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Outreach Programs Bring More Women Into Power Systems Careers

Women in Tech
Illustration by Mario Wagner

If you were to look at photos from the past 25 years of IT conferences, you’d notice slow changes in the attendees. Early photos would show only men in the audience. Around 1990, one or two women may be in the group. In 2015, a few more women pop up. In 2018, the number of female faces has increased, but males still comprise the majority.

If the future of the IBM Power Systems* platform depends on attracting more young people to the platform, many of those IT workers will be female. Organizations and individuals are working to spread the word to young women and those women returning to the workforce that IT welcomes them. Here’s a look at some of the efforts underway to encourage more women to look at careers in IT.

Getting Girls Interested

The Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association (WMCPA), a 33-year-old volunteer-based user group, is reaching out to female high school and college students to introduce them to IT.

The initial effort began in 2013 when Jim Buck, the current WMCPA sponsor director, suggested having a 45-minute session devoted to women at the group’s annual conference. The session featured a panel of women in IT, including Alison Butterill, IBM offering manager for IBM i. Topics covered in the Q&A format included the IBM i platform, the importance of education, how to communicate with coworkers and management, and juggling work and home.

The positive reaction to the session was immediate. “It was a hit and WMPCA-Women in Technology (WIT) was born,” says Sue Zimmermann, WIT director. Since 2014, WIT sponsors a full-day free event held the first day of the annual conference. The main topic changes each year and has included opportunity, empowerment, the panoply of different IT jobs and mentoring. The original Q&A session, now called The Real World, remains a core part of the event.

A session about IBM i is included at every WIT to plant seeds of awareness about the OS. “At every WIT event, more than 50 percent of the room has never heard of IBM midrange, IBM i or Power Systems,” says Zimmermann. “If those attendees remember the words IBM and Power Systems and search for them later, we’re happy,” she says.

At this year’s WIT, a session on business and IT introduced attendees to business vocabulary and the impact of IT on the processes involved in distribution, manufacturing and service. To give attendees hands-on experience with IBM i, HarrisData donated its full ERP package and imPower Technologies provided IBM i cloud space to run the software. Attendees were able to use laptops to access the ERP system, key in a customer order, check stock levels, and fill and ship an order. Access was available for a week after the event so attendees could show their teachers and other students what they learned about IBM i.

The session was an eye opener for many. “A lot of kids think everything is done on their phone,” says Michelle Lyons, co-director of WIT. “They don’t understand the behind-the-scenes technology that makes ordering products on the phone possible,” she says.

Interest in WIT grows each year. Currently, 50-75 high school girls from six high schools attend. Technology organizations such as Gateway Technical College and Girls in Tech-Milwaukee participate and support WIT. Other supporters include IBM, COMMON Education Foundation and many others. Non-technology groups like Future Business Leaders of America also attend. The WIT and WMCPA events provide students and professionals a place to network, meet vendors, and learn about job skills and how to acquire them.

With the success of WIT, Ajay Gomez, WMCPA president, has decided to also launch a new community outreach initiative for both male and female high school and college students.

It’s Not Just Coding

IT comprises many different jobs besides programming. Young boys are attracted to IT because they want to be the next big video game designer. Girls, on the other hand, want to do various things, says Yvonne Enselman, director of professional services for iTech Solutions and a COMMON board member.

“It's up to all of us to bring the next generation, which will be 50 percent women, into our thoughts and share our knowledge."
—Yvonne Enselman, COMMON board member

To engage young women, IT professionals need to emphasize the other aspects of IT such as project management, quality assurance and communication. What captures girls’ attention are the problem-solving qualities of project management and quality assurance. “It’s like solving mysteries on ‘Law and Order,’ ” she says.

To get women interested, start with the big picture and work backward. “This is a great approach for IBM i,” Enselman says. “Talk about the business solution that’s being provided, then teach the back end, how to administer it and how to write a program on it,” she notes. By working with the way that women naturally learn, women feel comfortable about sharing their creative approaches in the workplace. The business will benefit from their creativity, notes Enselman.

Become a Mentor

Mentoring can be an important part of making women and men feel included in the workplace. A mentor provides feedback and perspective, which is always valuable. Many women, like Enselman, were mentored by men.

Women and men have different approaches to mentoring, Enselman notes. In mentoring young men, she finds they tend to reach out with a specific question or something concrete. Young women are more likely to stay in touch on a regular basis and keep the mentor in the loop about what’s happening in their work lives.

Joel Ruiz, an IBM software developer, was mentored by his female manager, who has worked with IBM for over 30 years in technical and management roles. Mentoring helps a person focus on their goals and provides them direction. A monthly one-hour phone call with a mentor can reap benefits for both sides, he says.

Keep Networking

Networking is also important. Laura Hamway, managing director of Remain Software USA, formed a regional user group called the Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators (MAGiC) in 2016.

The group provides professionals with networking opportunities via monthly phone calls and an annual conference. A number of women participate in the monthly MAGiC conference calls, but more female participants and speakers are needed at the annual conference. The group plans to do more to attract women to the conference as well as reaching out to local universities to get women involved.

Engage With Young People

Hamway has seen more women come into IT during her almost three decades in the industry. “Women have a lot of valuable skills and often excel at multitasking,” she notes. Women have become IT managers, and are also increasingly moving into executive management.

But Hamway is troubled by the lack of younger women she sees entering IT. The Power Systems and IBM i communities need to engage young women in high school and college and show that IT is a great career choice, she says.

Once in an IT job, women may need to advocate for themselves and request further training as needed. “With equal training, women can be as successful as men,” she adds.

Be a Supporter

Ruiz is a big supporter for getting more girls and boys into IT. Prior to joining IBM three years ago, Ruiz wasn’t familiar with Power Systems or the enterprise world. Now, he’s keen to get young men and women interested in learning about the many possibilities with IBM POWER* and IBM Cloud* technologies.

As a volunteer, he participated in the one-day PoweHERful Foundation Enrichment Conference held in 2017. The audience at the event, which was sponsored by IBM, was comprised of about 120 young women, ages 9 through 23, from the Austin, Texas, area.

As part of the presentations, Ruiz and other speakers introduced the audience to Power Systems, the IBM Cloud and how the cloud servers are built on Power Systems. The conference provided “a window into today’s technology for these women who may want to become involved in IT,” he says.

It’s Up to Everyone

Men as well as women need to step up to mentor and encourage women to pursue IT as a career. “It’s up to all of us to bring the next generation, which will be 50 percent women, into our thoughts and share our knowledge,” says Enselman. “We need to be advocates for the platform as it’s our job, it’s our career, it’s our community,” she says.

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at savage.shirley@comcast.net.


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