Hays Director, James Milligan discusses the gender imbalance in the IT industry. For anyone following women in tech, the past few months have been eventful to say the least. From Melinda Gates throwing her weight behind increasing the number of women into computer science, to a viral blog post about the treatment of female employees at a well-known Silicon Valley giant, the recent news is indicative of the wider situation: For women in the industry, it is one step forward, one step back.
You only need to look at the many female tech entrepreneurs making their mark on the landscape to see that progress is happening. However, it is no secret that IT continues to be a male-dominated space, arguably to a greater degree than many other industry sectors. The reasons for this are frequently cited.
Gender profiling of careers begins at school when girls are discouraged from taking STEM subjects and considering a future in tech. How IT is taught during these formative years should also bear some responsibility, as too often it does little to excite, engage and enthuse children of all genders.
Many women who do decide to pursue a career in the sector often find themselves guided towards client facing roles thanks to the myth that women have better soft skills. A lack of flexible working can also become a barrier to many women who have family commitments.
Yet around the world, employers are searching for people with IT skills. One of the most acute skills shortages we have seen over the past five years has been in the area of software and web development, and as global political instability continues, this skills shortage has the potential to become even more pronounced. The poor representation of women in IT does nothing to help close this skills gap.
So what can you do to the address this and help attract female talent to your organisation today?
Hire talent that can be up-skilled
I would always urge employers to think outside the box. Consider hiring a candidate who has the potential to meet their business requirements even if they require further in-company training. The time and resources needed to mould raw skills into an effective employee may ultimately be more productive for companies than engaging in an endless search for the perfect employee at a time when there is a global skills shortage in the sector. Such a culture will also enable women with some technical skills but who are perhaps in client-facing roles, to gain the experience they require and move into a position with a greater ‘tech’ remit.
Consider introducing ‘returnships’
In order to ensure that women are welcomed into the industry throughout their career, businesses should look at introducing returnships. One area where this idea has started to gain momentum is in the UK. These are returning professional internships, which act as a bridge back into senior roles for experienced professionals who have taken extended career breaks – in many cases women returning to work after maternity leave or having taken a career break to raise children. Usually, short-term employment contracts and returnships can help a returner update their skills, knowledge and experience in their previous role or possibly to transition into a new area.
Take the lead on flexible and remote working
The issue of getting work-life balance right is not unique to IT. However, tech organisations should look to be leaders in the flexible and remote working revolution. Given the increasing use of mobile devices and remote access for work, the productivity of working parents outside ‘normal’ working hours needs to recognised. If practical, priority should be weighted on the delivery of high-quality work and projects as opposed to needing to deliver during the ”standard” working hours.
Get involved in industry-led initiatives
Increased diversity of skills and gender in the IT sector stands to improve the industry as a whole. The industry’s reputation as male-dominated is likely to hamper its potential to attract the best new talent of all genders. We have a responsibility to counter that stereotype and promote IT as the exciting, dynamic and welcoming industry that it is. This includes the promotion of the many female role models in the UK’s tech space, facilitating intra-company mentoring networks for women in the industry, and getting involved in internship programmes to ensure young people, including women, are exposed to the world of tech from an earlier age.
IT offers worthwhile and fulfilling careers for men and women alike, and we should work together to drive this message forward. In the process, we will help tackle an acute IT skills shortage and create even more diverse, energetic and innovative workplace cultures.
About this author
James is Director of Hays IT, Digital Technology and Project Solutions in the UK, Ireland and EMEA. Having joined in 2000, he is responsible for the strategy of Hays’ Project Solutions, IT and Digital Technology businesses, which includes IT contracting, permanent technology recruitment, resource augmentation and statement of work solutions across both the private and public sectors.