For many years, the precept has been that the tech industry is decidedly male-dominated. Any Google search will show the numbers are unmistakably lopsided. But these rules are beginning to change. We reached out to three women with tech jobs at Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) to get their take about their positions in the tech industry.
Meet the Techs
Lisa Atkins is an IT Systems Engineer at MAHEC. She manages network, cloud-based, and application accounts, file server access, and software license management. Though her first position at MAHEC was as a secretary for the Health Sciences Library and Biomedical Designs department, she used her talents to learn, grow, and move through tech-based positions.
Traci Chasteen is a Clinical Informatics Manager at MAHEC. Their team is an integral part of the Information Technology department, as they are the subject matter experts on the electronic medical record software. With the help of clinical and operations staff, the informatics team uses technology to optimize the workflows and processes in the clinics.
Natalie Moore is the Strategic Programs Manager for MAHEC. She scouts out and identifies technology solutions that can help improve the lives of the healthcare providers, staff, and operations. She works to prioritize these solutions, and once MAHEC decides to implement a new solution, she manages all aspects of the roll-out.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face as a woman working in the male-dominated field of technology?
Lisa: The challenges I have faced have been more from outside my organization than within. MAHEC has always been supportive and I’ve never felt any gender bias in my different technology roles… I was lucky to have managers that allowed me to excel in my position. [But] I’ve had many males make comments, like “I’ve not seen any women work on printers before.”
Traci: I have been very fortunate in my career to have had many hardworking, competent male and female co-workers and directors. Yes, technology is a male-dominated field, and a majority of the folks I’ve worked with have been male. However, I’ve always been treated as an important member of the team with a valued knowledge set that allowed me to feel strong and capable even when surrounded by males.
Natalie: Some men I’ve worked with in the past tended to have inflated confidence levels and, as a female, it’s hard not to compare yourself. I work hard to not let myself fall into that imposter syndrome trap. Be confident in yourself and why you’re at the table. I also don’t like to focus on being one of a few women in the IT setting. I want to focus on my skills, what I bring to the table, and the value I bring to my organization… almost all of the men I’ve worked with through the years have been great mentors/colleagues of mine. Those men have helped foster my career, supported me in my work, and had confidence in my abilities. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to deal with significant challenges with being a female in a male dominated field.
Q: How did your education and career path bring you to your current position?
Lisa: I received a A.A.S. Degree in Administrative Office Technology in 1992 from AB-Tech. At the time, there were no Computer Science/Networking type degrees at AB-Tech. There was only a database programming track. The Administrative Office Technology degree did have a few technology classes such as Hard Disk Management, MS-DOS, and FrontPage (web development). I found that I excelled in the technology classes. Through several assistant and customer service positions, I had the opportunity to learn a lot by helping users. I found myself backing up the web server, updating web pages, learning to repair PCs and printers, eventually assisting with firewall, routing, and switch management. This experience elevated me to the IT Operations Manager position, for which I served for over four years before stepping down into an IT Systems Engineer position in order to cut back on my hours.
Traci: My education and background are in computer programming. It started at a local mental health organization 20 years ago. I was fortunate that the manager I had then saw my potential and encouraged me to take risks and take advantage of opportunities given to me. Those opportunities led me down a slightly different path than I originally thought. However, I’ve continued in healthcare and I enjoy using my knowledge and abilities in informatics and technology to help serve MAHEC’s patients and our community.
Natalie: When I was at Western Carolina University in my Bachelor’s program in Health Information Administration, I developed a passion for Electronic Health Records and how they could help increase patient safety, efficiency, and provider/staff satisfaction. I knew I wanted to be involved in patient care but not directly. I wanted to be a part of the EHR “train” and at that time it was something that was just up-and-coming in most healthcare facilities. Once out of graduate school, I was hired at a rural physician network in Western North Carolina as an EHR analyst & trainer. That role gave me a healthy dose of large-scale EHR implementations, project management, informatics and the many tentacles IT has in the healthcare setting. Then, as a national consultant for a change management company, my focus was on EHR implementation, training, optimization, and curriculum development.
Q: There’s been a lot of media coverage of how women are under-represented in tech fields and professions. What ideas do you have for growing the number of women working in technology – in your workplace, locally, and nationally?
Lisa: Most organizations are looking for experience in the field so more internships need to be created in organizations for Technology positions. As a society, we need to work on gender bias and pay disparity in the workplace. Current women in technology should assist with creating networking opportunities for other women so they feel more involved.
Traci: Don’t let the “under-represented females” statistic play a role in your career decisions. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by a male dominated career path. Be confident in what you know, admit when you don’t know and ask questions! There is nationwide opportunity for healthcare IT jobs now and it continues to grow every day. Women should find what they enjoy and get started somewhere. Experience is a necessity! The path doesn’t always lead where you thought but that’s part of the process.
Natalie: I feel strongly that IT fields are not well represented in middle school and high school career fairs. That’s where we should be starting… I feel that simply having conversations with our students, especially our young women, will open their eyes to the many possibilities that IT has to offer. I think, nationally, we are headed in a better direction to bring women to the forefront, especially in IT with fields like coding, web based programming, business intelligence, and network engineering.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with others about your professional history, experience in technology, or thoughts on this topic?
Lisa: I would like to say to other women that are interested in working in technology that they shouldn’t let their gender hold them back — I didn’t!
Traci: I’m am proud to be where I am today but don’t attribute it to being a woman or see it as harder because I am a woman. I’m here because I’ve worked hard, taken advantage of opportunities, stayed the course and tried to help others along the way.
- Think long and hard before saying “no” to a project or piece of work that you’re asked to do. I’ve had several supervisors over the years that pushed me out of my comfort zone and I am grateful for that. Each and every time I’ve been out of my comfort zone, my knowledge base has grown and has positively served me later on. I feel myself “acting as sponge” and absorbing facts, specifics, details, etc. that will be relevant in future projects as my career goes along.
- Don’t be scared to ask questions. I am the ultimate question asker and truly value what I learn when I ask questions and get the answers I need to go forth and do my job. As a woman, it’s important to be heard and to make yourself known with your colleagues. You are in your role because you’re good at what you do. Don’t forget that. Inquire. Learn. Go forth and do.
- Network, network, network! Introduce yourself, shake hands, and bring your business cards with you wherever you go. This is something that seems synonymous with men’s behavior but women need to do this too. Even if you’re shaking hands with someone who you feel has no benefit to your career, you absolutely NEVER know what the future holds. Create a super tangled web of folks you know and network with. It can’t hurt!