CompTIA, the IT trade association best known for its certification programs, has embarked on a quest to become a go-to resource for women in IT to advance their careers, and to encourage young women and girls to make the IT profession a preferred destination of their career paths.
The CompTIA Advancing Women in IT Community (AWIT), one of a growing number of special-interest communities within the association, was formed in late 2011, and was officially launched in January 2012. Since then, the community has attracted a wide range of IT professionals—both women and men—who are eager to advance the cause. A recent interview with three representatives of AWIT convinced me that this group is serious about making a difference.
The three representatives were Doriana Allyn, senior environmental health and safety manager for Brother International Corp., and chair of AWIT; Michelle Ragusa-McBain, customer and partner experience manager for Ingram Micro at Cisco Systems, and community vice-chair; and Cathy Alper, CompTIA’s director of member communities. Since one of AWIT’s current initiatives is to foster collaboration with other groups promoting women in IT, I asked them what AWIT is in a position to accomplish that those other groups aren’t, and that warranted creation of the community. Ragusa-McBain emphasized the inclusiveness of AWIT’s efforts:
There are a lot of separate entities, and a lot of women’s groups. The difference is, CompTIA’s Advancing Women in IT is almost the umbrella for all of those sub-groups and communities. We really work hard to make sure that everybody is included, that it’s open to everyone, women and men, all different industries, STEM schools as well. We target a lot of people who are returning from the military, non-profits, junior high school, high school, college, all the way up to women in careers.
Alper added that a key difference lies in the fact that AWIT is rooted in a professional IT association:
So we have access to the whole IT environment, where I think that’s a little harder for a group like NCWIT [National Center for Women & Information Technology]. The other thing that’s different is we’re trying to provide tools for professional women who want to get involved. Yes, there’s networking that happens, but our main purpose, really, is to get involved and do some work. And we’re providing those tools for those professional women.
Allyn, meanwhile, had previously been quoted as saying, “There are huge numbers of opportunities for women in many areas of IT. It’s not just tool bag and repair, but careers in legislation, environmental issues, marketing and many other areas.” That reminded me of an interview I did in 2012 with Martha Heller, who wrote “The CIO Paradox” and founded CIO Magazine’s CIO Executive Council. She’s now head of an executive search firm that focuses on recruiting IT executives, and in the interview she shared a very candid viewpoint of what women who go into IT are up against:
The IT organization is still not necessarily conducive to women, because the culture is still very male. Do you want to be the first woman on a pro football team? You may be in a lot of press, but is the locker room really any fun for you? … So it’s still a hard place for women to be. It always has been. But here’s the rub: If you’re a woman, and you care about technology and you’re into technology, go into marketing! Marketing is filled with women, and marketing organizations are spending huge money on technology right now.”
So what Heller was saying to women was, if you like IT, go into marketing, because you won’t be jerked around as much, and you’ll still get to work with technology. I asked the AWIT representatives for their thoughts on that, and Ragusa-McBain was first to chime in:
I can tell you personally, I was a global business marketing major in school, and when I got out of school, they had an academy program at Cisco under which I got certified in engineering. I could have gone on for a career in engineering or sales at Cisco. I had a mentor, who was a male, who believed in me, and encouraged me that I could accomplish whatever I wanted to accomplish, and that this was a good opportunity for me. If I had somebody who said marketing was the only option that I had, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today in my ninth year in the organization. I’ve taken a variety of roles within a technology company, but I still have a technology background. I think it’s important to note that you may be the only one that’s breaching a barrier, but that doesn’t mean that you’re less effective or efficient, and that you can’t be just as successful, if not more so. Perhaps that person who enters that world can help be the segue, to help continue to mentor other young women, and encourage them to join them in that profession, and say, “We can achieve anything that we set our minds to. We don’t have to be stuck in a certain role.”
Allyn added this perspective:
Part of the challenge of it is that women, on the whole, perhaps are not as firm as men can be, and yet they can be. So it’s all about educating and mentoring women to know how to stand up strong. And I think that’s rapidly taking a change for the better. … I do believe women need help developing their level of confidence, and their communication skills—asking for what they want, expressing their opinions, and challenging other people’s opinions if they’re different. I do believe that women have traditionally taken on non-confrontational roles, or at least less aggressive roles, compared to their male counterparts. But I think that when women are educated, and feel more confident about these areas of their IT career path, then they’re going to become more attractive and more [comfortable with] higher-level careers.
AWIT cites the fact that only 24 percent of the IT work force is female. To wrap up the discussion, I asked the AWIT representatives to imagine that the percentage of women in the IT workforce has been 50 percent for the past 20 years. I asked them what we would see that’s different in terms of the contributions and accomplishments of the IT industry and the IT profession. Alper had no trouble imagining it:
I think you’d see better communication with customers, end to end. I think you’d see easier user manuals. I think you’d see more tactical, practical, day-to-day uses for things. And I also think the economy would be stronger, in general, because women [breadwinners] would have a better wage, and that would support the entire economy. Women and men have different strengths, even though they overlap. And I think having all of these strengths present is what makes a richer environment for everyone.