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Crushing the IT Gender Bias: Thriving as a Woman in Technology

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When my career first began, I was on a team of five women Database Administrators (DBAs). Within 9 months, one of the five who was hired at the same time as I was left the industry. She was young, single, had a degree in Computer Science (CS) with a focus on database technology, and had no children. I had difficulty understanding how I, a divorced mother of three, with a young baby and no CS degree, would make it if she couldn’t.

Over the next 6 years, I was too busy with my own career and raising children to notice that I’d gone from an all-female DBA team to the lone woman on the team. As my career continued to advance, my traditional idea that women were Database Administrators and men were in networking and server administration changed to a point where the cultural norm that men were in IT and women were a rarity in the industry became the reality around me.

It wasn’t until an unsettling situation experienced by a peer forced me to examine what the real culprit was, and I discovered most policies around discrimination and harassment were rarely capable of deterring from gender bias impacting diversity. I felt the need to speak out, but it was clear that I needed to begin research to understand it all. Bias is a complex biological mechanism that developed historically as part of heuristics and is built out of experiences and cultural upbringing. Historically, heuristic traits are built to protect us from consuming plants that look similar to those we already know are poisonous or avoid similar environment situations that previously put us in danger. We learn by experience and example, but to do so, a human will simplify and categorize their surroundings to ease the demand for deep investigation of safety concerns. To give you a less dangerous example of how heuristics works, if I were to give you a lime, you expect to be handed a small, round, green citrus. If instead you were offered a red, fingerling lime, a bananashaped minority of the lime family originally from Australia, a percentage of people will have great difficulty accepting the fact that it’s a lime. It doesn’t fit within their expectation of a what a lime looks like. This protective process that bias sources from has a significant purpose though, as it is used to identify environmental dangers, such as poisonous foods and physical threats, will also arise in this benign situation, resulting in a percentage of individuals rejecting the lime that doesn’t meet their expected criteria. We are all subject to heuristics, both men and women, although some personality types are more dependent upon their heuristic tendencies. They don’t like to be outside their comfort zone, breaking with tradition or open to change.
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