On The Job: Sex and the System Admin

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Oct 23, 2000


Deb Shinder

NOTE: This article is not "for women only." Gender issues in the job place impact everyone, either directly or indirectly. Guys, I realize a lot of you were drawn in by the title and then turned off by the subtitle, but don't leave just yet. If you work with - or anticipate ever working with - female colleagues, this article is for you, too.

NOTE: This article is not 'for women only.' Gender issues in the job place impact everyone, either directly or indirectly. Guys, I realize a lot of you were drawn in by the title and then turned off by the subtitle, but don't leave just yet. If you work with or anticipate ever working with female colleagues, this article is for you, too.

As a somewhat high-profile author and trainer in the IT industry, I often receive email from people who are considering a career change to work with computers and networking, who have completed training and/or obtained certification in MCSE, CCNA, CNE or other programs, or who are already working in the field and want to better themselves by moving into a higher-paying or more satisfying position.

Many of these ask the usual questions:

  • How can I get a job if I don't have experience?
  • How can I get experience if I don't have a job?
  • How can I negotiate a better salary in a new position if I'm underpaid in my current job?
  • What are employers looking for in IT candidates?

and a myriad of others. Now and then, I'll be asked by other females (apparently impressed by the fact that I've built a successful career working with computers, something traditionally considered more of a "guy thing"), "how much gender discrimination can I expect to encounter in the IT world?"

The first time I was asked that question, it surprised me. It was something I'd never really thought much about. Today, I think about it often. That's because, at least in some quarters of the IT world, it's a real issue. And it's made all the more frustrating because it's not a flagrant one; it's subtle (and thus insidious).

First, I'll tell my own story, and then I'll offer some suggestions that I hope will:

  • Help other women deal with gender discrimination when they encounter it.
  • Help them recognize why it happens, and understand how women themselves contribute to it.
  • Help them differentiate between true gender discrimination those instances where it's easy to use "discrimination" as an excuse for one's own failures.
  • Help men - and women - recognize how they may be subconsciously discriminating based on gender.
  • Help men and women understand one another a little better in regard to this ultra-sensitive topic, and learn to work together more effectively to the benefit of both genders.

Prior to a mid-life change of priorities that led to turning my long-time love of technology into a new career, I spent many years in perhaps the most "macho" profession in the world: law enforcement. At the time I entered the police academy, approximately 7% of all officers nationwide were female. Years later, when I got into computer networking, I read that approximately 7% of network systems engineers were female. An interesting coincidence, I thought. I said jokingly that I must be destined to always be a seven per-center.

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