Regular readers will know that I have written long and often about the shortage of women in technology and what needs to be done to attract a more balanced workforce.
So I was taken by surprise when interviewing a recent graduate working as a Consultant for Deloitte, Crystal Eisinger. I asked her the usual questions about male/female ratios and the special contribution of women to teams and she looked at me strangely, almost as though she didn’t understand what I was getting at.
I was guilty, not for the first time in my life, of making assumptions. Crystal’s cohort was pretty evenly mixed and Deloitte aims to recruit 50/50 men and women into technology jobs by 2016. No wonder she was surprised at the questions I was asking.
When she was 16, Crystal did work experience with Deloitte and at 18, she applied for the Deloitte Scholar Scheme, which involved a year’s work experience before university plus a series of placements while studying.
Her most recent project, a customer segmentation using statistics software was comprised mainly of females – a ratio of 3:1.
Shortly after graduation, she was asked if she wanted to work on a project with one of Australia’s leading retailers. She had been recruited into Strategy, not Technology, but the project involved working with transactional data to help buying and merchandising teams make more intelligent decisions around planning, buying and trading. For three of the six months she worked with the Head of Merchandising & Supply Chain. She particularly enjoyed analysing store sales data to craft a narrative to the client to help understand customer needs. The most important part of my job, she told me, is storytelling and giving people at all levels compelling reasons to act upon the insight that you give them from the data. Those who work in retail tend to be highly visual so part of her task was to think about how to present data in visually stimulating yet clear to understand ways. Looking back, she described her work as 20% number crunching and 80% people.
Crystal’s top tip for women thinking about careers using technology or based around data, is to first decide if you enjoy talking to people, taking complex concepts and un-packaging and re-packaging them in a way that makes sense to other people. If the answer is yes, you can be trained to understand and use technology – but only if you have an appetite to learn and if the application of technology really excites you.
Crystal believes that for any graduate, male or female, from any degree, there are now only a handful of jobs that do not have an aspect of technology at their core. Her advice to undergraduate women is to stop thinking of technology as cables and hardware, and start thinking of it as an enabler of change and an opportunity to achieve what has not been possible before. The typical project lifecycle for a data analytics project, she explained, entailed an initial few weeks of number crunching, cleansing the data and then the actual analysis but after that, it’s what you do with information that matters, so you need to be expressive, creative and good with people. You can spend millions of pounds on implementing a new system or creating a tool but if people don’t like it, don’t know how to use it and don’t feel any sense of ownership then you’ve ultimately failed in making something that should help them to do their jobs better.
Towards the end of the interview, Crystal offered some advice specifically for women.
“Have a point of view”, she said. “Be prepared to defend it, no matter how junior you are. Certain personality types are sometimes more willing to give their views, even if they are wrong. You very quickly learn to speak up when you have something to say; you need the confidence to make yourself heard.”
What really matters to Crystal is how she is managed, how interesting the work is and how well the team works together to achieve success. Gender, she says, is one of the least important factors in creating a good work environment.
She ended with some practical ways for non-technical undergraduates to make themselves better job applicants.
• Remove any psychological barriers that suggest you are less suited to technology than men.
• Take advantage of university courses and online opportunities to learn coding and software packages. Create your own website.
• Read the technology press because ultimately you need to have not just an interest but a passion for what technology can mean to lives.
• Whatever your interest is (fashion, healthcare, finance etc) there will be a part of the firm where you can work in technology in an area that excites you.
Crystal graduated 18 months ago from the University of Cambridge with an undergraduate in Politics and Masters in History. For an arts graduate, there are similarities to your degree, she told me – developing a hypothesis, testing and if necessary re-working it to achieve a logical and creative solution.
Of course, the shortage of women in IT is very real – in some industries and particularly at more senior levels. But it was salutary to be wrong-footed by someone who saw opportunities rather than issues. It underlines the importance for all technology recruiters to recruit enough ambitious career-minded women like Crystal.
Deloitte is the Event Programme Partner of IT’s not just for the boys!, a series of careers days organised by TARGETjobs Events where women undergraduates network with role models and inspirational speakers working in Technology to promote the positive benefits of the industry. As well as Deloitte, there are 33 organisations backing the programme this year – a positive indication of the importance of this issue. The next event is Friday 20 March in London.
More about IT’s not just for the boys! is here: http://targetjobsevents.co.uk/its-not-just-for-the-boys
To get involved contact Kirsty Drummond: firstname.lastname@example.org
More about Deloitte and Women in Technology here: http://women-in-tech-jobs.deloitte.com/