Fly the Gate: Johnelle Dunn talks bringing greater inclusivity to the ICT space
Gatekeeping is one of the major barriers preventing more women from entering the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, according to IT Support Analyst, Johnelle Dunn.
The term ‘gatekeeping’ refers to the act of withholding information with the motive of keeping something exclusive.
Oftentimes when women enquire about getting into ICT, Dunn says they are told that they must first obtain a degree.
While noting that a degree is important, Dunn explained that there are certification courses offered through companies like Cisco and non- profits like CompTIA that can be used as a launching pad for a career in the sector, even before tertiary education.
“Persons always ask us like, ‘how do you get into IT?’ Instead of being a gatekeeper, which would be, ‘oh, you know, I don’t know though; you have to get a degree’. You don’t have to go all the way to the degree, you can start off with getting your certifications first,” Dunn explained.
“So just by telling them, ‘Hey, you can go and look into getting certifications.’ Certifications from CompTIA and Cisco, those are really good certs that you can get- that can really break you into IT and help you get a foot in the door,” she added.
Dunn further explained that there are some preconceived notions women have about the sector that help to turn them away from the industry from the very beginning, one of the primary ones being that it is all math.
According to Dunn, the sector is broad and while there is some math and computation skillset necessary it isn’t all math and even if there is a bit of math, it is very manageable.
“It’s not all math oriented. That’s another thing that I always hear women talk about; the math isn’t that hard,” she said.
Dunn notes that she was lucky to have a good first impression of the ICT sector, void of the usual negative connotations, citing that her early introduction to the subject in her high school years was very positive and inspiring.
The Hampton alumni shared that long before graduating in 2017, she knew that she would undertake a career in the field, adding that her female IT teacher, Mrs Collins, always kept the subject interesting and inspired her to pursue the course of study.
“One of my role models back in high school was my IT teacher. She was, you know, the ‘it girl’, so I was like, alright, she’s very savvy, this is where I need to be,” Dunn said.
“She was the fun teacher. Her class was interesting, and she actually made IT fun. It wasn’t the boring class and even after moving into sixth form, she still kept that up. She was close with us, and she encouraged us to look into the IT sector.
Making the transition from high school to tertiary studies in the field wasn’t a walk in the park for Dunn, who shared that the course of study was challenging, but not necessarily for the reasons one would expect.
Among the greatest adjustments for Dunn was moving from an all-girls institution to a primarily male programme of study, noting that often times she was the only female voice in a class.
The lack of female representation, Dunn says, often meant that her voice would be ‘drowned out’, adding that there were subtle and pervasive biases that tended to give preference to men, particularly as it relates to communications.
“I’ve had classes where it’s like, they’re talking to you like you speak Spanish, and [saying things like] we don’t understand you,” she said.
“For example, in group work. I’d be the only female in the group with three other guys. I’d be telling them A plus B equals C. [ They would dismiss me] Then another guy shows up and says, ‘A plus B equals C’ and they’re all like, ‘yes’,” she added.
The subtle biases were also reflected in the labour market, with Dunn noting that her male counterparts were snapped up almost immediately after graduating.
Dunn lamented that she sent out hundreds of applications prior to graduating from UTech in November 2021. However, she was shortlisted a handful of times, only getting three callbacks, one of which was from her current employer.
Dunn, who has found work in the business process outsourcing (BPO) space, notes that this sector has embraced women, and is particularly welcoming of recent grads.
Despite Dunn’s current team being composed of 80 per cent men, she recognises that working with a younger age cohort of males has meant more progressive views which has afforded her a much more pleasant work experience than some of her other female counterparts.
Dunn notes that she would like to see more women considering careers in the ICT industry, adding that they bring a different perspective to problem solving that can help further propel the sector into the future.
International Girls in ICT Day 2023 is being celebrated on Thursday, April 27, under the theme “Digital Skills for Life”.