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Why women must be tech forerunners

The theme for International Women’s Day this year, #EachforEqual, underlines the extent to which “an equal world is an enabled world”. In other words, where bias and bigotry are eliminated, society as a while flourishes.

However, some only buy into this kind of idea when presented with undeniable evidence that their bias is emphatically wrong. Of course, that evidence is all around us, in the form of women who lead in many spheres once the domain of men.

We tend to call them superwomen, because the perception is that they are doing something out of the ordinary. But if you don’t have to be a superman to run a country, you also don’t have to be a superwoman. You only need that title to intimidate men who have not yet woken up.

Sometimes, though, women take on roles that just shout “superwoman”. An example is one Lori MacVittie, who rejoices in the title of “Principal Technical Evangelist” at a global application delivery company called F5 Networks.

That may make it sound as if she’s a high priest of tech, but in reality, she is responsible for “distilling technical concepts into something that most people can understand”. However, she does it with the enthusiasm of a true believer.

“I know a lot about a lot of different technologies, and I get very excited about it,” she told us this week.

For her, there is nothing unusual about a woman explaining technology to audiences that still largely comprise men.

“My mother was a programmer in the 1970s, so I wasn’t the first female in my family to pursue a career in the tech space. She often brought work home with her and I found it fascinating. Once we got a computer I was hooked, and this is where my love for technology started.”

Despite a Master’s degree in Computer Science, she says, she has always been subjected to stereotyping.

“Throughout my career I have experienced male colleagues who wouldn’t take direction from a woman, and men at conferences who are taken aback when they realise I know what I am talking about. My question is, what made you assume I didn’t?”

“Mansplaining” is an occupational hazard, with men often trying to tell her what she really meant. Her response is one for which men are not equipped: “Generally, my face says it all. I’m told I have a very expressive face, and being a mom, I just give them that ‘mom look’ that everyone knows. It says, you’re on dangerous waters here.”

The environment is improving.

“Whether coincidental or not, the rise of cloud was accompanied by a significant drive to recognise and support women ‘in cloud’. The culture of the cloud industry is very welcoming. Cloud as a technology makes it easy for anyone to drive an idea to fruition thanks to the wide range of options. We’ve seen an explosion of women-led start-ups based in and on cloud.

“The most important thing is that data and computers don’t care about gender, so women shouldn’t let it bother them either. If we want change, we need to be the forerunners.”

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