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Equality Street

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Can you imagine being a Female Network Engineer? Experiencing wolf whistles daily, earning far less than male counterparts and making the cups of tea – Well, sorry to disappoint but this simply isn’t true. Women can rack, stack and mount just like any other male Cisco Network Engineer and are generally treated just like any other Engineer. I wanted to cause a stir with this blog by highlighting the gulf between male and female Engineers, but despite some vocal opinion in social media circles, I found more equality than inequality.

An interview with Female Cisco Network Engineer Christine Bowman-Jones (CCNA R&S) was conducted to gain a deeper understanding of a day in the life of a female Cisco Network Engineer.

What or who was your inspiration to become a Network Engineer?

I was currently undertaking a PC maintenance course whilst working in a call centre. I have always enjoyed technology and decided a career change was needed. When the course was coming to the end, a lecturer – Mike Fitzgerald came into our class to give a talk on a foundation degree – Network Security Technologies. I found the talk captivating and the enthusiasm given by Mike was inspiring. I owe the path taken to Mike Fitzgerald, he was my true inspiration and gave me the knowledge and determination to succeed.

How many females did you have in your University/CCNA Classes?

When I first started my foundation degree there was one other female, however after a few weeks this female left the course, and then I became the sole female.

What skills/qualities do you think women need to become a Network Engineering Professional?

You need to work hard, the same as a male, you need to commit long hours to studying to learn your craft, you need determination as the path is not an easy one, however I would not say this is due to discrimination, although there is always that judgement in the background that you are a women initially.

Were there any groups or organisations to provide support for women in IT or women studying IT in the UK?

Not that I am aware of, however I never investigated this path.

Can you provide an example of when you’ve been treated differently to your male counterparts? If not, do you feel you’re treated as an equal by clients and fellow Cisco Network Engineers?

During my time at University I always felt like I was treated equally, in the workplace I rarely encounter other Cisco Network Engineers, however when I do I have never had an issue. I think you always get that initial 10 minutes whilst they get used to you being a female, however I really don’t see it as an issue.

When clients see a woman turning up on site to rack and mount, do you feel you’re being judged more than men, and why?

I have always enjoyed the surprised look by clients when a woman does turn up on site to rack and mount, and I don’t think women will ever escape that. I always get the offer of them carrying something for me etc., but I don’t see that as an issue, in fact quite enjoy it sometimes, however I never take them up on it.

Why do you think there are such small numbers of female Network Engineers or IT In general?

It can be an intimidating environment, and sometimes you do need a thick skin from the jokes. However once you gain that respect it doesn’t become an issue.

What would be your words of advice to young aspiring female Network Engineers?

I would say it will always be a male dominated environment and you have to be prepared for that. My advice is to be the best you can be, learn as much as possible, and know in yourself the abilities you have, and then you will achieve respect within the industry.

Starting your own business can be daunting, what gave you the confidence to pursue starting your own business?

I was working as a project manager with the threat of redundancy, not really undertaking a great deal of networking etc., the threat became real, and I thought to myself that I want to prove myself as an Engineer and had nothing to lose. I have never worked so hard in my life, however find it rewarding, and it’s that satisfaction that makes me carry on.

You’re currently CCNA R&S, what Cisco exams are next for you and why do you want to pursue this area in your career?

I am currently looking to complete my CCNP R&S, I have completed the routing exam and looking to undertake the switching exam shortly. I will look to become fully CCNP certified hopefully by the end of next year. I enjoy Cisco networking and get a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment out of it, I always enjoy learning new skills and developing existing skills.

Your quality of service and onsite professionalism is an area we understand many end-clients take the time to compliment you on – explain why your quality of service is exceptional?

My company reputation is the most important part for me, I will endeavour to complete a job 100% to my ability, I will always go above and beyond for a client and ensure they are happy when I leave site. I am always eager to wow a client and treat them with respect, return work and future projects are imperative for the survival of any company.

