAC computer. Since that time, many more women have made hugely important contributions to the field. In short, participation from women has always been, and remains critical to, continued innovation in IT.
So if you’re a woman looking to enter IT today, what do you need to know?
1. Be confident.
Being the only woman in the room can be intimidating. However, you should always keep in mind that you’re there thanks to your skills and experience -- just like everyone else. You’re a valuable asset to your company, and that’s why you were hired. One way to maintain your confidence is to keep a list of all of your qualities, skills and accomplishments, and review it every day.
2. Assert yourself.
A male-dominated workplace and industry will likely require some getting used to, since men and women have distinctly different ways of working and communicating. You don’t have to adapt your behavior to match that of your male colleagues, but you are advised to assert yourself. Speak up when you have something to contribute. Don’t let anybody patronize you. Use assertive (but not aggressive) body language. If you want or need anything, ask for it. And take the initiative when that's appropriate.
3. Cultivate a thick skin.
In her Inc. article, “The 2 Things Ellen Pao Says Women in Tech Need to Know,” Christine Lagorio-Chafkin quotes Pao, the former Reddit CEO, as advising women to have a thick skin. In her high-profile position, Pao received a lot of negative and hurtful feedback -- which is often the case for women dealing with social media. However, even if your IT position has nothing to do with social media, you might encounter negative attitudes from colleagues, peers or clients.
It’s often better to ignore it and to constantly produce high-quality work than to let other people’s negativity get to you and compromise your performance. Keep in mind that every minute of energy you spend worrying about what others are saying about you detracts from the energy you have to focus on your own work and life.
4. Report bullying and sexism.
Having a thick skin doesn’t mean you have to tolerate actual bullying and sexism -- nobody does, regardless of gender or profession. If you encounter these issues at work, review your employee handbook to determine what company policy says about reporting these kinds of incidents. Follow company regulations to the letter. If this doesn’t resolve the situation, consider taking legal action and/or reporting the incidents to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
5. Project your brand.
Your personal brand is the persona you project professionally: how you dress and interact, as well as what your specialties and values are. In Scott Carey’s TechWorld article “13 Career Tips for Women in Tech, from Women in Tech,” Emily Forbes, founder of Seenit, advises carefully projecting your personal brand. This will help prevent others from stereotyping you.
6. Seek out other women.
Many women in tech feel supported when they seek out other women, whether that happens in real life or online. Look for LinkedIn groups and professional associations like the National Center for Women & Information Technology, as well as local events through through colleges and chambers of commerce.
7. Create a career map and stick to it.
Opportunities are rife in IT -- but you have to be alert to them. Create a career map that depicts what your ultimate objective is and how you’ll get there; then focus on creating or taking advantage of the opportunities that come along. This will help you advance. And, in the event you become discouraged, your career map will show you how far you’ve come.
8. Maintain a good work-life balance.
Just as your colleagues do, set boundaries around your time and ask for what you need to make your work environment a pleasant and productive one. If you’re a new mom and need a private room where you can pump breast milk, ask for it. If you want to work from home two days a week to be with your toddler, say so. If you want to join the department’s running team that trains at lunch time, that’s fine too!
Related: The 5 Richest Women in Tech
Keep these eight tips in mind, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to focus more and more on your actual work instead of on the fact that you’re one of the few women in IT. And that’s exactly what the industry needs in order to keep advancing.