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INTERVIEWS
By 8 July 2011 | Categories: interviews

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Nancy Hammervik

TechSmart managed to track down Nancy Hammervik, senior vice president industry relations at training company CompTIA's head office in the US, to talk about woman in IT.


TechSmart (TS): Why is there such a big difference between the amount of males and females in the IT industry?

Nancy Hammervik (NH): I think it comes down to lack of familiarity, lack of education and deep rooted stereotypes. In the U.S., it wasn't until the 90s that technology became more common in the home. In fact, I think today's generation is actually the first generation that's most comfortable and familiar with "consumer" technology.

Until this generation, children could not look to their parents to learn how to hook the family PC up to a wireless router, watch the family vacation videos on their laptops or download application on their mobile devices.

We have been relying on the primary schools to teach technology and quite honestly, most are still stuck in the 80s. Their approach and subject matter is focused on programming skills and equipment repair.

And then the stereotypes come in. In the states, there are still too many assumptions like "girls are better nurses" and "boys are better mechanics". I believe there is a perception that girls are not "wired" for technology and those sort of "engineering" jobs are best left to the brains of the men.

Even in my son's class, 8th graders in 2011, elective classes were divided where students have a choice to take "home economics" or "technology" , 90% of the students in home economics were girls and 90% in technology class, boys.

Further, in higher education, technical training is not completely mainstreamed into the university across all majors. There are still many separate vocational schools for technical careers where the majority of students are male. It is an intimidating environment for girls to join, being the minority.


TS: What can be done to bring this figure into balance?

NH: At CompTIA, we feel strongly that technology education and opportunities must start in the primary schools and carry through to the university. Most children in the states are entering school with a greater familiarity and confidence about technology.

Boys and girls alike are communicating on PCs, playing video games, talking and texting on cellphones and watching videos on their home computers. Technology has become a universal skill. Those skills need to be fostered, with an emphasis on understanding how technology has become part of everyday life - and every career.

No matter what profession a child pursues, he or she will need to understand and use technology. If they are a nurse, their patient interactions will need to be recorded on tablet PCs in a robust medical application. If they are a pilot, they will need to understand and read sophisticated technology systems. Teachers will need to present on smart-boards and connect with classrooms around the world for shared student experiences. Even waitresses will need to enter a customer order in a food service application on the register.

Schools are missing the boat not upgrading their curriculum and making IT "cool" in school. As more students are given strong foundations in understanding technology, more women will identify opportunities for themselves, in any industry. Leveraging IT mentoring and internship programmes are key at the high school and university level to give the young women support in pursuing these careers. We need to break through the dated stereotypes, realising that all our children are growing up in a world of technology and have equal ability and skill to share.


TS: In your opinion, what are the main challenges faced by woman in the IT industry?

NH: If the woman has a technical position, they still need to break through those stereotypes and prove themselves and their abilities. If the woman has any other position in high tech - sales, marketing, management, etc. - their main challenge is getting along in a male dominated industry. It is a fast paced, competitive, even somewhat aggressive industry.

Women in IT need to be strong and assertive. There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive. I have found, for women, knowing that difference is key. If a man is aggressive, he is mostly seen as a strong business driver. If a woman is aggressive she can be seen as difficult and let's just say "mean-spirited" (there is another word that comes to mind :)) and it can work against her.

Also, many times I've seen women keep their heads down, work hard and hope someone notices as a strategy to get ahead. That does not work in the high tech environment. I do feel women need to prove more, speak up more and in general do more to get noticed and promoted in IT.


TS: How difficult is it to be a working mom in the IT industry?

NH: I think it is a challenge anywhere. You can never stop being a mom. You cannot turn it off from 9-5. And when you are an executive, your days are longer than that. If you travel, there is so much more to consider.

It is so important to have a strong support system. You need to rely on your spouse or your family to be your back-up. I have enormous respect for working women who are single moms. I am not sure how they possibly cover it all, but I do know their days are very long and tiresome.

In the States, many men are becoming stronger support systems but in general they are still the primary bread winner for most homes. So the expectation for women is still that they will be the primary care giver. I am not sure it is a matter of balance as much as handling it all together.

I am fortunate that I have always worked for organisations that support working women. It is wonderful when there is flexibility in the organisation so you can collect your child from school at 4 and work the rest of the day at home. Or that you can take a bit of a longer lunch to see your child's performance at school, with the understanding that you will make up that time.

