By Margaret Magner
Special to The Guardian
The prominence of Sheryl Sandberg, chief information officer of Facebook, and Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo!, signals a leading role for women in the innovation and technology sector.
Yet the number of women engaged in the IT workforce — often less than 25 per cent — suggests considerable room for growth.
The issue has been debated by the British House of Commons, addressed through United Nations “Girls in IT” events in more than 70 countries, and examined in a recent U.S. academic study concluding media stereotypes of the IT industry must change.
All agree that for the sector to thrive, women must assume their place as leaders and innovators in the field. In P.E.I.’s burgeoning IT sector, women have made their mark for decades.
Kelly Dawson, executive vice president of Cogsdale Corporation, brings 17 years of experience in all aspects of software development and service delivery to her leadership role in P.E.I.’s IT industry. Previously president of the Innovation and Technology Association of Prince Edward Island, she is responsible for the strategic direction of Cogsdale’s products and services.
Cathy Reid earned a 1994 UNB master’s degree in computer science when there was one female professor and little business orientation in the training she received.
“I had few female role models and didn’t understand the breadth of IT careers — consulting, project management, business analysis. Today, my colleagues have backgrounds in engineering, business, robotics. We collaborate with clients from various industries, problem solving and understanding how IT supports them.”
Reid forged an 18-year career at DeltaWare Systems, currently eHealth consulting manager overseeing 20 IT professionals. She helps set the company’s strategic direction and mentors a new generation of technologists. Reid urges young women to keep an open mind and talk to professional women to understand career choices.
“Women in IT have great options in a variety of roles with challenges and exciting opportunities.”
Hannah Bell, executive director of the P.E.I. Business Women’s Association, grew up using computers and was a Siemens U.K. telecomm engineer before returning to P.E.I. and becoming the first IT employee at Timeless Technologies.
She later worked with Veterans Affairs Canada, helping launch mobile technologies, and earned a UPEI MBA in Innovative Management. Her experience makes Bell committed to science and mathematics education for young girls and providing role models so they perceive IT as a potential career.
“If you don’t know what you don’t know, why would you consider it?”
She also sees IT as a valuable option for mature women launching second careers.
“They have customer service skills critically important to the sector.”
Above all, Bell believes in the contribution of women to innovation and technology.
“Everyone needs IT. It’s no longer a separate thing. We can’t afford to ignore 50 per cent of the population and still make things happen in P.E.I. It’s a huge opportunity for women and men.”
Jenifer Dyment, a graduate of Holland College’s Computer Information Systems program, returned to school after 10 years in business.
“Working for my family’s company, my priority was implementing a software system we could afford. When its lead programmer suggested I consider a career in computers, I gave it a second look. I used to think that meant having to leave the Island.”
Dyment, now a software developer for Thinking BIG Information Technology, is glad she took “the leap of faith and discovered what IT is really like: solving problems, collaboration, continuous learning. I’m lucky to learn from a world-class team of developers.”
She values working in P.E.I. with clients that can be anywhere in the world.
“Some Islanders believe they’re limited being here but accept that’s the sacrifice they make. It’s not like that in the IT sector. And starting salaries are good and can accelerate with experience.”
Dyment admits the popular misconception of a male computer “geek” working alone in a backroom may still discourage women from pursuing an IT career.
“I tell my friends I build really cool things with computers.”
She’s aware women are in high demand within the industry.
“People are supportive and want more women involved. We’re constantly surrounded by technology, but with fewer female IT professionals, it sometimes doesn’t reflect us. With more women in the industry, we can shape our world by designing its software.”
Margaret Magner, Ph.D., is a freelance journalist in Charlottetown (www.magnerink.com).