Long perceived as a predominantly male field, the IT sector is changing and opening up.
Johanne Duhaime, Executive Vice-President of Information Technology at Desjardins Group, attended the Women Techmakers event organized by the Google Developer Group and took the opportunity to debunk a few myths about women in IT.
An interview with a top-tier manager who was anything but destined for a career in technology.
- How do you see today's IT sector? Are there any clichés you'd like to dispel?
In my opinion, there are 2 big myths that need to go. The first is that IT = coding. Coding is definitely a big part of it, but there's much more to the field. There are a wide variety of jobs in tech; you just have to know they exist.
The second big myth is that it's a male field that just doesn't appeal to women. What we actually need to do is give girls and women the opportunity to learn about jobs in IT. Once they see the possibilities, they often go on to have very fulfilling careers in the field.
- Why do you think there are still so few women in IT? Is it harder for women to stand out in the field?
When I first started out in IT, it was definitely harder for women. You got the impression that you had to "act like a man" to fit in and be accepted by your team. I went to many events where I was the only woman present. For the first 20 years of my career, it was like that. That said, the number of women in IT has been growing steadily for several years now.
It's showing us what diversity brings to an organization, how diverse perspectives and skill sets come together. I think the IT industry has realized that women belong in IT and can have stand-out careers in the field. They just need the opportunity to do so. We're seeing considerable progress, but there's still a lot of work to be done. To keep moving forward, we're going to need schools to foster an interest in IT among girls, from an early age.
- Tell us about your career. How did you become interested in IT?
When I first started working, there were often requests for people to come in on evenings or weekends to do tests with the IT team. And I was always the first to volunteer. After a while, they just came straight to me: "Johanne, we're installing a new program on Saturday at 2 a.m., do you want to come in?" I always said yes. I found it fascinating to be in the office at odd hours and watch the tech team work. And when there were problems, I would ask what was going on, what wasn't working. My dream was to have a pager!
After a few years, I was offered a job with an IT team. At first I was skeptical. I didn't have a background in IT. But my interest, curiosity and skills had caught their attention. That led to positions as an analyst, project manager, programmer and today, as the executive vice-president of IT for a big organization!
- What advice would you give to women who are just starting out in IT?
Be curious! If a job or task piques your interest, go for it. Personally, I've held a lot of different positions, and I've loved every one of them. Often when you join an organization, you think you have to stay in the same role to progress. But you don't! I would encourage women to ask questions, build networks and keep in mind that for their own development, it's worth getting out there and acquiring other skills. Don't doubt yourself. Be bold!
- That's a theme in your talk: being bold, going outside your comfort zone. Why do you think it's so important?
Being bold is something you learn. The first time it's hard, but every time you're bold, you gain self-confidence and the courage to act. You realize you can do much more than you initially thought. It may be hard at first, but believe me, the more you do it, the more you want to do it!
Life is a journey, not a destination. That's true for careers as well. Every experience teaches you something about yourself and gives you a chance to make decisions that reflect your values. When you're just starting out, it's easy to fall into the trap of conforming to the expectations of others. Experience gives you the courage to be yourself, to be authentic. And that's very valuable.