Three misconceptions about IT careers - and why women should ignore them all

young Asian woman looking at laptop, watchin a webinar

By Laetitia Avrot, Senior Database Consultant at EDB and founder of Postgres Women

Ask a typical teenage girl what she thinks about people who work in IT, and the response probably won’t be flattering. ‘It’s too nerdy for me’; ‘I’m not good with numbers’; or ‘isn’t that just for boys?’, she might respond.

I often take part in outreach visits to local high schools to talk about my experience of working in IT, and encourage young women to consider it for themselves. Unfortunately, I hear statements like these all the time.

This image problem is a serious issue for the tech industry, where women make up just a quarter of the workforce. IT offers rewarding careers, is in constant need of new talent, and would seriously benefit from a boost in diversity. The reality of working in this industry is quite different to its reputation, which is based on stereotypes that are largely out-of-date. It’s time to debunk the misconceptions – here’s what women should really know about working in IT.

Code is a language like any other

You certainly don’t need to be a mathematical genius to become a great software developer. In fact, coding is much more similar to language learning than maths. But instead of talking with a person, you’re communicating with a computer. When I visit schools, I particularly recommend it to students who have a flair for foreign languages or all-rounders who are highly adaptable.

Programming languages are often updated, and software engineers usually know a few. Someone who can switch between French and Spanish classes without getting vocabulary mixed up and has an eye for grammatical detail, or who is equally talented at arts and sciences,  may have a natural aptitude for coding.

IT isn’t just for introverts

The stereotype of an IT whiz is a young man locked away in his bedroom, working all through the night on a complicated coding project. This is a completely inaccurate picture of the broader tech industry. There’s a place for extroverts too, and plenty of roles where people skills are essential and teamwork takes centre stage.

As a database consultant, I interact with my clients every day; persuading and explaining are two of the most important skills in my repertoire. IT offers a broad variety of roles to suit all kinds of skill sets. Introverts may prefer an individual contributor position in a highly technical role as a software engineer or hardware technician. Those who thrive on social interaction could work as product managers or business analysts,  collaborating closely with several other departments on a daily basis. Natural leaders could work towards top c-suite jobs such as CTO or CIO.

Sexism isn’t unique to STEM

Infuriatingly, no industry is immune from sexism and misogyny. Women worry they will encounter sexism in IT, and in some cases, they may sadly be correct, but the risk would be similar with a career in other industries too.

Culture is usually the culprit. Some men want the workplace to be a boys’ club: they feel threatened by anyone who challenges that, and will do their best to intimidate and exclude women with insidious tactics. They’ll talk about projects at social events you’re not invited to and look out of the window when it’s your turn to present; soon, you’ll look around and wonder why women never seem to win the big promotions.

Companies don’t take this seriously enough. If you get a bad feeling during the hiring process, trust your instincts. If sexism makes your job difficult, slows your progression or stops you from enjoying work, quit. In IT, it’s not difficult to find a new job – and there are lots of wonderful places for women to work.

One thing I enjoy about IT is that so much of my work is based on logic. There’s a clear right and wrong; things either work, or they don’t. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than working hard to become an expert in your field and being able to show sceptics you’re right. It gives me great satisfaction to know that if any man doubts my expertise, I have the ability to prove him wrong. I’m sure many women in IT feel the same.

So, how can we take action to improve access to IT careers, and help women thrive in this industry? Employers – pay fairly, promote expeditiously, support women in developing their skills and increase their visibility. Teachers – raise awareness of tech careers early on, encourage girls to explore any interest in computing and expose them to female role models who can inspire ambition and confidence. And women – support one another in the workplace, and don’t listen to anyone who tries to hold you back.

Laetitia AvrotAbout the author

Laetitia Avrot is a Senior Database Consultant at EDB and a passionate advocate for women in technology. Having co-founded the Postgres Women Group, Laetitia works with Postgres user conferences across Europe to increase the attendance of female engineers and developers at events. Her goal is to get more women speaking at conferences, contributing code, and mentoring one another to increase the diversity of the Postgres community.

Laetitia holds a degree in computer sciences engineering from INSA in Lyon, and worked at the National Nuclear Safety Authority and National Geographic Institute before arriving at EDB. She is one of only three women recognised on the official Postgres contributors list, but hopes many more will join her in years to come.