March 8, 2022

Amanda Henderson: Marking International Women’s Day

From strip clubs to men’s uniforms: A tech pioneer’s journey

Amanda is a Contact Centre specialist in Solution Design at FourNet. She’s an engineer who has worked in IT, telecoms and contact centres for more than 20 years in both public and private sectors.

 

Thankfully, we’ve moved on from the worst days of women working in tech.

Like the evening where I was on a team-night out for a very well-known company, and was invited to a strip club with my male colleagues at the time. I didn’t go…needless to say. But looking back on it – and it was a few decades ago now – I can’t help but think about how inappropriate and unacceptable that was? I didn’t want to cause a fuss, so I didn’t say anything at the time. I didn’t want to feel I was different from my colleagues, and I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to be seen as the woman who was always complaining, so I just swept it under the carpet.

While I’ve been writing this blog to mark International Women’s Day, however, it’s opened a Pandora’s Box of feelings from previous jobs, that I’ve tucked away for years. Thankfully, FourNet is a progressive, transparent, and of course equal opportunities employer. But life for a woman in tech has not always been like that.

My first job was in a totally male-dominated environment. In fact, most of my career has been in that kind of working environment. An environment where I didn’t want to be treated differently, but in the early days I’ll be honest and say that I did find it extremely tough. Jobs, for instance, where I had to wear a male uniform because there was no female uniform provided. Companies didn’t know how to deal with women on the team, because they’d never had women on the team.

Even at college, I was the only female on my course.

I’ve always been very technical. I come from an engineering-heavy family so the obvious job was in IT. Then I got into telecoms and my career snowballed from there. But it’s not been without experiences which were inappropriate, unprofessional, and unhelpful.

One of the most horrific experiences was when I was pregnant with my son. When I told my boss at the time, he simply stopped talking to me! No-one in the IT department at that employer had ever dealt with a pregnant employee. There were no maternity policies, there were no checks with HR, no-one checked in with me and no-one understood the process.

Worse, they made me redundant while I was on maternity leave.

On the plus side, I’ve had a first-class career doing what I like most. I feel like I’ve been a pioneer in tech – an ambassador, not just for the tech sector but for the North East of England, which so often does not get the recognition it deserves.

In recent years, life, opportunities, and careers have improved a great deal for women working in tech. There are many more of us, senior leaders are more aware, there are better HR policies and employment laws. Most employers and colleagues understand that equality is key. The glass ceiling for women has been broken, but it hasn’t yet been smashed. There is still a long way to go for women in tech.

As we focus on ‘breaking the bias’ for International Women’s Day this year, I’m pleased to report that a team-night out is much more likely to be to a code-breaking escape room not a strip club. Anyone coming?

By Amanda Henderson, Solution Design – Contact Centre Specialist, FourNet