It's women in IT month

This month, I'm coming back to the question of how do we, as a profession, ensure that we're appealing to people from all backgrounds to build diverse teams? I'm choosing this as the theme because it's the start of our annual women in IT campaign.

The lack of women in IT has been a perennial issue for almost as long as I can recall – we've certainly been highlighting it now for a number of years. The truth of the matter is that the situation for the IT profession is quite stark; we need to address this or we face the prospect of missing out on talent in an era when there is a skills shortage already.

Women account for between 15-18% of the IT profession and yet most of us working in the IT profession believe that we would benefit from having more women working in it. This is backed up by research that clearly demonstrates gender diversity brings many benefits to an organisation, including increased innovation and productivity. Women are consumers of technology; they are customers for every business. Having a diverse workforce reflects your customer base and can help it to deliver better and more diverse products to meet the requirements of that customer base.

In our own business technology department, we've set out to hire the best people for the roles available and as a result, women now represent over 33% of our department and it's made a real difference to the team and our business. As a result of the diversity of the team we've been able to develop a culture which is better for innovation, where ideas are generated, there are greater opportunities for people to grow within the organisation and therefore we've got better retention and also, we've got a real mix of genders across all the roles, so we've got a really dynamic team.

So what should we all be doing to encourage women into the profession? I'm afraid that it appears there's no single, simple solution. We have to address it as employers whether that is ensuring we have policies in place for recruitment, implementing unconscious bias training or looking at the make-up of our boards. In other words, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves, our business and our own attitudes.

We are hard-wired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests. Unconscious biases are simply our natural people preferences; however this can lead to us making poor decisions, particularly around recruitment. As a result, we are less likely to recruit people who do not look or sound like us, and this can lead to a workforce which doesn't fully represent the demographics of society. The language we use to recruit is also important, so it's worth double checking the wording of your recruitment advertisements to ensure they're gender friendly or will attract women. A great example of this comes from the University of California Berkeley which in spring 2014 changed its course name from "Introduction to Symbolic Programming" to "Beauty and the Joy of Computing" with the result that female enrolment increased by 50%.

Secondly, education plays a part; we need more girls to study IT and computing so that we have a talent pool to draw from. The new computing curriculum should start to produce some results in this area.

Finally, we need to help young people, male and female, understand the opportunities open to them from our own profession. We've got an image problem as a profession. Technology is ubiquitous and everybody uses it but people fail to recognise that they too could have a career that creates it. We need to inspire young people to see the opportunities and be excited about becoming the new Martha Lane Fox or Tim Berners-Lee and inventing the next stage of our technological revolution.

So the next time that you're struggling to find IT skills for your organisation, ask yourself if you've done everything you can to entice 100% of the potential workforce.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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