Persuading more women to consider a career in IT is a challenge in itself. But to ensure they are able to move onward and upward through the organization requires businesses to grapple with new problems.
Let’s give credit where it’s due. In many markets, employers have got better at implementing female-friendly policies, with advances made in areas such as maternity leave and the right to return to work (not least because so many more men are now demanding similar rights).
Many women take time out of the workplace when their children are young, but this isn’t what prevents many of them breaking through. Rather, it is the old-fashioned attitudes and practices deeply embedded in the culture of many organizations.
The good news is that it is possible to confront these problems. As a CIO, you can take the lead by being prepared to:
- Offer flexible working patterns. Having invested in young women’s early careers, it makes no sense to lose those who decide to have children. Flexible working options, ranging from part-time positions to career breaks, can help your organization retain more women — and will increasingly appeal to men too.
- Address the pay gap. The International Labour Organization has reported that the gender pay gap now stands at an average of 23%. In other words, for every £1 earned by men, women earn 77p. Businesses that conduct regular audits of their organization’s pay practices have an opportunity to identify and resolve such injustices.
- Embrace diversity policies. Active intervention is needed to boost the number of women working in IT. That doesn’t have to mean quotas or positive discrimination — though some employers may want to explore these routes. But it does mean identifying and dismantling the barriers preventing women moving up the IT career ladder. Without a specific focus on diversity, simple mistakes — such as job advertising that isn’t gender neutral — can easily be made.
- Establish strong networks. Where they still exist, organizations must get rid of the “old boys’ clubs” — or at least set up similar structures for women. Women often don’t have access to the same sort of workplace networks as men, particularly as they move up in the organization, but it is possible to create them.
- Offer leadership and career development training. For example, mentorship programs can work well. In addition, industry groups can help women reach out to colleagues elsewhere.
Over the next few years, many companies will undergo significant digital transformations, and the role of IT — along with that of CIOs — will be reshaped. This makes now an opportune moment to embed diversity into IT teams and their leadership.
And one thing is for sure: as the talent requirements of IT continue to evolve at a rapid pace, those organizations that fail to attract and retain female professionals are going to suffer. Are you doing enough?