IWD 2022: Why the ICT industry needs to do more to support women with children
Having a baby: for most women, it's the best of times and the most stressful of times. Becoming a parent is exciting, overwhelming and exhausting as you come to grips with your new ‘job' looking after the most important little human in the world – your own.
It can also be a time when many women worry about their other job: how they'll manage the juggle if they head back to the office after a few months of maternity leave and whether their career will ever recover if they don't.
Family first, or last?
It's a conundrum I've seen hard-working, ambitious women grapple with, both in the legal profession where I spent my early career years and in the ICT sector, where I now work as a senior leader for Access4, a unified communications solution vendor in the managed services provider space.
Sadly, I've also observed many women postpone their plans to start a family because of these concerns, or cut short their maternity breaks because they're concerned they'll be stuck in the slow lane in their critical earning years if they don't hurry back to the office.
For better or worse, responsibility for child-rearing continues to sit predominately with women (although, yes, this is changing and props to the many dads out there who've stepped up to share the heavy lifting in recent years!). Therefore, it's an area where ICT companies that are serious about evening up the gender imbalance could, and should, step up to support their female employees.
Prioritising parenthood and professional work
How can they do so? I can think of several ways. Offering equal paternity leave opportunities for male employees would be a great start. Encouraging more men to take their turn during those vital early months doesn't just allow them to experience the challenges and rewards of caring for, and bonding with, their infant children. It can also result in increased empathy and appreciation for women juggling parental responsibilities with part-time or full-time work.
We also need to think about how we can help women stay up to date with industry events and developments while they're on maternity leave. Part of the attraction of working in ICT is the extraordinary speed at which technology and solutions evolve – think of what you were doing, supporting or selling just five or even two years ago and how much has changed since then! – but that uber-fast pace means it's all too easy to fall behind or feel like you've done so.
More informal networking opportunities and mentoring programs could help women remain connected with their peers while they're on leave and remain up to date with industry developments and trends.
Getting back in
And for those women who do choose to take several years, rather than months, out caring for their families, programs like STEM Returners, which help them re-skill and re-enter the workforce, can be invaluable.
I believe there are plenty of candidates who'd love the opportunity to restart where they left off: women with stellar track records but whose CVs are short on current experience.
What's needed is a bigger pool of employers who are willing to take a long view and invest in supporting these potentially valuable employees back into the workforce via paid internships.
Making men part of the solution
But we don't just need women driving initiatives to enable other women to have children and a rewarding career in ICT. Only by educating men about the benefits of a more gender-balanced workforce and enlisting their help to create one will we see true lasting and genuine change and greater opportunities for women to stay in the sector and make the juggle work. That's something to strive for in 2022.
Article by Access4 general counsel and chief compliance officer, Lesley Smith.