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IT trends spotted and checked by experts


What happens

In August, Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm, reported that only 11% of CIOs in technology firms are women. This is eight points below the average of all sectors.

so what?

Head of Strategy at The Tech Partnership

Margaret Sambell began her career in software support at IBM in 1984, after earning a Bachelor of Music (BMus) from the University of Birmingham. Sambell left IBM in 1998 as worldwide head of identification...

While the UK IT industry is expected to employ 1.2 million people by 2022, the percentage of women working in the sector is less than 27 percent, according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). However, there are many ways in which employing women in IT can offer substantial advantages to both workers and employers. The Tech Partnership (formerly e-skills UK), a network of employers working to create skills for the UK's digital economy, is engaged in a number of initiatives designed to address the deficit of female professionals in the sector.

Why should organizations seek to improve the male-to-female ratio in IT?

There are two aspects to that. One is that the productivity of all companies depends on the quality of their IT operations, a quality that can be seriously affected by the imbalance in the IT workforce. By only attracting males, you miss out on 50 percent of the talent pool. In the UK IT field, the talent pipeline is a work in progress, but if you also recruit women, you are definitely attracting a bigger number of qualified workers from the talent pool. 
Another aspect, which is less talked about, is that tech's customers are diverse, in gender and in other ways. If your workforce better matches your customer base, then you are going to provide better services. 

How can IT education and training be more female-friendly?

Girls often don't see the connection between technology and how interesting a career in this field will be. They get switched off, whereas it is possible to broaden their learning to get them interested.

The approach The Tech Partnership has taken is to work with schools on the basis that teachers are facilitators of learning and don't have to be subject matter experts. It is an important point, because with that structure you can deliver learning online in a very engaging way. 
With girls' clubs, for example, they work in teams and do things together, since they tend to enjoy this kind of interaction. A lot of young women are very interested in girl-friendly environments since at a certain age they tend to avoid some activities because they are lacking in confidence. But in a girl-friendly environment, they don't seem to worry about things like that as much. 

For core curriculum, making tech training and education more female friendly does make a difference. With university degree programmes, for example, where we bring together employers and universities to create specific curriculums that are more female friendly, the percentage of women taking part has almost doubled. This is not because females were specifically targeted, but it is because the course content attracted more women since it was more female friendly than traditional computer science and IT programmes were. 

For apprenticeships, which are the main route for young people to get into technology, some employers have had good experiences. They learned that recruitment is extremely dependent on the specific wording of their adverts. They found, for example, that women do not respond well to job titles such as "engineer", because it sounds very male. By using different language and approaches to advertise for apprenticeships, they found there was a huge difference in the number of women who applied.

How have attitudes towards female IT workers evolved over the last five to 10 years?

Proportionally, the gender imbalance has become marginally worse in the UK. However, the workforce has also grown substantially. In fact, if we look at the past decade, the tech workforce has grown by 19 percent and the number of women in the tech workforce has grown by the same percentage. So there are more women working in tech in the UK.

In terms of how attitudes have changed, businesses are much more aware of the importance of diversity. The attitude used to be that companies should attract more women to IT merely because it was important to be seen doing it. Now, businesses in general are much more focused on diversity, with gender probably being the biggest diversity issue. 

Businesses are getting much more creative about how they attract a more diverse workforce in every regard. The talent pool needs to reflect the client base and the traditional routes to achieving that are insufficient for companies' needs.  

Who cares?

  Any organisation interested in improving workforce relations and productivity should seek to recruit more women in IT through better training and outreach programs. 

- The Tech Partnership's research shows the critical role mentoring plays in encouraging school-aged young women to pursue education and careers in IT. The TechFuture Women's Network is a program especially geared for women willing to mentor students. These female professionals are given the opportunity to get involved in initiatives such as TechFuture Girls, an afterschool or lunchtime club aiming at keeping girls aged 10 to 14 interested in tech at an age when they often start to lose interest.

- Intel, which is among the Anita Borg Institute Change Alliance companies that hire mostly tech workers and have committed to measuring their workforce, was recently recognised for going beyond just actively hiring women and underrepresented groups, by changing its culture to promote diversity among its workforce. Intel did this by offering its employees gender-neutral washrooms and through its Rapid Orientation for Accelerated Results (ROAR) program.

- Capgemini's Women@Capgemini programme seeks to recruit and develop talent based on the "equal opportunities, equal chances" principle. The programme also seeks to retain talented women in its workforce while respecting a work/life balance, and to influence corporate culture by promoting gender diversity through training and awareness.
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