This past March, I attended the AFCOM Data Center World conference in Phoenix, Arizona. As a new hire with CABLExpress, it was a great opportunity for me to better understand this industry, its players, and technologies. This time, however, it visibly shed light on situations I had come across countless times throughout my career.
The first conference session I attended was our own. One of our data center infrastructure architects, Dave Fredricks, gave a great presentation: Don't Get Left Behind: Cabling Designs You Can Trust to Support Speeds of 40G to 400G. In fact, you can watch his presentation here (you should, it's great).
I was tasked with taking photos of the presentation, and the attending crowd (for bragging rights, of course!). That’s when I first noticed it during this trade show:
The attendees were overwhelmingly homogenous.
Over the years, I have been to many similar tradeshows and user conferences, the majority of them focused on technical fields. I had gotten used to technology roles being held by nerdy guys in the past, but this time I was surprised to see just how little the demographics had changed. It was soon made clear to me that I am not alone in this realization.
The AFCOM Data Center conference hosted two events specifically dedicated to Women in the Data Center – a sponsored luncheon with a panel discussion and a cocktail event.
Even at the iMasons’ Data Center Performance Index (DCPI) presentation, a forum intended to discuss methods of measuring data center operational performance, the speaker and First Executive Director of iMasons, Mark Monroe, opened with a slightly self-deprecating statement: "This room is full of old, white men."
He continued, "In iMasons, we were 93% male, 7% female. We made a rule to enforce a 50/50 male-female balance at more iMasons events, even if it meant turning down potential attendees to maintain the balance. To the males we turned away, we always added, 'You may attend if you bring a female professional who will attend.'"
“We made a rule to force a 50-50 male-female balance at more of the iMasons events, even if it meant turning down potential attendees to maintain the balance.”
His comments on diversity stuck with me, even after the end of the conference. With such a disparity of professionals, we are shortchanging innovation and knowledge in our field. I reached out to several of the female conference attendees, and a few personal contacts for their insight.
Many of the remarks I heard were very similar, “There are females working in jobs associated with data centers, but very few in the actual data center or facilities. They are contract lawyers, project managers, program administrators, sales reps, etc.”
A former colleague and friend (who’s also one of the most talented network engineers I’ve ever met) said, “I have spent most of my years working in IT (especially in the late 90s and early 00s) having to prove myself as a competent female in a male-dominated field. People just don’t trust you as much.”
“I have spent most of my years in IT, having to prove myself because I am a female in a male-dominated field.”
As a member of the de facto standard populace in technology roles, attending the iMason’s presentation and seeing the efforts of the AFCOM Data Center World conference to engage female professionals made me realize there is more we as IT professionals can do to encourage and impact this change as well.