A game-plan for diversity

Maria Martinez joined Bell Labs after graduating with a bachelor#8217;s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico. At that time, Martinez, now corporate vice-president of Microsoft Services, could count on both hands female colleagues working in ICT. She watched as the ratio of women in ICT improved, as more entered the sector through computer science and electrical engineering degrees.

However, Martinez points out during a recent visit to New Zealand that the number of women entering ICT is going down. And this is not good for the business in general. #8220;I have been in teams for many years now and am convinced from my own personal experience that diverse teams are always better than non-diverse teams,#8221; she says. #8220;It always takes you longer to gather and make it gel, but once you do that, you can clearly, consistently deliver better performance.#8221;

Martinez says the results of a recent global survey from McKinsey and Company support this. It concludes companies where women are most strongly represented at the board or top management perform the best. Microsoft holds a CIO summit every year and she says over the years, the number of women attendees has risen. #8220;But it is still not enough.#8221;

She says Microsoft staff are encouraged to give talks at the high school and grade school levels, to encourage more females to enter into the technical side of ICT.

She stresses in her meetings with Microsoft colleagues and customers that the field [of ICT] is very broad.

#8220;Where I am spending a lot of time promoting for women in particular is the area of services. You could go all the way up, from writing code to doing testing, integration, customer support, customer management, marketing, all within that space.

#8220;It is really a fascinating space, because this is where technology and the customer come together.#8221;

Lindsay Zwart, who heads Microsoft#8217;s women in technology programmes in New Zealand, says there are various ways IT leaders can help attract more women into IT.

One is to #8220;clearly articulate the prospects and career progression for people moving into roles within information technology, as the areas can be quite diverse#8221;. Another is to encourage flexible working hours and to use non-standard recruitment techniques, such as through community groups, to get more women into technical roles.

You don#8217;t need to be in management to do this, she says. One can encourage colleagues to develop and move into IT roles, and mentor an intern or a student. Another is to #8220;evangelise#8221; to family and friends how dynamic, challenging and exciting it is to work in the technical field. #8220;We have moved away from the concept of developers who work in dark rooms,#8221; she stresses.

Zwart says today#8217;s students are #8220;wiser and smarter#8221; and want to know what their career path would be if they enter ICT today. #8220;They are already mapping out their whole career.#8221;

She says it is important to #8220;give them a lot of clarity#8221; about moving into a technical role. #8220;In a legal role, for example, you kind of see where your career is going. In technology, it is much larger and more complex,#8221; she says. #8220;It can be quite daunting.#8221;

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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