The Most Precious IBM i Resource . . . Women
March 7, 2016 Dan Burger
Man’s work and women’s work, can you describe the difference? Think about all the reasons there are tasks that fit into one or the other category. Then think about the IBM midrange community and why the ratio of men to women must be 10 to one, or even greater. Unbalanced? Obviously. Discrimination? I’m not here to throw that bomb. Successful women in this business? Yes, there are many.
I’m going to mention just a few highly successful women from the IBM i community right off the top of my head: Alison Butterill, IBM i Product Offering Manager; Susan Gantner, highly regarded consultant and educator; Barbara Morris, lead RPG developer for IBM; Dawn May, senior technical staff member at IBM Rochester; Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, multiple COMMON/IBM Power Systems Innovation Award winner; Laura Ubelhor, consultant and president of the Southeast Michigan IBM i User Group; and Von Enselman, a consultant and proponent of recruiting more women to the IBM i community. Without a doubt there are many more that have succeeded in this profession, which leads to the question: Why aren’t there more?
Recruiting more women into IT professions is still a still a beta project. Recruiting women to IBM i environments specifically is pretty much a new frontier. There are a few people exploring this frontier and Enselman is one of them. She’s determined to guide others.
Women are an undiscovered resource that Enselman sees as an answer to a current and future workforce dilemma for IBM i shops and an opportunity to build gender equality in a field where the balance is way out of whack.
“The lack of women in the IBM i community is mostly a generational thing,” Enselman said in an interview with IT Jungle last week. “The Baby Boomers make up a big portion of the workforce in IBM i shops. The generation we are trying to attract to the IBM i community now is a generation accustomed to a better balance between men and women. In that era, not a lot of women sought jobs in IT. We are starting to see a better balance with Gen X, but the sharp divide still exists. The important thing in the IBM i world, however, is to attract Millennials in the right balance. Millennials are unlikely to go into an environment that is unlikely to be balanced. They’ve been taught to look for things like that.”
You can see a better balance when you talk to instructors at the college level who notice it in their classroom demographic. It is noticeable in the students that the COMMON Education Foundation is helping to bring to COMMON conferences.
Enselman believes the next generation of IBM i workers must include many more women. And to bring IBM i to the attention of more women, she believes a mentoring program will become an important factor. She says STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers, traditionally male dominated, are opening to women more so than in the past and that women who have already succeeded in the field are important to those who are considering technology as a career.
“Mentoring is a tremendous part of overcoming barriers. I’m trying to raise the overall awareness of the dynamic knowledgeable women who have been in our industry and get the lessons of their experiences better known. This includes getting the word to the colleges that there are success stories and there are mentors,” she says.
Moving in this direction, she has taken on a leading role in the Women in IT Conference that has been run in conjunction with the annual Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professionals Spring Technical Conference hosted by the Milwaukee-based IBM i user group. The Women in IT Conference will take place March 14, one day ahead of the tech conference, which is March 15 through 17 at the Lake Lawn Lodge in Delavan, 50 miles southwest of downtown Milwaukee. The Women in IT Conference does not require a registration fee. Its primary audience is anyone considering a career in information technology, but those already in the profession.
With the conference just a week away, attendance is estimated at 100, with approximately 60 high school and college students.
This conference has been a women-only event in the past, but this year it will be open to men as well. Enselman is hoping that men, particularly those in IT supervisory positions, will attend.
“Anytime a supervisor can hear more about the demographics of the people he or she is supervising–about the way they think or interact at work–will improve the team interaction,” she says.
There’s not a specific IBM i perspective to the conference, but IBM i Product Offering Manager Alison Butterill will be the keynote speaker. Conference sessions are designed to include panel discussions and group interaction rather than a lecture-only format and many of the panelists have careers that are intertwined with the IBM i.
“What we are seeing in the i community are no longer the days when programmers sat in their own little section and didn’t deal with the other business groups are coming to an end. IT has to interact with project managers and QA professionals and other business groups that have a lot of women in them. So the more we can be aware, as IT professionals, about gender issues and leadership issues, the better we can be prepared to integrate with other groups in our organizations,” Enselman says.
Although this is the only women in IT conference that reaches into the IBM i community, Enselman plans to package this event and adapt it for use with other local user group tech conferences.