By Tanya Mosley, Computer Information Systems Technology Instructor, Chattahoochee Tech, Georgia
In male-dominated industries, some women may face challenges as they try to establish themselves or thrive doing something they love. This was very much true in my case when I decided to pursue a career path in information technology. For this reason, I am excited to share what I coined as a SIMPLE strategy that helped me, and will hopefully help other women in tech, navigate the industry. SIMPLE is an acronym for:
S: Support System
L: Level Head
Establish a Support System
An instinct we have as women is to take care of everyone else and put our needs on pause. It is however important for our own wellbeing to also look out for ourselves and our own personal development if we want to be of service to others. Support Systems can make a difference to women in technology. I could not have embarked on my career journey without one. Women typically assume a lot of family responsibilities, putting us in a position where we do not have the time to focus on our personal growth. We need a support system that can help us as we pursue our career goals. It may be a supportive spouse, parents, in-laws, kids, friends, or anyone willing to help.
If members of your support system can take care of things you typically do while you dedicate time to your personal development, you will have time freed up to put the work into it and become successful. I know this because I poured a lot of time into honing my skills. This meant late nights with head in the books or being at the office troubleshooting issues while my spouse took care of anything that needed to be handled.
Tip: Start putting your support system in place today if you do not have one already.
Learn to Improvise
Women are very good at troubleshooting or finding solutions to issues, a skill we should use to our advantage, right? I used to think I had to have a degree in an information technology (IT) field and experience to have a chance of getting any job in the industry. After much observation, I realized I was wrong! All I had to do was improvise. I just needed to apply what I knew about IT in my current job to get noticed. You can do the same.
Dedicate hours to perfect your IT skills and look for opportunities to showcase your abilities by undertaking small IT projects. Seek out resources to teach yourself other skills. When there is a workshop available to learn anything related to information technology, sign up for it. Improvising made me the “Most Innovative Employee” after creating a database and website for my office with no prior experience. Improvisation with a little guidance placed me on the path to becoming an IT professional.
Tip: Do something with what you know using the limited resources you may have at your disposal.
Identify Potential Mentors
Even superheroes need help at times, so why not ask for help when necessary? Technology constantly changes, making it imperative to keep retooling if you are in the industry. Mentorship can bridge the gap between your skillset and things you need to learn. Reach out to potential mentors at every chance. Unfortunately, I did not have as much access to female mentors as I did to male mentors. For reasons I can now understand, as a mom who also works a full-time job, the women were always super busy and unavailable.
As luck would have it, I had an office next to a colleague that was a genius at web design. I expressed interest in learning about what he did and soaked up everything he could teach me. That experience helped me with the website project I completed. I also found myself in the company of another colleague who had a lot of experience working with applications. Again, I expressed interest in learning from him and I became very proficient at managing and maintaining the applications we used for our job tasks. Because I was bold enough to ask for mentorship and eager enough to learn quickly, I became very knowledgeable and was seen as an asset to my office. I was given tasks that only tech-savvy staff members could assume.
To grow my skillset, I continued learning and networking with individuals in my line of work. It is very important to build a network of mentors and peers that you can tap into when you need help figuring things out. Consider joining groups like Women in Technology. There is always room to learn. There will be rejections but keep reaching out.
Tip: Explore as many mentorship possibilities as possible.
The road to success is not void of challenges and pitfalls. Patience is key to realizing your full potential. You will have doubts and get discouraged at times. Realize that there will be a learning curve for every new thing or concept you decide to learn. If you put in the time and work, you will eventually become very proficient at any new skill. Mistakes are a learning opportunity because you understand what you need to look at more carefully or dedicate more time to understanding and how to avoid making those same mistakes. The fact that you are still persevering is commendable.
Tip: Be patient with yourself.
Keep a Level Head
They say you can tell a lot about a person when they are under pressure. Technology jobs come with their fair share of risk and challenges. In stressful situations we need to be level-headed and concentrate on finding solutions. Showing lack of emotional control and making rash decisions can cause an unfavorable perception of who we are as IT professionals. Female leaders, particularly those interested in management-level positions in IT, need to master the art of staying level-headed.
Tip: Practice always keeping a level head.
Obtain Formal Education in the IT Field
Finally, a formal education in IT is the cherry on top! If you are like me, starting off with a non-IT major, it does not hurt to do a certificate, diploma, or degree related to your interests. Even starting with something like the LinkedIn Learning platform, a resource I have used quite a lot, is a step in the right direction. It helps to establish credibility when you introduce yourself to clients or students. Education also puts women on par for equal compensation with our male counterparts. It is never too late to start.
Tip: Identify the area in IT that you are passionate about and enroll in a related program as soon as you can!