Will cloud computing kick the IT door in for women?

Poke your head into most data centers today and you’re bound to notice a distinct gender gap. While women still represent only a fraction of IT workers today, some experts believe that cloud computing will offer the wedge in the door that women need to equalize staffing numbers.

[ Who's to blame for too few women in tech? Women ]

“Cloud computing presents an opportunity for women who are not as heavily focused on the architectural design, and how bits and bytes move through the organization,” says JJ DiGeronimo, a veteran of IT and director of global cloud solutions at VMware. “We’ll still need women who are technical, but cloud provides the chance to also champion ideas and work cross-functionally to define how IT is delivered to business.” Skills, she believes, are a strong suit of many women.

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that by 2020 there will be nearly 1.4 million computing and IT jobs available – what should be a golden opportunity for women to fill out IT’s ranks.

Yet, according to a 2010 report published by the

National Center for Women & Information Technology
, “the percentage of computing occupations held by women has been declining since 1991, when it reached a high of 36 percent.”

The picture is not any rosier if you look at education. Women comprised fewer than 20 percent of 2011 PhD graduates in computer science, computer engineering and information science, according to Computing Research Association’s “Computing Degree and Enrollment Trends” report. Only slightly better, 30 percent of master’s degree recipients in the same subjects were women. Worst of all, less than 13 percent of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women.

So how will women be able to capitalize on the high growth rate in the technology sector – 22 percent – predicted by the Labor Department? All signs point away from the data center and into the cloud.

Gartner found in its 2011 CIO Agenda Survey that although, at the time, only three percent of CIO respondents had a majority of their infrastructure in the cloud, the number was expected to climb to 43 percent by 2015. Survey participants also cited cloud computing as their top technology priority.

At State Street Corp., cloud is definitely the betted-on technology horse and Lauren Savage, senior vice president for IT Strategy and Governance, sees women like herself being offered the chance to take the reins.

Savage, along with several of her female executive peers, has been instrumental in helping State Street realign its business and create a new platform that utilizes the benefits of private cloud architecture, virtualization and virtual desktops.

She credits both the changing nature of traditional IT and the characteristics of the cloud, such as a heavy influence on collaboration and project management, for women’s increased interest. “Women are definitely becoming more attracted to IT because they see IT becoming a critical function to business performance,” Savage says. “IT is now less about keeping the lights on in the server room, and more about being creative and adding value to the business.”

Women, in her opinion, are excellent problem solvers who can attack the main problem that a lot of companies are facing with the cloud: How to handle data. “Cloud allows us to aggregate and proliferate data, but we have to determine what data is important and how to manage it in a way that makes it an important asset,” Savage says.

Thomas Koulopoulos, CEO of Delphi Group and author of “Cloud Surfing”, thinks women are pulled to the cloud not only because of its reach into business, but its indiscriminant nature. “Cloud provides greater flexibility into how we integrate people into the process. For instance, a stay-at-home mother can manage the cloud just as well as an in-house worker,” he says. “Most businesses just want the greater skill set – technology and innovation -- and that levels the playing field.”

Cloud is certainly sparking interest among the 55,000 members of HP’s largest user community, Connect, according to Executive Director and COO Kristi Elizondo. “Cloud is offering women a better way to simultaneously balance family life with work and capitalize on growing technology opportunities,” she says.

Cloud environments, which can be less hands-on and require less face-to-face time, often conduct business via the Web, email and phone. Elizondo notes these conditions are more conducive to most women’s lives and talents. “I’m from the generation that thought if you can’t feel the warmth of the disk drive spinning, it’s not working. But we all have to change to survive in this industry,” Elizondo warns.

Koulopoulos concurs: If traditional IT workers don’t demonstrate ingenuity in the changing cloud environment, they’ll be out. Just as important, workers must have the technical aspect down pat. “If you’re purely creative, you’ll pay a steep price – the cloud demands both extremes,” he says. “To convince corporate leaders to head into the cloud, you have to be a great communicator able to translate business needs, market requirements and technology,” he says.

Elizondo and her team created a special interest group within Connect to not only support peer-to-peer networking, but to mentor men and women how to blend the hard and soft skills of technology and business leadership to achieve success. “We also do community work with young female professionals to develop their overall skill sets and encourage them to participate more in the IT profession,” she says.

Technology professionals already working in and around the cloud can check out Cloud Network of Women (CloudNOW), a global nonprofit consortium for networking, knowledge sharing, mentoring, and economic growth.

In a recent blog post, CloudNOW leader Lori MacVittie wrote how the group hopes to stem the tide of women leaving technology mid-career.

“While not the impetus for the foundation of Cloud Network of Women (CloudNOW), the benefits of promoting successful women in technology who have survived the self-imposed culling of the female population in technology to potentially curbing the exodus should not be overlooked,” she posits. “CloudNOW fills an overlooked need of mentors for the mentors that addresses the gap in existing ‘women in technology’ strategies. By addressing the gap with a real foundation for women already in technology it is hoped that we can break the cycle.”

Women have to be self-motivated in getting up to speed on the cloud and then finding opportunities or positions that include the cloud. For instance, DiGeronimo is self-educated. “I just started reading articles, attending online events and reading up on cloud companies,” she says.

She advises women to raise their hands and get noticed. “No one is going to say to you, ‘You’re going to do cloud work now’. You have to initiate the conversation,” she says. “Cloud is a new thing for companies and there are plenty of jobs if you’re relevant in the marketplace. So make yourself relevant.”

    Cloud-savvy resources

  • The SANS Institute – Security is one of the most important aspects of the cloud. Keep up on the latest issues and safeguards with the SANS Institute “Cloud Security” blog.

  • The Business Software Alliance – Ready for cloud newcomers, the BSA site has tutorials, scorecards and industry speaker videos.

  • IEEE – The IEEE, in addition to being a general go-to reference, holds an annual cloud conference that addresses a spectrum of issues, including industry research and emerging applications.

  • Cloud providers – The industry is not at a loss for companies claiming to have a cloud solution and many of them have tutorials, white papers and case studies you can study. For instance, VMware has a portal called “Journey to the Cloud” that serves as a Cloud 101 primer. Check out resource areas from a mix of hardware, software and service providers to get a balanced view of the industry.

  • Blogs and Twitter – The universe of cloud bloggers and Tweeters is growing by the instant. As you read through vendor sites, see whom they consider industry thought leaders, including analysts, and sign up for their blogs and Twitter feeds. IDC, for example, has a feed dedicated just to cloud computing.

This story, "Will cloud computing kick the IT door in for women? " was originally published by ITworld.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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