IWD 2022: Overcoming the gender gap in the IT sector
There are gender disparities in many business sectors, but perhaps none are more glaring than the IT industry.
From its early days in the 1960s, IT has been dominated by men. They have traditionally represented the vast majority of university students, and their numbers continued to dominate throughout their careers in technology.
Fast forward to 2022, and while things have improved somewhat, much remains to be done to overcome this challenge. Industry, government and educational institutions need to focus on encouraging more females to enter the IT sector and have long and successful careers.
Attracting new talent
All companies want to attract and retain the very best talent. However, if this talent doesn't represent diversity in gender, something needs to be changed.
It could be that unintentional bias has become part of the selection and recruitment process. Therefore, the way that applicants are judged needs to be carefully examined to ensure all are treated in the same way.
Some companies choose to remove names and genders from applications before reviewing them. This can help level the playing field and ensure applicants are judged only on their skills and experience.
Interestingly, industry research shows that replacing a woman's name with that of a man improves the odds of getting hired by 60 per cent. Also, men typically apply for jobs when they meet about 60 per cent of the criteria. Women, on the other hand, wait until they are a 100 per cent match.
It's also important that the right tone is used in recruitment advertising and notices. Rather than simply outlining the role in purely technical terms, companies should remove gender bias from job descriptions to make it more appealing for females to apply. For example, using non-gendered pronouns and removing words such as “strong” with “proven” and “competitive” with “results driven” can appeal to a wider community of potential applicants.
Ensuring women progress up the ladder
While recruiting more women is important, ensuring they have a satisfying career is also vital. For this reason, women need to be able to see a clear path to the senior ranks and receive the support they need to get there.
Companies need to communicate with new hires about the opportunities within the organisation and demonstrate how they will be able to take advantage of them in the future.
An essential element in the process is professional mentoring. Senior executives should be encouraged to guide more junior staff and pass on knowledge and experience that will help to shape their careers.
During the last 15 years, I've participated in a few activities that have been formal and informal mentoring programs. Interestingly, I've mentored just as many men as I have women. In my previous company, they had a formal program that lasted 12-18 months, depending on the level of the participants.
I ended up hiring onto my team one of my mentees. The woman I was working with decided she would apply her skills to a new role and moved from accounting to sales operations and has since been promoted several times from individual contributor to manager and is currently a senior director.
One of the things that I encourage people early in their career to do, is volunteer for the hard jobs no one else wants to do. Don't be afraid to go outside your comfort zone and learn everything you possibly can in every role you have. The more you understand how your organisation works and what problems the organisation has, the more valuable your suggestions on how to solve those problems become. Being known as someone who can be relied on to get the job done will lead to additional opportunities.
The role of government
When addressing the gender gap that exists within the IT sector, there is also an important role that governments must play.
They need to work closely with schools to ensure that curriculums emphasise STEM studies and encourage students to pursue them. In some cases, students miss out on a future career in IT because they could not obtain the foundational skills while at school.
There is also a need for programs that explain the myriad career opportunities within the technology sector. Students need to understand it's not just about programming but covers everything from project management to marketing and sales.
The Federal Government must also closely review its policies around skilled migration. It's unreasonable to expect that all staff needed by the sector can be sourced domestically; additional people will be required from overseas.
By taking these steps, Australia will be better positioned to grow its IT sector and create additional employment opportunities. The pace of technological change is showing no sign of slowing, so encouraging more females to get involved will ensure companies flourish and take advantage of growing business demands.
Article by Dynatrace ANZ vice president, Hope Powers.