Computer-Programmer

You don't ask, you don't get | Why coding isn't just 'business for boys'

By Melissa McKendry, Vice President, Implementation Services for Retail Banking and Fraud,  ACI Worldwide

I have been working in IT for over 20 years and to be honest, until a few years ago, the issue of gender has never been at the forefront of my mind.

Dealing with complex IT issues for our banking and merchant clients has always been ‘business for the boys’ and I am used to being one of a small handful of women in male-dominated teams. I have hardly encountered any biases in what was and in many ways still is a male dominated industry but I think playing football helped with integrating in with a largely male population!

However, in recent years I have become more aware of the lack of women in our industry, especially since becoming site leader of our European head office in Watford. The payments and fintech industry is growing globally and offers fantastic career opportunities for young men and women. In years to come the industry will need many more skilled software engineers, computer programmers and data scientists.

However, historically, society has put more emphasis on boys when it comes to math and science subjects. Figures show that in 2017 less than 30 percent of computer scientists were women and that the percentage is on the decline. There is a societal mindset that needs to be changed for a significant impact to take place. Along with educating young girls about professions in STEM, our society and the parents of young girls need to be educated on the importance of including women in such professions.

That’s why a few years ago, ACI launched its Coding for Girls Initiative. The free, one-day camps offer crash courses in computer programming, including HTML, CSS and Java and are designed to introduce girls from year 7 to 9 to the world of technology and careers in high-tech professions. We have run such camps at various of our US sites, and this year we launched the initiative in the UK.

Unconscious Bias is often the point where challenges start

That said, there are fundamental differences between men and women and the way we operate in the workplace. I have found that when applying for a job, men are more inclined to raise the topic of compensation than women.  Men tend to promote themselves more broadly across job skills while women are often more critical of their skills and abilities.

Unconscious bias is often the point where challenges start, but as society changes and is becoming more aware of such biases, as we debate these issues more honestly and openly, these bias barriers will shift and hopefully cease to exist.

Lessons learnt

Some of the main lessons I have learnt during my career and the advice I would like to give others, just starting out include:

  • You don’t ask you don’t get.
  • You can learn a lot of working with men and women, we are very all different individuals so take the time to observe, learn and progress.
  • Keep in contact with colleagues and other people you meet along the way, networking is one of your biggest assets as a human.
  • Treat people as you like to be treated.
  • Be honest with yourself in what you want out of your role and career.
  • Tell people what you are aiming for and this will bring the opportunities.  The only role I have applied for within ACI is the role I took when first started at ACI in 1997, since then opportunities have been presented to me by making my aspirations known or asking for an opportunity.
  • Ensure you have solid work/life balance, it is tough but critical to your happiness

Diversity is crucial in today’s economy

Promoting equal opportunity, diversity and inclusiveness have been on top of my agenda, especially since becoming site leader at our Watford office. At ACI, women sit on our Board of Directors and Executive Leadership Team and hold senior roles across the organization, whether as software engineers, sales executives or product developers. We actively promote dialogue about issues such as gender diversity and inclusion, and we provide mentorship and sponsorship to help women with their career progression. I truly believe that diversity and inclusiveness are not just buzzwords but are crucial to the success of our company.

About the author

Melissa Mckendry is vice president of retail banking implementation services at ACI, having held numerous different roles within the organisation over the past 20 years. One of Melissa’s most notable contributions to ACI, beyond leading implementation services, is being an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness. Melissa has been vocal in addressing these issues and was instrumental in bringing ACI’s Coding for Girls Camp to the UK.