Let’s Talk about Women in the Data Center

As the male-dominated industry struggles with an aging workforce, an effort to encourage women to get involved is long overdue.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

March 28, 2017

3 Min Read
Let’s Talk about Women in the Data Center
At Data Center World Spring 2015 in Las Vegas

Some in the data center industry have for several years been sounding alarm bells about a quickly aging workforce. Relatively few young people pursue careers in data centers, while demand for data center capacity is growing quickly, a combination that can soon bring the industry to a full-blown crisis.

There are no official statistics on data center workforce, but 40 percent of respondents to the Uptime Institute’s survey of its network of data center operators in 2013 estimated that their data center facilities engineers were older than 50. One of the members said they expected 50 percent of their staff to retire in the following two years.

An article on Uptime’s website that describes the findings suggests that the industry focus its efforts on training and hiring veterans for data center jobs. That would be an effective strategy, but there’s another, much broader pool of potential workers the industry could do a better job tapping into: women.

Like other sub-sectors of the high-tech world, the data center workforce is made up predominantly of men. That much becomes obvious after just a few data center tours or visits to industry events. One UK researcher told DCK last year that she had to re-orient what was supposed to be a research project on women in data centers simply because she could not find enough women to talk to.

That researcher, Dr. Theresa Simpkin of Anglia Ruskin University, broadened the study’s scope to women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) roles. According to her, the gender gap in STEM fields is so wide because of the signals young girls receive from society.

The range of careers a child sees their future self in can start shrinking as soon as she’s three or four years old, Simpkin said. Society in general sends girls and boys different signals about their career options; as a result, relatively few girls see themselves one day becoming an engineer or a scientist.

Read more: The Data Center Industry Has a Problem: Too Many Men

Next week, a panel at Data Center World will focus on ways to steer girls and women toward STEM careers. The panelists are women who are working in the data center industry today, at companies including LinkedIn, CenturyLink, Paige DataCom, and Fortrust.

“Over the past 17 years with AFCOM and Data Center World I have not seen our female attendance numbers fluctuate much,” Gina Jahn, Data Center World show manager, said. “I would like to see an increase, and I believe we can support that change through mentorship and recognition.”

Jahn, who started the initiative to recognize women in the data center field at the conference last year, said her goal was to create a resource for mentoring women interested in STEM careers to get involved in the data center industry.

“I'm excited about learning and seeing firsthand the multiple roles that women play in the data center, and hopefully empowering a new generation of women to join in the STEM fields,” Ileana Aquino-Otero, global critical infrastructure engineer at LinkedIn who will be on the panel, said.

Aquino-Otero is in one of the most interesting data center jobs. LinkedIn recently built a hyper-scale data center platform, using many of the principles developed by hyper-scale pioneers like Google and Facebook. The company is designing custom hardware and data center infrastructure and even started an open hardware initiative, similar to Facebook’s Open Compute Project but pushing LinkedIn’s own hardware design standard.

Another panelist, Cindy Choboian, is VP of business development at Fortrust, a data center service provider. Choboian said she wanted to share the wisdom she’s gained in her career in tech with young women who are just starting out and women who are looking to make a career change. “If only I knew then what I do now, I believe it would have been much easier to break through the glass ceiling,” she said.

Join the conversation to share your perspective next week at Data Center World, taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, April 3 through April 6. More details about the conference here.


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