Conclusion

Full equality between male and female Engineers doesn’t exist yet, and it may never be the utopian vision some people crave. As Christine testified to in her interview, she sometimes works in an “intimidating environment” which is “male dominated” and where women need to have a “thick skin from the jokes”, but most importantly Christine feels like she is always “treated equally” in her job.

Equality, anti-discrimination and HR legislation exist to prevent Engineers like Christine from enduring inequality, yet it still exists. Some women may be intimidated to enter into a traditionally “male dominated environment” but unless more women challenge this “norm” then the landscape will never change.

Female Cisco Engineers - the rise of women in IT

Transformation – The Rise of Female Engineers

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In the UK alone, a mere 16% of the IT workforce are female and only 8% are Engineers – bleak statistics indeed, but the future looks bright for women in IT with the rise of several prominent women in key positions within top companies.

Attitudes and current cultures need to change; men and women in the field of ICT need to challenge antiquated norms, challenge male-orientated environments and place just as much trust in a female in ICT as we do in males. A greater balance between males and females in key Technology and Board room positions help to:

  • Create equality
  • Challenge existing norms
  • Create an environment to harness innovation
  • Inspire more women to work in IT

Potential employers of female IT Engineers shouldn’t employ more women because they’re women, it should be done with the foresight of improving your business and fostering innovation. When a male IT Engineer turns up to a client for a job nobody blinks, when the Engineer is female everyone is watching – a woman with a screwdriver here to rack and mount? Then, when the female performs to an identical level of standards as the man, it is the female who will get the plaudits from the client – why, because they stood out. Make female Engineers a key strength of your company, stand out from your competitors and create a competitive advantage – pink screwdrivers work the same as black ones, but one catches the eye more.

Marissa Mayer – CEO Yahoo

In 1999 Marissa joined a young Google as employee number 20 and more significantly as their 1st ever female Engineer. For the next 13 years, Mayer climbed the ranks of Google heading the Google mentorship programme, multi-million dollar acquisitions and Google maps.

At just 37 years young, Mayer was appointed CEO of Googles fierce rivals Yahoo and has since been named in Fortune & Forbes list of the Most Powerful Women in Business in the world, and holding her own against the men to become number 10 as Business Person of the Year.

Rebecca Jacoby – CIO Cisco

For the past 20 years, Rebecca Jacoby has risen through the ranks at networking equipment giant Cisco and has been CIO & Senior Vice President since 2006. A founding member of the Technology Business Management Council, Rebecca is at the forefront of progressive technology. Considering Jacoby started her career in manufacturing and supply chain, she’s an inspiration to any gender working at Cisco, Network Engineering or in Technology.

In a recent interview with David Weldon of FierceCIO, Rebecca quoted “in my career I liked being involved in transformation. I always got the most out of jobs when I was asked to go in and make change and keep driving change.” Somewhat ironic that transformation is the key driving technological innovation and likewise, in this blog post with transformation being the key to creating a gender balance in Network Engineering, ICT and business.

Cisco

Girls in ICT day is a CSR programme where Cisco employees engage with 13-18 year old girls aspiring to work in the field of ICT. In 2015 over 3,000 students attended, up from 2,331 in 2014 proving the success of reaching out to females at a young age.

Culture

The problems of having such a paltry amount of female Network Engineers & ICT isn’t so much a failure within existing businesses, but more of a wide-spread ignorance. If there are more prominent female Engineers, CIO’s and CTO’s then more young girls will see a future for themselves in a traditionally male-orientated role. Zeus Kerravala, Founder & Principal Analyst with the ZK Research says there is a lack of skilled Network Engineers, especially in Wireless, Voice & Security. Therefore there are jobs to fill as Network Engineers – jobs that women can fill if given the chance.

If you’re a female Engineer what barriers have you had to face in ICT? If you’re an employer what’s your opinion on the lack or rise of female Engineers? All comments are warmly welcomed.