Melise Jones on Women in Tech
Our Business Development Director, Melise Jones, reflects on what it means to be a woman in tech.
Before Women in Tech there were, well, women in tech… I never thought there was anything special or remarkable about the fact that I had entered a field dominated by fellas. The feeling was comparable to when I turned up to play a ball game with the lads and I’d be chosen for a side…most of the time I was last, but I was happy for the chance to play. Not because I was accepted as girl – but because I wanted to join in!
I first stepped into the world of tech upon joining the United States Navy’s Cryptology Communications Branch, charged with delivering secure communications within the Naval Security Group. Following true gender stereotypes, most women in the cryptology field were positioned with the Admin & Operations branches, notably absent from the more technical Maintenance, Interpreter and Codebreaking teams.
I never questioned the glaring gender disproportion between these different branches, perhaps due to an underlying assumption that the more technical jobs were sea-going, with the Navy policy mandating that no women could be in combatant roles. There were plenty of shore-based duty assignments for women, so they too were allowed in these branches.
With the exception of strictly operating in non-combatant roles back in the day, on the surface the military was completely gender inclusive. You pass the test, you make the grade, you were promoted. End of. My point is, I took no special notice that I was in a male-dominated space per se. I was just glad to be accepted into the game.
But, what about before I joined in 1981? Before all the enforced inclusivity, women had to fight for, campaign for, and camp out for the ‘privilege’ of joining. Even then, during my time in the military and beyond we endured sexual harassment and latent discrimination in the workplace, although that’s another story for another time.
Following my 4-year tour of duty in the Navy, a tech company in Boston had won a US Department of Defense tender to build a wide-area network and provide operational staff to run it. They were to be based in metro Washington DC, Honolulu, Hawaii and Stuttgart, Germany. The recruiter was looking for people with my operational background and – the golden ticket – a security clearance. Was I interested? $18,000 a year plus shift-differential – Sign me up!
I was part of a pioneering group of young men and women who were given the opportunity to work alongside some technology wizards. The guy who put the @ sign in our email sat two doors down from the Network Operations Centre (NOC) where we ran one of the first global computer networks. Remember the ARPANET and its military counterpart the MILNET? These were the beginnings of what commercially grew to be the Internet…and I was there!
Others paid the price for my ticket to be there. And I, and others like me, paid the price for young women to follow their ambitions to be engineers, data scientists, software developers, chief architects & CTO’s. We turned up, we did our jobs professionally and over time and with a lot of tenacity, it became unremarkable to see women in these roles.
So, I champion Women in Tech because I want to encourage EVERYONE to aspire to, go after and attain ANYTHING you set your sights on. I speak out where I can, and I am an active member of Sheffield Women in Tech, where I am honoured to serve on the Ops Team.
Today, we celebrate women in digital and tech roles because visibility matters; young girls and women need to see that we are in this space, holding positions which have long been reserved for men. We are trailblazing and breaking boundaries – and they can too.