Did you know that Aug. 26 is Women’s Equality Day, so designated by the United States Congress in 1971? It’s frequently observed that woman workers are a minority presence in IT professions, often by dramatic and intimidating margins. The fact that women have generally not been included in certain circles in the past, of course, is no reason to suppose that there simply isn’t a place for women in those circles.
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to ever register for, and run in, the Boston Marathon. (Bobbi Gibb completed the course during the race the year before, in 1966, but Gibb had not been a registered participant.) Believe it or not, 49 years ago there was a prevailing view that women couldn’t handle the physical rigors of running a marathon, and they were barred from competing in organized races. It sounds crazy in the light of 2016, but in 1967, that was simply how things had always been done.
Switzer entered the Boston Marathon anyway, and kept running even after race official Jock Semple attempted to remove her number and bodily drag her off the course. With some friendly assistance from her boyfriend, Tom Miller, who was also participating in the race and who knocked Semple flying, Switzer pressed on and eventually crossed the finish line.
Even after she’d done what she set out to do, they were plenty of people who took a dim view of Switzer’s accomplishment. Will Cloney, director of the Boston Athletic Association, said, “Women can't run in the (Boston Marathon) because the rules forbid it. Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos. I don't make the rules, but I try to carry them out. We have no space in the (Boston Marathon) for any unauthorized person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her."
Even today, when a woman succeeds in the face of adversity, there will sometimes be people whose first inclination is decidedly not to give her a pat on the back. If you work in IT, and you’re not a woman, then be a friend. Don’t let yourself fall in step with the ranks of whatever old guard is marching around, subtly or openly criticizing and undermining the presence of women in IT professions.
And if you work in IT and you are a woman, then welcome! We’re happy to rub shoulders with you. When the going gets tough, take inspiration from the example of women like Kathrine Switzer. Someday, there will be thousands more doing what you are doing, and they will appreciate the brave example that you set.