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Is Tech Work Gender-Blind?

"Is Tech Work Gender-Blind?

By Sacha Cohen

You can read stats and look at polls, but to uncover the truth about what it is like to be a woman working in the technology industry, you should go straight to the frontlines. Here's what a senior product manager at AOL, a network administrator, a software engineer and a senior developer at a startup Web development firm had to say about sexism in the industry, overcoming obstacles and why loving what you do is essential. The biggest surprise? Gender bias in technology is almost nonexistent.

The most successful women in the industry truly enjoy the work they do and are fascinated by computing and technology in general. Jennifer MacLean, a senior product manager for AOL's Interactive Entertainment group, is one such person. "I've been a gamer since I was 8, and when I discovered I could make a living while working on computer games, I was in heaven. I got a part-time job as a play tester for Microprose while in college, and I've never considered doing anything else."

But not everyone in the field embraced technology at an early age. "I sort of fell into this field, " says Jill Robin Pascua, senior developer at Matrix Group International. "After graduation, I wanted to go into advertising. While looking for a job at an ad agency, I accepted an offer to be the assistant to the VP of marketing for a small company that was doing bulletin board systems and writing proprietary software and was just beginning to change its focus toward the Web."

First Impressions
Theresa Martin has been in the IT industry for five years and currently is working as a network administrator on a government contract. She has seen some significant changes and says that the biggest is acceptance. "Initially, women were only accepted for help-desk type of positions. Today we are seeing more and more women filling administrator/engineer positions, and as a result, being accepted as part of the 'team' or 'one of the guys,' " she says. MacLean agrees that gender bias is decreasing, but there are still barriers to overcome. "I could tell horror stories about trade conventions, the casual remarks and other instances that demonstrate that women are not fully accepted in the game industry. However, in technology, I think the bias is getting much better. Seeing a woman in a tech position hardly causes any comments at all," she jokes.

Then there are first impressions. Sidra M. S. Vitale, a software engineer at Alpine Electronics Research of America near Los Angeles, says that it can be tricky redefining what people think of you, simply because of your gender. "When they say 'You're an engineer!?' in the same tone of voice they might say 'You're a dancing bear!?' it can be really irritating," she says. "But probably the best thing to do is anticipate it and prepare for it."

For Pascua, one of the biggest challenges has been finding the niche she wants to works and keeping up with the different technologies. "I've tried design, programming and some project management, and while I'm a full-time programmer now, I play with the idea of going back to design or trying more management."

What Does It Take to Succeed?
Some of the women emphasized the importance of finding a mentor who can offer career guidance and advice, while others say that success is achieved through plain old hard work. Pascua says she had a couple of great programming mentors at one of her previous employers. "They liked answering any questions I had and did not mind if I asked them to look at my work. I also had a boss who pushed me to learn more by gradually assigning me to increasingly complex projects."

AOL's MacLean says she has had mentoring relationships in the past few years as well, but her success has come from working very hard and creating an excellent record of accomplishment. Although she admits that being a woman has been difficult at times, it has also had its advantages. "[Being a woman] has also gotten me a lot of attention, which has probably helped a bit," says MacLean. "However, I think I would be just as successful if I were a man or a woman."

The consensus in this group is that the skills you need to move ahead in the industry have little to do with gender. It is all about what you do as an individual. "Persistence, a thick skin, diplomacy and, most importantly, a love for the work," are essential explains MacLean. What else can you do to make it in the technology field? "Don't get discouraged and be patient with yourself," advises Pascua. "Be willing to try it all until you find something you want to commit to.""

<Note from JobFairy.com: It should be, but it isn't. You need the skills, and that's not negotiable. However, the women who have followed the Job Fairy instructions usually wind up making more money than even the men who have followed the algorithm! So hang in there when you're the only female working in a group of 50 guys. Eventually, they'll forget you're not a guy, and you'll hear the most educational things come out of their mouths...!>

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