Monday, July 10, 2006

Screen Goddess IT calendar

A calendar of women in IT, posing in familiar movie-poster scenes, is now available. It’s a delightful little parody of sex-appeal, depicting women who are commonly stereotyped as geeks in the roles of screen sirens.

There’s Sharon doubling as Ursula Andress in the famous Dr No scene, stepping out of the waves in a bikini, Megyn in her voluptuousness doing a Catherine Zeta-Jones in Zorro, and my favourite Barbara and Linda doing it for the older women as a highly convincing Thelma and Louise.

Check it out at http://www.itgoddess.info

The calendar looks great, but according to Sydney Morning Herald article (July 9, 2006) the creators were inspired to challenge the perception that women in IT are about as a sexy as a wet baboon, hoping to attract more women back to IT.

Apparently the number of women employed in IT has fallen and continues to decline. The Sydney Morning Herald touched on this issue once before (Google in need of the feminine touch, April 18, 2006) when they revealed Google Australia’s failing attempts to draw more women to the IT workforce.

The makers of the calendar think it’s due to the perception that people in IT are all geeks that turn women away from the industry. As if women are so shallow and obsessed with appearance that they’d base their career choice entirely on how others may or may not perceive them.

Google and other organisation are trying to attract women to the workplace, but unless they’re a woman who has experience working in the IT industry, I fear they may not know exactly what they’re dealing with.

It’s not that IT isn’t interesting to women. Many women love computers and technology and are just as “switched on” as their male counterparts. But as a woman who worked for several years in IT, perhaps I can shed some light on why women are turning and running away.

There is something to be said about the types of people attracted to the IT industry, and while not all IT workers are geeks, the number of socially-inept males who have no idea how to relate to women and deal with them on equal footing on a day-to-day basis is too great for comfort.

I will share my experience in the IT industry, in the hope that it helps Google and other organisations make drastic changes that will get women back in IT.

My first job while I was still studying multimedia at UTS, I worked for an insane man with no business knowledge. He was an angry man rapidly running his dotcom into the ground. He yelled at clients and then came to me for emotional support. He was my boss, yet he asked me out constantly, not accepting “no” as an answer. He told me “You know how I feel about you,” as if that would make a difference and once tricked me into a dinner date, pretending we were just popping out for a quick feed while working late one evening. He took me to a fancy restaurant instead and I sat through one very akward dinner. Finally, he yelled at me for singing too loudly, punched a door which split down the middle and left the office to go abuse another client. I was gone by the time he came back. He rang me and begged me to return, but there wasn’t a chance.

After that experience, I actually decided not to work in IT any more, but a job came my way and I was unemployed at the time and about to graduate. Although they offered me a pittance of a salary I was thinking about beggers and choosers so I took the job. I worked with some really great, interesting and not-geeky people, my workmates and equals.

I say equals, but that is not how the company viewed it. Let’s just say my closest male workmate doing the same job as me earned $20,000 more than I did. It was far from equal!

But, because I enjoyed working alongside some great people I stupidly endured 2 years at that company and came out of it very bitter and upset. My workmates were great, but my bosses were a nightmare. One hardcore geek with zero social skills (and a personality exactly the same as David Brent from TV’s The Office) was my direct superior. He thought it was amusing to call me a “peanut-smuggler” infront of my workmates and encouraged them to use the term as freely as they liked. I rushed out to buy bras that were heavily lined so that my nipples would never show in the cold again.

I wore jeans and pretty ordinary clothes to that job. It was a casual workplace. I thought I was reasonably attired, but at one christmas party the company’s CEO decided it was appropriate to leer at me and accuse me of wearing tight jeans and wagging my “perky little arse around” at the office. I was gob-smacked and walked away, choosing not to respond to such an uncalled-for accusation.

I considered suing the company for harrassment but they were embroiled in so many other legal battles, and I was planning my move out of IT forever, so I decided not to waste any more time or energy on them. They were probably relying on that. I moved to Japan, changed my life completely and never once looked back.

Neither company exists any more. They imploded through poor management and a general lack of idea about life in general. Good riddance I say, but I have to wonder how many other women have had similar experiences. I can’t be the only one. If woman are to return to IT, there has to be a dramatic re-shaping of society and men’s attitudes towards women need to completely change. While the calendar is cute, shiny and enjoyable I have to wonder what kind of workplace those poor women will return to once their geeky, useless bosses get an eyeful of them in their underwear. I shudder to think!

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