Oh, I expected a boy…

As a girl, being named Jamie was no big deal. As a woman in IT, it has been a blessing and a curse. Outside the extremely male-dominated industry of IT there is very seldom any assumption regarding my gender. The moment I step into my IT shoes, though, I routinely come across this conversation:

*ring ring*

Me: Thank you for calling. This is Jamie, how can I help you?

Caller: Hi I have a question about my computer. Could you connect me to Jamie?

Me: I am Jamie… IT specialist Jamie. Jamie the IT specialist.

Caller: Yeah but… oh… oh I’m sorry. I expected a boy.

And we wonder why young women aren’t knocking down the doors at Computer Science departments in colleges across the country and in fact around the world. Maybe that is what is leading to, according to one longitudinal study, freshmen women looking to major in computer science still being outnumbered 2:1. This is one of those moments I want to send the caller to any of the many men who claim women should, if they really want to change things,  just show up to Computer Science departments and make it happen.

Well… if just the fact that I’m in IT and named Jamie makes people ASSUME that I’ll be a man when they call… HOW ARE YOUNG WOMEN SUPPOSED TO DEAL WITH THAT!? Grown women, the women we grow up with and look up to, are as guilty of this as men, so girls grow up with respected women thinking IT is for men. This kind of assumption is cultural and passed down through generations. It’s the same reason women aren’t plumbers, mechanics, or electricians.

So what do we do?

Is it up to us to change these misperceptions? Sure. The thing is, though, that if there is no understanding that the issue exists, we can’t go about changing it properly. In other words, If we don’t recognize the reason women aren’t getting into IT, we can’t make the changes we need. We’ll end up making changes to the wrong thing. For instance, we might assume there are some kind of biases in admissions departments (not true) and start instituting quotas, which insinuates that women can’t hack it on their own. This is not the solution, and in fact hurts our efforts.

The way to attack this problem happens before that freshman is making that decision. It comes from showing a greater representation of women in the field, making a good living and doing well at the very things we (men and women alike) have reserved for men. Perhaps in that sitcom, rather than having that mechanic character be a greasy man, maybe we make it a woman. Maybe that carpenter is an average looking, hard working, non-romantic-interest, woman. AND DON’T MENTION IT! In these instances, it’s not special to the characters. Women are chefs because OF COURSE women are chefs, not because the show needed a hot love interest for the main character. The electrician is a woman and nobody cares, because that’s the way it should be.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean we never celebrate women in these male-dominated professions. On the contrary, we should be creating marketing campaigns around the idea of celebrating these women in ads across the country. If Rosie the Riveter could get women in the factory, why can’t Maisie the Mechanic get women in the garage? Why can’t Ella the Electrician get women in… the place electricians do stuff (I don’t know… I’m no electrician… but if I was I’d be as good as any dude!)

Carpentry, architecture, mathematics, culinary arts, mechanics.

And IT.

My name is Jamie. I’m a girl. A woman. I happen to do IT (and I do it better than most men:))