I was at a Geek Girl Dinner (checkout http://ggdcpt.wordpress.com/) in Cape Town in the beginning of the the year, and one of the speakers brought up a really fantastic point. She asked the audience to raise their hand if anyone is in the same profession as their grandmother or mother. There were literally a handful of the over 100 women in the audience who raised their hands. Her point was this: in this day and age, the women in my generation (call it early 30s) haven’t had the plethora of strong female leaders as mentors in the IT field that men have had to look up to for decades. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that there are none. There are many women who have struggled up to where they are today and are leaders in their industries. The point I am making is that compared to men in that same role, our numbers pale in comparison. The talk concluded by saying that we have to forge our own ways ahead and be the leaders that the Generation Z ladies will aspire to be.
After that talk, I was very inspired to take a look at my own life and see where I would be able to provide mentorship and examples to generations coming up under me.
I am by no-means technical and therefore couldn’t really provide the skills that young developers, sysadmins and IT Manageresses would be able to practically use. My offering to young women joining IT would be to remember your feminine feet while climbing the corporate ladder in this mans world. “What could you possibly mean by that?!” I hear you cry incredulously. Let me explain…
Since I was young, whenever I did anything right or did something well, I was always rewarded with pat on the back by the masculine influences in my life saying “good job, you did that like a guy” or “wow you did that just like a man would have”. So naturally, growing up I thought that I needed to aspire to be more like a guy as doing things like “throwing like a girl” or “running like a girl” seemed to have negative connotations attached to them. I struggled for years growing up as I was always aiming to be one of the guys with my friends but one of the girls at the same time. I found that I was splitting both aspects of my personality into 2 separate personas. Now, having grown up a little (I really do mean a little), having the life knocked into me by the journey we take to get to where we are, I realise that what I was doing when I was younger was completely wrong.
You are who you are. And for myself, I found that I am a good mix between the two. I am a tomboy at heart and still ride motorbikes and enjoy a cold beer with the guys at the end of the day. But at the same time, I am a woman and fiercely proud of that. As a woman, I am complex, full of compassion and able to carry the burden of others until they are strong enough to stand alone again. In business I have found that this has stood me in good stead. I have had to “grow a pair”and stand my ground for issues which need resolving but still retain a relationship by empathizing and find compromise with clients around their needs.
So my advice to the Generation Z’s about to join the wonderfully terrifying world of IT, is to keep true to who you are. Whether you climb your corporate ladder in pumps, stillettos or studded biker boots- keep your feminine feet because you are amazing just as you are!