While there are women scattered throughout the highest ranks of the mostly male-dominated IT business, women who operate their own web hosting firms remain few and far between.
So when Erica Douglass, owner of web hosting provider Simpli Hosting, posted a thread on the web hosting talk forum a month ago seeking out other female web hosting operators, it came as little surprise that the number of women who responded could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Both Tina Peters and Martie Collins, operators of AxisHost and HostCaters, respectively, join Douglass on the brief list of female web host owners. A few other women responded to the impromptu census, saying they had recently launched startup web hosts of their own.
WHIR blogger and web hosting consultant (and well known woman-in-web-hosting) had difficulty adding to the list, acknowledging 'there aren't many" and that Barbara Branaman, VP and GM of hosting for XO/Concentric was 'the only one that comes to mind."
The fact that the female population may be underrepresented in web hosting is a matter that might invite some debate. And the Webhostingtalk thread prompted such a discussion, a few sarcastic or ignorant 'who cares?" comments notwithstanding. Douglas has her own theories.
"Since web hosting isn't a visible result industry like creating websites or designing graphics, I think women tend to shy away from it," says Douglass. "Women don't realise that there is just as much potential to help people in this industry as there is in any other, even though it doesn't seem as appealing because there's not a direct benefit to show a customer like there is with graphic design or web consulting."
Being a female in a male-dominated environment can come accompanied by a whole set of unfair expectations. Douglass says she has yet to experience any blatant discrimination. However, she says she has frequently witnessed what she refers to as "misplaced chivalry."
She explains that one male customer continually insists on helping her carry equipment because he says it is "too heavy" for her. And more often than not, men are caught off guard when they learn that Douglass is not an employee of the Simpli Hosting, but its owner.
"I often get a look of surprise or even complete shock when I tell people I'm the owner of the company," she says. "Nowhere was this more evident than at conferences, where I'd often be the only woman who wasn't a 'booth babe' or a marketing/PR gal."
There are certainly people involved in the industry who imagine men to be more tech-savvy. Douglas says women shouldn't feel intimidated by the stereotype. And what's more, every hosting provider should understand that technical knowledge is not the ultimate measure of success in this business.
"Many hosting company owners love to talk tech and brag about esoteric commands or configurations they know," says Douglass. "Running a hosting company, realistically, is like running many other businesses: it is first and foremost about making sure your customers are happy.
"It's not about how many Cisco router configs you know or how many years of Linux systems administration you have under your belt (although those skills certainly won't hurt you). Tech skills can always be hired; it's less tangible skills like going the extra mile to help customers that cannot."
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