How to bridge the IT gender gap

ey cio blog - Golden Gate BridgeWhy aren’t there more women in IT jobs, particularly at senior levels? Despite the success of a few high-profile female technology leaders — Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg spring to mind — IT remains a largely male-dominated world, especially at the higher rungs of the career ladder.

The problem begins even before aspiring IT professionals enter the sector. Many countries, particularly those with developed markets, are failing to persuade girls and young women to study subjects appropriate for a career in IT. For example, in the US, women account for less than 20% of those graduating from college with computer science degrees.

Businesses need to help educators, policy-makers and other groups to address this problem. Not simply because they have a social responsibility to promote diversity in the workplace – though they do – but also because they’re missing out on valuable talent.

The US is producing fewer than half the computer science graduates it needs to fill the IT-related vacancies being created. Passing up on so many women is simply widening the gap.

It may partly be a chicken-and-egg problem: with so few female role models, it’s no wonder that students perceive IT as an industry dominated by men. But I believe that there is plenty that can be done to challenge the stereotype and to encourage more women to choose a career in IT:

  • Increased support for existing initiatives.There is already some good work being done to boost young women’s participation in the technology sector, but it doesn’t receive enough backing. In the US, there is the Girls Who Code initiative, which promotes computer science as a career option for women, and runs programs to train them up. Its work has inspired Nikita Rau, a high-school pupil in New York, to start a coding club for girls that is now making positive headlines and encouraging others to follow her lead.
  • Fresh role models. These inspiring young women have the potential to be the female role models the industry so badly needs — not least because they are figures most students will find easier to relate to than, say, C-suite executives. Another good example is Lyndsey Scott, a Victoria’s Secret model, whose sideline in developing apps has attracted the interest of Business Insider.
  • Improved visibility. In order to get the message across that female technology workers are valued and sought after, organizations with women doing impressive work — at all levels of the company — need to share their own examples with a wider audience. Making these women more visible to external audiences will help challenge the myth that only men can be successful in IT.
  • More targeted communication. Firms need to get the tone of their communications right, to make it clear that IT is an incredibly broad discipline, which requires diverse talents that include not only technical prowess, but also creativity, teamworking and people skills. After all, most businesses are looking for well-rounded recruits, rather than stereotypical “IT geeks”.

Of course, much of the work that needs to be done to encourage young women to embrace IT should be carried out by educators. But businesses should be prepared to play their part.

I believe that businesses have an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is — by developing outreach programs in schools and colleges, by supporting initiatives that promote diversity in technology and by showing a willingness to lead by example — to help attract a new generation of talented young women to IT careers. And as a CIO, you’ve got a responsibility to ask what more you can do to encourage women in IT.

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