Women in technology: Are we our own worst enemy?

Jennifer Scott

COMMENT: The female workforce is moving up in the world. There are women in top jobs that no-one would have dreamed of before. We have even had our first female home secretary. While Jacqui Smith may perhaps be a bad example, you get the picture.

However, there are still barriers for many women in the workplace purely based on their gender.

But the question asked at yesterday's W-Tech 2009 made an interesting point. Are women actually their own worst enemies in the workplace, spending so much time highlighting their differences from men that they encourage men to treat them differently?

The event all in all was a great success. 1,200 women turned up throughout the day, which for a debut is very impressive, and I was told by endless numbers of delegates how useful the daytime sessions were.

There was also a wonderful feeling walking in the doors of the IET and seeing all those women who work in technology. Technology is a highly male dominated area, so to see so many women there gave me a bit of a buzz.

The evening panel discussion featured six successful female executives from the tech world, set to top off a great day.

So how did I feel? Inspired? Revitalised? Driven? No. I felt patronised. Why did a gathering of so many intelligent business women turn into an episode of Oprah?

I fully admit I am only young, just embarking on my career at the age of 24, but I felt for people like me, and the plenty of students I came across, there was a lack of voice or representation.

I would have liked to have seen somebody on their way up or be told how do get there, however the panellists condensed their vast years of experience into an introduction as long as a heartbeat, neglected to inform us how they had got into the game (with one exception although that was not in-depth either) and spoke about how their parents, husbands and children had got them through it all.

Hello? Can you see me and the scores of young women here? We are not married, don't have a husband or kids and unsurprisingly haven't been in a company for half of our lifetimes. Any words for us?

The thing is it wasn't just my cynicism of the family ideal, there were other family women there too whose noses got out of joint.

When the panel finished I spoke to one woman who said: "What do they know about taking time out for kids and trying to get back into work? One of them only took six weeks off with her child. Don't patronise me, it is not that easy to go back."

Another woman joined the conversation and said: "And what was that about, dismissing old boys networks? That is what exists and there was just a panel who had all played that game to get to the top."

It is true. These women came across as though they had faked liking golf and enjoying cricket to impress male colleagues, but then told us not to. "Talk about your family instead," one panellist pointed out.

Sorry. I have no kids.

Another of the panellists even dared to say "unfortunately your male colleagues won't want to talk about the latest shoes or fashion trends." Hang on. What about those in the audience, me included, who actually do like golf and cricket and perhaps aren't bothered about high heels? Are we not women too?

On top of being informed women didn't like sports and apparently the pub try one week at my office to prove that wrong - we were then pitied for not selling ourselves or having enough confidence.

It is not the men I work with that are my biggest enemy and not myself either. My nemesis seems to be other women who think my lifestyle choice is ludicrous and continue to fuel stereotypes of emotional handbag wielding self doubters who don't know the offside rule.

I don't want to sound totally dismissive of the event. I genuinely think getting women together to say, "yes we can be successful business woman in a sector that is flooded with men" is great and if any of the women left yesterday feeling more confident and ready to go get those jobs then the event has achieved its goal.

But I am a cricket loving, pub going, confident, childless, single, young career woman. Let's hope next year they remember to include panellists for people like me.

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott is a former freelance journalist and currently political reporter for Sky News. She has a varied writing history, having started her career at Dennis Publishing, working in various roles across its business technology titles, including ITPro. Jennifer has specialised in a number of areas over the years and has produced a wealth of content for ITPro, focusing largely on data storage, networking, cloud computing, and telecommunications.

Most recently Jennifer has turned her skills to the political sphere and broadcast journalism, where she has worked for the BBC as a political reporter, before moving to Sky News.