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WIT and the SQL Server Community


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Women’s issues have headlined the news media for the past several months. Many stories, ranging from the #MeToo movement to the “Brogrammer” email blast at Google, have shown that women in technology (WIT) face negative work conditions and social pressures. My initial support for WIT initiative in the early 2000s was spurred as the father of six young women. I wanted to see every effort made to open a clear pathway for them to seek a career in technology. But that initial support has only grown over time. This is a societal problem that will take deliberate and long-term efforts to overcome.

In light of that, it seemed appropriate to dive into the topic of WIT within the SQL Server community (aka, the Data Platform community) and gauge where we’re at. I’d like to introduce you to five women who are outstanding leaders in the Microsoft Data Platform community and Microsoft MVPs. The first is Denise McInerney, a data architect at Intuit. She and I first met back around 2003 when I was incoming PASS president and she helped found the PASS WIT group (http://wit.pass.org/). In 2006, I met Wendy Pastrick, currently serving as executive vice president of finance for PASS, when we shared a taxi ride at the PASS Summit. As PASS began to grow and expand, I met Kathi Kellenberger, a frequent author who is currently serving as co-leader of the PASS WIT Virtual Group. About 3 years ago, I had the chance to meet Rie Irish, director of database management at Paymetric and the other co-leader of the PASS WIT Virtual Group, when she was helping to organize and run the Atlanta SQL Saturday event. And just last year, I met Melody Zacharias for the first time. Zacharias is a partner with ClearSight Financial Solutions and lead author and editor of the Let Her Finish books.

These women leaders make me proud of PASS and the direction in which the wider Microsoft Data Platform community has taken the WIT movement. But as our interview shows, there’s still more work to be done. Here are some highlights of our discussions.

What broader challenges in the Data Platform community inspired you to start the WIT organization?

McInerney: We started the PASS Women in Technology (PASS WIT) with a luncheon in 2003 as a way to bring together the relatively small number of women who were attending PASS Summit. It gave us a chance to connect and discuss topics important to women working in technology. According to NCWIT, the representation of women in tech is still around 26%; progress has been very slow (http://bit.ly/2r9Upxh). There is a lot of work to be done to increase both recruitment and especially retention of women in tech. PASS WIT, and the PASS community in general, can be a force for change. Providing this forum was a catalyst for bringing the topic of the lack of women participating in PASS to the broader community. People started asking why there were so few female speakers, for example. That led to initiatives to increase the number of women speaking at Summit, SQL Saturdays, and webinars. Under-representation of women presenting at conferences is a problem that plagues the tech industry. While we still have room to improve, I’m proud of the role PASS WIT has played in increasing the number of female speakers at PASS events.

How would you describe the progress you’ve made since you began? What sort of things are you proud that you’ve brought to the fore?

Pastrick: We spent many years getting the word out that the WIT group was about so much more than just “work-life balance” issues. Our focus of “Encourage, Empower, Energize” meant we would be more than just a support organization. We set out to bring women into management conversations, board rooms, and other positions of influence with confidence and pride in both their knowledge and their expertise. The PASS WIT group has successfully brought positive attention to women’s issues working in tech careers, and not just by banding together in support of one another but also including men in the conversation and creating champions for inclusion.

Zacharias: Progress can be measured in many ways. In terms of getting more women into C-level positions, that is moving at glacial speed. We are making progress in terms of inspiring women to stand up for themselves, fight for recognition, enjoy equal pay for equal work, work through the many barriers that apply to only women, and generally believe that they can achieve any level of success.

WIT is a fantastic forum for inspiration. The problem is that after leaving a session inspired, they are thrown back into that same biased world that wears you down. Twice-a-year inspiration doesn’t compete well with daily reality. The Lean In movement was also inspirational, but when inspiration bumps up against reality, it is difficult to maintain your enthusiasm? (https://bloom.bg/2FvR6nm). Having said that, the #MeToo developments may be a sign that the glacier is shifting. On the other hand, the backlash against the #MeToo movement and the creation of the Pence Rule (after VP Mike Pence) are going to be a strong force working against women. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

How would you describe the progress you’ve made since you began? What sort of things are you proud that you’ve brought to the fore?

Kellenberger: The progress I have made feels almost magical. Of course, it was due to hard work, passion, working for great companies, and mentors who believed in me. I am very proud of my book Beginning T-SQL, which has helped people all over the world enhance their skills. The thing I am most proud of, however, is being a volunteer with LaunchCode’s Coder Girl program in St. Louis. I teach T-SQL and SSRS to women who want to work in tech.

What challenges remain for WIT, both for the SQL community specifically and in the wider IT world?

Pastrick: There’s a need for more women on the PASS board of directors. But women are also needed in every type of leadership position within the greater tech community. In regard to the #MeToo movement, I know there is a lot of work still ahead to educate everyone about things such as unconscious bias and elimination of the “bro” culture—both very big topics.

Irish: I started speaking and volunteering for PASS when I noticed a lack of women out in front. The ones I did see were so inspiring and I thought that I could be that for others. Some amazing data platform women laid all the ground work for the WIT presence for PASS. Each year, they worked to pull together a great WIT luncheon at PASS Summit. When I joined Kathi leading the PASS WIT virtual group, I realized I wanted it to be so much more. We had the opportunity to highlight women technical speakers year-round, including hosting our own webinars. We shine a light on women in tech doing great things. By celebrating women speakers, organizers and attendees have become so much more aware about the imbalanced ratio and are actively working to fix it. We still have work to do though. Women make up only 30% of most tech staff and are leaving IT at four times the rate of men. The wage gap is real too. [The] tech workplace can still be a hostile place for women but awareness is step one.

Kellenberger: I’ve been very lucky to work for great companies, but I am concerned about the rise of the “brogrammer” environments where women and people of color are not welcome. In general, our culture doesn’t support the concept of women technologists and discourages young girls from being interested in technology. We need to get more positive role models where kids can see them. The recent movie, The Black Panther, has a great example of a cool techie female character, Shuri. We need to see more of that!

Zacharias: The solution is not just to educate young women, but to educate young people. That will take a long time. There will be many lost battles along the way, but the war will eventually be won for all of us.

Kevin Kline, a longtime Microsoft SQL Server MVP, is a founder and former president of PASS and the author of SQL in a Nutshell. Kline tweets at @kekline and blogs at https://blogs.sentryone.com/kevinkline.

 


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