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How to Help Encourage #WomenInTech

- March 8, 2016 - 0 Comments

MichelleRagusa1

It was somewhere between not too long ago, and a lifetime ago that I was graduating high school and entering College and pondering that dreaded question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  As a child I had loads of ambition and diverse career choices, ranging from circus acrobat to pediatric cardiologist, to artist.

My fear of heights limited my acrobatics career, and the theory that artists only become famous when they’re dead, led me to follow my passion for technology. This led me to my 11-year career at Cisco.  I am very happy with my opportunity, and continue each day to learn something new. I have had wonderful mentors along the way, especially female mentors, such as Cisco’s VP Global Operations, Juli Clark.

My mom was a single mom, and although she worked 24 years for the NY Board of Education, I clearly remember her joking around saying, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”.  She has always had a strong will, and curiosity to try new things. She also encouraged me to get a college degree (first in my family) and inspired me that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grow up, sky’s the limit.

I have always loved technology, in fact, I would stay late at our school computer labs while my mom worked, and often won the “computer awards” beginning as far back as Elementary school.

I am very excited to now sit on the CompTIA Community Executive Board and serve as Chair of the CompTIA Advancing Women in IT Community. I am a long standing member of the National Women in Technology Group, where I have given speeches for young women in technology. Moreover, I actively give back to the community and am an advocate for U Touch – an organization focused on transforming lives in disadvantaged regions by providing Technology, Training and eMentoring. I also work with the nonprofit TechGirlz which helps to empower middle school girls to become tomorrow’s technology leaders​​. By putting tech directly in to their ​hands through free, project based workshops, and aiming to eliminate the gender gap by sparking a passion for tech early​ in girls’ lives it has inspired them to become interested in technology. ​ ​ ​

It’s no secret there’s a shortage of women working in IT. While this is a complex problem, with a whole many factors influencing the current makeup of the employee landscape, there’s one point that seems to get brought up repeatedly, often accused of being the main culprit responsible for this deficiency—there are no careers in IT that appeal to young girls. And if young girls can’t get excited about IT, how are we supposed to get more women involved in the profession? Of course the truth is you can leverage a career in IT to find work in a huge variety of industries. Whether it’s a user experience designer or engineer, interested young girls can pursue a career in IT that will take them just about anywhere.

While the stereotype of a career in IT may be that of the “nerdy” professional who never sees the light of day, hard at work deep in a cubicle in their company’s IT department, the reality is far different. Today’s IT professional has an incredible number of career options in a vast number of industries and varied careers within IT organizations such as Cisco. These professions sometimes offer some great travel opportunities, lucrative career growth, the ability to meet new people and develop diverse skills, and you are constantly learning something new as technology is always changing and never stagnant.

Cisco has wonderful Connected Women’s programs, mentorship and leadership opportunities which help foster growth and development within our careers. The question remains how do we attract and retain new women and young girls to pursue a career in IT?

MichelleRagusa2

What can you do right now?

  1. Create Awareness: Speak to women and girls about what you do, and why you love it! Offer to give a “Dream IT” presentation.  Where are some places that you can do this?
  • Women’s organizations
    • your alumni association
    • your local high school
    • your local Girl Scout troop and/or 4H organization
    • women’s networking organizations within your company
    • veteran’s organizations
    • local news organizations covering the technology industry and/or women’s interests
  1. Join one of the Connected Women’s Groups within Cisco and externally – find mentors or mentees which you can share best practices and overcome challenges together
  2. Share the video link on your Social Media: A Place for You in IT (Video)or Consider IT (Video)
  3. Know someone looking for a job? Pass this link on to them: AWIT Career Resources – It is open to anyone (female or male, students or adults) who wishes to learn more about IT careers

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How can men help their female colleagues in this process?

There is no shortage of men in IT, or leadership… it is important for them to be an important part in this cause! Most men, or at least most of the ones I encounter — are firmly committed to advancing the careers of women around them.  They want their wives to succeed; they want their daughters to succeed; they want their female friends, colleagues, and employees to succeed; they want to reap the rewards of investing in the trajectories of female employees and co-workers.  The problem is that they just don’t know how.  And why should they, given that women themselves are having so much difficulty identifying possible solutions to their quandary?

  • Include female colleagues to social outings and work collaborations, give them a seat at the table internal and external.  Work Life collaborations foster relationships, mentorship, and the opportunity to be inclusive and fair in a diverse work place.
  • Don’t be afraid to offer women constructive feedback…we are strong and can handle it.  Do not give niceties instead, give young women the same kind of feedback — honest, fair, tough, and specific — that they provide to their male counterparts to help us succeed
  • Take part in the conversation, be present and open minded.  One of the best indicators of an organization’s commitment to diversity is who shows up at diversity-themed events.  All too often, only women engage in conversations about balance of family or flexible modes of work. Unfortunately, if the discussions do not extend beyond this population, and outside the realm of “women-only” functions, then nothing will ever get done.  Men who want to help need to be part of the dialogue, and present at those conversations.
  • Give credit where it’s due.  Every working woman has faced this situation:  she offers a point or suggestion in a meeting; watches the conversation move on without notice; and then hears her precise point being echoed five minutes later by a man, whose views are then repeated and praised by the others. So pay particular attention to who is talking during a meeting, and who gets credit for these words.  Try to call women participants out by name (“As Jennifer said just a few moments ago …”) and reference them later in the conversation (“Bob, your idea reminds me of the argument Jen was making earlier…”).  Go out of your way to call on quiet people — regardless of their gender — and take the time to learn who really contributed to joint projects or presentations.  Celebrate the entire team, and build strength and camaraderie.

In the end- the people you work with, sell to, and market to be will made up of men and women. Strengthening Diversity is good because it betters the team, the leadership, and the overall organization.

I now have two step daughters, Danica 18, Mila 16, and two daughters of my own Brooklyn (almost 2 years old) and Cali (3 weeks).  As my beloved mother guided me, I want them to know they can be anything they want when they grow up, and maybe just maybe that is a career in IT.

 

Want to join our amazing #WomenInTech?  Apply now!

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