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How girl geeks can get the best tech jobs

By Catriona Davies, CNN
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
A woman operates an early IBM computer. Today, the tech industry remains dominated by men.
A woman operates an early IBM computer. Today, the tech industry remains dominated by men.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Women in Technology founder gives top tips for women to succeed in IT careers
  • Less than one in five professional technology jobs in the UK are filled by women
  • Women should make the most of recruiters' desperation to improve their gender balance
  • Network, find a sponsor to help you get promoted and speak publicly to raise profile

London (CNN) -- If you call your office IT department, find someone to develop your website or browse in a computer store, chances are you'll be dealing with a man.

So where are all the women? In the UK, women make up just 18% of the IT professional workforce, according to e-Skills, the sector skills council.

Maggie Berry, founder of recruitment and career development agency Women in Technology, says employers are crying out for more women in their technology teams.

Yet a survey of women in working in technology published by her organization in 2011 found many felt they hit a glass ceiling and were being passed over for promotion in favor of male colleagues.

Your technical skills might speak for themselves, but to get on you really need to focus on promoting yourself
Maggie Berry

Almost two-thirds of respondents had more than 10 years experience in the technology sector, yet only 26% have reached senior management or board level.

So, how can women break into the best technology jobs and keep rising through the ranks?

Here, Berry gives her top tips for women to make it to the top in technology.

See also: Women! Embrace your inner geek

1. Get out there

Technology recruiters would love to take on more women, but can't do so if they don't see your CV, says Berry. So be more speculative and apply for jobs that stretch you a bit.

"Women will look at a job specification and feel they have to be able to do 100% before they apply," said Berry. "Men are much more speculative and will apply even if they can't do it all.

"Women need to grasp the interest and be more ambitious in putting themselves forward for jobs or for promotion."

Almost 90% of the respondents to the Women in Technology survey said they would need to fulfill three-quarters of the job description before applying for a job.

Berry said firms could help by reducing the long list of job requirements in advertisements that could be putting women off applying.

2. Self-promotion is OK

The relatively small number of women working in technology should mean it's easier for them to build a profile, according to Berry, but in reality the opposite is often true.

"If you look at technology conference lineups, the speakers are almost all men," said Berry. "Women spend a lot of time keeping their heads down and getting their jobs done.

"Your technical skills might speak for themselves, but to get on you really need to focus on promoting yourself: Speaking at events, taking any opportunity to let people know what you're doing."

See also: How to have more Sheryl Sandbergs

3. Find a sponsor

A mentor, someone more experienced in your industry, who can advise you on career choices is invaluable, says Berry.

Even better is finding a sponsor -- someone within your company who will root for you, promote your work and push you for promotion.

Berry said: "Women tend to be good at finding mentors, but not so many have sponsors, who will speak up for them and actively work to progress their careers.

"Women can feel quite isolated as they might be the only female in their department or team, so it is very powerful to have people looking out for you."

Among the responses given in the Women in Technology survey was that more female mentors and role models were needed in schools and universities to encourage more girls into IT.

4. Get networking

And no, we're not talking about computer networks. The more people you know in your sector, the more people you can call on for help when you need it.

"Networking is something you need to do right from the start of your career. It should be part and parcel of your professional life," said Berry. "You could join a professional body, a specific network for your specialism or something locally where you live.

"You need as many people as you can to call on for advice."

See also: Women only hotel floors take off

5. Don't act like a man

Women who responded to the survey were almost equally divided on whether they felt showing male characteristics helped them at work.

"I would like to think women can progress without having to act like one of the boys. Whatever the culture of a workplace, it's important to be authentic to yourself."

The majority of respondents said that other women see working in technology as 'geeky'. While many said that they do not mind being labeled as geeks, they fear the nerdy image needs to change to attract more young women into the industry.

6. Keep in touch if you have a career break

The technology industries lose a huge number of talented women who find it hard to get back in after a career break with children, says Berry.

"Technology is changing so quickly with new releases and new software, so it's really important to keep your skills up to date.

"There are no easy answers, and it's a big problem for the industry. I would like to see employers running 'return to work' schemes to help women get their skills back up to date after a career break.

"It would help them harvest that talent and would help everyone, but it needs investment."

One comment from Berry's survey may ring true for many women with children: "The male bosses had no sympathy or understanding towards working mothers."

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