For too long, there has been a paucity of women in senior IT positions. Diversity is key to innovation, is proven to lead to better team performance and increases the talent pool from which to choose. So why is it that this hasn’t changed much in IT, compared to many other professions? Is it not time for the IT Industry to take action?
This article is republished with permission of Shackleton investee company, CIO Connect. It was prepared by Nick Kirkland with assistance from Hélène Stanway of XL Catlin and Bebe Oladipo of Azzuri Group. Hélène spoke at and Bebe attended CIO Connect’s recent workshop on this subject.
CIO Connect runs vibrant networks of CIOs in leading organisations in the UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Much has been researched and written about the advantages of diversity.
As the IT Industry looks ahead, one area of high priority is to be creative and innovative. A diverse team is essential to provide a wide range of ways of thinking and should reflect your customer base. This leads directly to greater creativity and innovation.
There are many other advantages – a common issue for many years has been the lack of talent across the industry – encouraging women to build careers in IT would be a significant contribution to resolving this challenge.
However, it seems that IT isn’t high on the list of career opportunities for women: Only 23% of the IT workforce is female; women account for only 15% of applicants onto IT related degrees and only 9% of those taking computing at ‘A’ level are girls.
So why is it that women don’t seem to be attracted to build a career in IT? In talking to many across our network we hear a wide variety of reasons:
- The anecdotal feedback from those choosing their GCSEs is that IT, ICT or Computing are simply boring and do not connect or speak to the interests of women.
- There is a perception that the industry is filled with ‘geeks’ and many women find this off-putting.
- It is clear that there are too few female leaders and role models and thus little encouragement for women to aspire to a career in IT.
- There is a perception that the job is purely technical – with little understanding that good people in IT have to demonstrate high level skills in communication, listening, business awareness as well as problem solving – yes – we need rounded folks too!
In short, girls at school & University do not tend to see IT as an attractive career option – so it is at this point that the greatest change is needed.
We are very good at asking questions. We should all now act and provide answers. We need a credible platform to go into schools and colleges and speak to young girls before they start making career choices. Support must be provided through the career life cycle so women feel supported and valued.
There have been some praiseworthy developments: The ‘Women in IT Awards’ is a global celebration of achievement in IT leadership. The UK arm has recognised many female IT leaders and this has contributed to the identification and engagement of role models.
‘Women in Tech’ is a website dedicated to helping young women at University with career choices and also encourages mothers to return to work after having children through their ‘TechReturners’ initiative. There are other ‘grass roots’ initiatives such as ‘Girls who Code’.
But it is clear that progress is slow. There is little evidence that girls at school are any more attracted to IT than before. Interestingly, a couple of Universities have redeveloped and renamed their business school IT course ‘Management & Digital Innovation’ which has apparently led to a sharp increase in the number of women applying.
Digital Innovation has and continues to transform the skills needed for organisations to take advantage of technology. We are seeing many IT leaders appointed from other areas in the business (and these represent a significant number of the female CIOs today). We see the role of technology leader becoming a crucial strategic part of organisations and many believe that technology leaders of today will become the CEOs of tomorrow.
The IT Industry face a dilemma – how come youngsters are all fascinated by the amazing developments of usable technology, but girls don’t see it is a career?
This has to change and the IT Industry needs to act.
[What you must do now – the CIO Connect recommendation]: The most important thing we can do is to think about how, as IT leaders, we can make a difference. Do you visit your children’s school and excite them about IT careers? Do you encourage this across your team? Do you ask your team to invite children to visit the workplace and engage with the women in your team? Do you focus on the opportunity to recruit women returners to your team – by offering support such as flexible working? Do you think about how you word job adverts to attract a different talent mix?
CIO Connect have recently run a workshop on this topic and there was unanimous opinion that the industry must take more action.
One attendee, who has recently been promoted to a senior position said: “My dream is not just to be seen as a Woman in IT Leadership – but as an excellent leader. Being a woman is already a given – let us focus on making women aim for leadership positions and know that with the right skills and attitudes, they can be as competent as any other man or woman”.
The CIOs of today hold a responsibility for the future – a future where diversity is a strength.
Now is the time to take action – what is your plan – and what is the one small step you could do today to make a change?