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Why Your Mainframe Modernization Initiative Needs More Women

Claire Connor

Claire Connor
Senior Mainframe Solution Architect

When I recently wrote about mainframe modernization for, I didn’t address the importance of women’s involvement in the initiative. But it’s not because women’s roles are unimportant. It’s exactly the opposite — the involvement of women is so important that it deserves its own discussion. 

Mainframes are the foundation of modern IT infrastructure. Without them, organizations couldn’t run applications that process massive quantities of data like bank transactions and insurance records. The global mainframe market size is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 4.3%, reaching nearly $3 million in revenue by 2025. For an initiative as critical as mainframe modernization, you need a diverse task force to support it. 

Gender diversity on teams has been proven to help groups solve problems more effectively due to a wider scope of viewpoints. Women’s involvement on mainframe teams can help challenge old ways of thinking and bring in a unique perspective, which is increasingly important alongside the growing need for mainframe modernization. 

A historically male-dominated sector 

Most people thought the mainframe would become irrelevant as PCs grew in popularity. One technology writer, Stewart Alsop, even predicted the last mainframe would be unplugged by March 1996, which turned out to be far from the truth. 

Even so, there was a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when initiatives involving mainframe computers remained on the backburner. This happened at a point in time when there was a significantly low representation of women in the technology industry. So, when the mainframe evolved again and when more women entered the field, the only people familiar with the technology were men that had worked on it 10 to 15 years before. 

In part, this explains the male-dominated nature of the mainframe. The timeline of the mainframe’s relevance also explains the gender skills gap in the industry, which is significantly wider for women than it is for men. 

When I started my career in mainframe, it was a common for me to be the only woman at a conference table — a place where I sometimes felt imposter syndrome. No matter how diligently I worked, I did not have as much experience as the men in the room who had worked on mainframes for years before I entered the field.  

But I soon realized that without new points of view, nothing would change. Since the entire purpose of mainframe modernization is to innovate an existing system, I recognized that my own voice — and other women’s — could be a catalyst for this change. 

It can be difficult to escape the echo chamber of like-minded opinions in the mainframe world. But diversity, equity and inclusion are critical everywhere, and the mainframe world is no exception. To effectively innovate, you need diverse voices in the room, including individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. 

3 tips for creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace 

Due to the nature of mainframe logistics, it took me several years to become fully independent in my work. I doubted myself at times, but I was determined to advance so one day I could become a role model for other women entering the mainframe space.  

Whether you are a recent graduate applying for a new role or the leader of a team, here are three ways to create a more inclusive workplace environment and stand strong if you ever start to doubt yourself. 

  1. Be confident in your skills. Don’t assume people around you know more than you do, no matter how much older or more experienced they are. Even if you’re the youngest person at the table, remember you were hired for a reason. We’re used to deferring to other people for their opinions, which is necessary at times, but it’s important to remain confident in your abilities. On the other hand, if you are a team leader, express confidence not only in your own abilities but also in the abilities of your younger teammates. You may end up learning something new from a junior team member. 
  2. Listen to all team members. The best teams listen to the opinions and suggestions of all team members — not just senior employees. Every member of your team brings unique perspectives and experiences to the table, which is why you shouldn’t overlook anyone’s opinion. And if you’re a newer or younger team member, while you should remain confident in your abilities, asking questions and listening is important to learn and grow. 
  3. Speak up. If you’re in a meeting and have a new idea, don’t be afraid to offer your opinion. If you see something happening that you know is wrong or unjust, speak up. Even if the scenario at hand doesn’t involve you, you should advocate for the people around you, especially your teammates. The only way to make a difference is to speak up, regardless of your seniority. 

As your organization progresses in mainframe modernization, it’s time to rethink the diversity of your mainframe team. But in truth, gender diversity is an issue across the technology sector — not just in mainframe modernization. By assembling diverse task forces to tackle all of your business initiatives, you’ll gain the ability to view issues through a wider lens, allowing you to develop innovative and effective solutions for your organization’s most critical challenges. 

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