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21st January 2021

Pro-DBA’s Anna Eriksson on what life’s like in the male dominated world of IT and why she believes more women should join her in the industry

Q: How did you end up in IT?  

“I hadn’t really considered IT after I studied Zoology at Manchester University, but I knew I didn’t want to work in zoology. It seemed to me you spend a few years in the field, where it’s lonely and uncomfortable, and then maybe after all that you get one paper published.

“I spent work experience doing zoology research and realised it’s wasn’t as glamorous as you think. You don’t wander around like David Attenborough, so I decided I wanted something more comfortable and something which would result in more immediate results, so I guess I fell into IT.

“I started working at the Energy Saving Trust in London in 2007. They were looking for a DBA but wanted someone without any experience. You just had to have the right kind of attitude.

“I was always quite technically minded. If I had a problem I would always try and fix it, not by opening a device up or anything like that, but by trying to think my way through it to find a solution. I am technical and I think logically.

“They were really good to me there. I did all the training from scratch and I had a great mentor, so I was really lucky. It suited me.

Q: Were you aware there are very few women in IT?

“No-one said at the time IT was a male-dominated profession, but I definitely had that impression. You think that. IT teams are usually all guys and there aren’t a lot of women in tech.

“At Energy Saving Trust there was one more female in the IT department of a team of about 15. I didn’t find it that much of an issue really. I can quite easily just slip into the male banter, and that environment, that kind of job.

“I can see though how it would be off-putting for some women. For me, the language being used was quite respectful.

“I wasn’t made to feel uncomfortable in any way or anything, but I can imagine that would happen in some other places.

“You had to go along with the banter. But reflecting on that and my time there it would definitely have been better to have a few more women around.

“There were more women in other departments of the company, so that was where I made my female friends from. The other woman who worked at EST’s IT department was in support, but we didn’t really talk about the experience of being women in IT.

Q: What is the environment like at Pro-DBA for you as a woman?

“When I left EST I had another job in between, then I came to Pro-DBA in 2012 as a Database Consultant. Pro-DBA is a specialist DBA consultancy that does both Oracle and SQL Server support as well as Oracle development. There is now a growing team that does IFS Applications Support and IFS Consultancy as well.

“Pro-DBA is very different in terms of culture. It’s very, very professional. There isn’t that same banter-type jargon going on, everyone is very polite and gets on with the job in hand which is really nice.

“There are never any issues of anyone being made to feel uncomfortable or anything like that.

Q: Are things changing now in that the numbers of women in IT is on the increase?

“In the seven years I have been at Pro-DBA we have only had three women in total in technical roles.

“So, the ratio is about the same now as it was when I started. It’s not as if more women are coming into the industry now or looking for a career in IT.

“It’s strange really. I was reading some stats in this piece and it said women make up 17 per cent of IT specialists in the UK.

“But there have been some efforts from people to try and increase that, but it hasn’t really happened as yet, not over the last ten years or so anyway.

“I think it starts in school where girls aren’t really choosing these subjects. Why that is I don’t know. But when it comes to later on, perhaps it is the culture that puts girls off.

“Maybe they’re worried about being in such a male-dominated environment where they will have to fight prejudice and things like that, but for me it’s been nothing like that.

Q: Would you encourage women to come and join you in the tech industry?

“I would. I think IT can be a really good career path for women. Because it’s really technical it’s really easy to see who has the skills and who doesn’t.

“Just being able to play golf with the boss and have the right chat won’t be enough in IT!

“Once people realise you are good at your job, you do get treated with the utmost respect by your peers and get the recognition.

“Maybe in other roles that aren’t so technical it can be a bit easier to be overlooked. But I find it quite meritocratic in IT. If you have the skills, you get the recognition you deserve.

Q: What skills do you think women can bring to the table which can help them stand out in a male dominated environment?

“I believe women are more likely to have some of the soft skills which are required in the job.

“A lot of people who are brilliant technically might not have the skills to go and speak to a customer, so women might actually be at an advantage there. They can leverage those skills.

“Also, another key part of the job is being able to talk to people at different levels. Some tech people get very bogged down in technical detail when they’re talking to a non-technical manager.

“Perhaps they may not be quite as good at that part of the job. Modifying the message so that person understands what they need to know is really important.

“Perhaps women might be better at that, tailoring the information.

“Also, in IT there is often flexible working and working from home, so those things can lend themselves to a successful career for a female if she wants to have a family.

Q: What is it like working for a female MD?

She said: “I really enjoy working for Karen. I had my son while I was at Pro-DBA and just knowing that the MD is a working mum, and knowing she understands the challenges that come with that, is great.

“Through my maternity the package and allowing me the flexibility to choose the hours that I do, Karen has been very good.

“Until recently I worked four days a week when I came back from maternity leave and it was so much easier to manage because the company understood what I needed.

“It is so much easier now, obviously the responsibility of caring for a newborn child still comes more to a woman than a man so that work flexibility is crucial, but Karen always understands my perspective.”

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