While I travel often, I also work in frequent long weekends or days off to spend quality time with my son. I do think women still battle a perception that they will not be able to handle an important job or take on additional responsibility if they are a working mom. You have to be very careful not to bring your personal life and drama into the work place. You need to be as professional and buttoned-up managing your children as you do your job.


TS: You've recently visited SA. Are there any similarities you could pick up between the workplace situation in SA and the USA?

NH: I was so impressed with my recent visit and met so many wonderful people. We had a partner event and I would say there were actually more women than you might see at a similar event in the States. The men were still in the majority - and represented most of our speakers at the event - but the women I met were bright, driven and enthusiastic.

There are some similarities that I noticed. In the end, the company will select the best person for the job. If that happens to be a woman - fantastic. I was impressed that our South African regional office is run by a woman, Loraine Vorster. She is a working mom who knows how to blend and manage the two. She is strong, capable, a leader and has a fantastic reputation in the industry. I thought it was wonderful that she invited her teenage son to join an office staff meeting/luncheon, so she could also celebrate his last day of testing at school.


There's a school of thought that suggests that women's multitasking abilities help them in planning a project better than their male colleagues. Do you agree?

NH: I absolutely do agree. I want to be careful about stereotypes, but women have lots of training and real world experience in creative problem solving, multi-tasking and making sure everything gets proper attention. That being said, we must also focus on tactical execution and being results oriented. In any project, it takes a team where many different talents and skills are shared.

I also think our maternal and nurturing instincts help us be better managers. Some women take more time to make sure the employee is invested in their job and are realising personal job satisfaction. We have a bit more patience and understanding with struggling employees. We do have to be careful though to not let our relationships get too personal, or to get too emotional in our jobs.


TS: Finally, do you have any advice you would like to share with our female readers?

NH: Know yourself and be yourself. Understand what your strengths, skills and interests are and leverage them. Understand what your weaknesses and dislikes are and manage them. Many times are greatest strength is also our greatest weakness - so be aware of what that is and control it.

It is important to build your "brand" or your reputation. When you are out of the room, what would you want people to say about you? Carry yourself in a way that you are always a wonderful representative for your company and a person that others want to know and do business with.

I am a big believer in positive energy. Make eye contact, share a big smile, have a firm handshake and be expressive. Not excitable, but make a strong impression. Listen with interest and speak with passion and enthusiasm. Volunteer for new projects and initiatives. Join brainstorming committees, attend industry events and work on councils. You will learn and grown more - and create opportunity for yourself.

Keep a list of all the extra things you do at your company, all the different initiatives you stepped up for, and review this list when you go for a promotion or ask for a raise. Be confident in sharing your value to the organisation.

Take ownership of what you do. Be responsible and never defensive. It is better to take a risk, try something new and fail - than to never try and make a difference at all. You will learn from your mistakes and have an opportunity to show how you recover. Have a voice. Speak your mind and share your opinion. It is better to be heard - even if your idea is shot down or your opinion is met with disagreement - than to be silent.

Stay current and educated in your field. Read industry newspapers, subscribe to websites and newsletters. Attend industry events. Read business management books. Meet frequently with customers and stay close to what the competition is doing.

Build a life-net, a network of personal and professional contacts that support you, inspire you and drive you. Share your goals and dreams with them. They will help you get there. Always be willing to grow, learn and evolve. I believe we are all a continual work in progress.

It is important to be a person of character and integrity. Treat others as you want to be treated yourself. This philosophy pays off over and over again in the course of your career. So many times I have come across someone I worked with years ago, and they remember a positive working experience.

Finally, make sure to give back to the community and the industry. Leverage your success and relationships to do good and help others. Be a mentor to others. Strive to make a difference and leave a positive legacy.


For more information about CompTIA's Woman in IT meet-ups, presenting a networking opportunity for ladies in the IT industry, contact Loraine Vorster on 011-787-4846 or loraine@comptia.co.za.

So how are woman faring in the SA IT industry? The following is taken from a recent survey done by ITWeb (courtesy www.itweb.co.za).

  • 80% Male vs. 20% Female split in employment.
  • Average salary for women is around 16% lower.
    • Male average: R401,432.83
    • Female average: R335,391.84
  • Females have lower salaries and this gap increases dramatically for top management positions.
    • Staff: R273,385.12 - F vs. R315,449.04 - M (13% lower)
    • Operational: R445,566.67 - F vs. R506,060.25 - M (12% lower)
    • Strategic: R588,407.41 - F vs. R803,806.72 - M (27% lower)
  • Top three areas of expertise for Females:
    • Business analysis
    • Software development / Programming - All technologies and levels
    • Business intelligence / Decision support / Reporting tools

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