Changing Perception as Well as Reality

One senior woman will not make the difference. We need women to be visible to the workforce at all levels on a daily basis to be far more accessible role models.

I was on the panel at a recruitment event recently when a female student asked how she could find the 'right' technology company to work in. By this she meant an organisation that wouldn't discriminate against her as a woman.

There were five or six other senior women on the panel - who all saw the technology industry as a modern and forward-looking environment with promising career paths for all. That was our experience. But, the student clearly had the idea that the industry was in some way prone to bias.

In actual fact, the number of senior women in the technology industry is growing and some of the largest technology businesses are being led by women. There is still a huge amount to do but things are changing.

In my organisation I see a huge shift with the numbers of women rising up the business growing steadily year on year. An event we run for our Graduates has a competition, voted on by the grads themselves, asking "who is most likely to be future CEO" in the last three years two of the winners have been women.

However, the biggest problem in our industry begins before we even reach the workplace with many young women 'self selecting' out of careers in science and technology. It is a well-documented and much debated issue. So the first step for organisations like mine is to bring careers in technology to life for a younger generation.

Just this week I had a female graduate of ours shadowing me for the day. She told me that she had never considered a job in the technology industry. She had been studying International Development at university when, at a career fair, she met with a number of our graduates who spent some time with her, told her about the various different roles available in a business like ours: project management, business consulting, business analysis, product management as well as of course a wide range of technical roles . She felt this could be a good fit.

Dame Mary Archer pointed recently to a study by WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering) which I found interesting, it revealed that daunting role models can turn young girls off. It was, in fact, more encouraging for young women to see their peers lead the way. This is why we encourage our young joiners to become STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education) ambassadors and talk to other young people about their career.

We need to address the pipeline for women at all levels within our organisations to ensure we are moving towards a more diverse future. That can be tough of course. There is very active competition and recruitment in the technology market and a danger is that we end up moving the same people around rather than growing the pool of candidates. Companies need to be continually examining working practices, especially in the area of recruitment and promotion. It's easy to hire and promote in our own image, so if we're not careful we create biases that we don't even acknowledge.

We mustn't just concentrate on the board either - one senior woman will not make the difference. We need women to be visible to the workforce at all levels on a daily basis to be far more accessible role models.

As International Women's Day approaches it's encouraging that many companies are now showing real drive to 'Make it Happen', the tagline for this year's activity, and seriously addressing gender equality. And it's not just women who are doing this. The UN Women's "He for She" initiative makes clear that this issue is one for us all and my experience certainly backs this up.

First and foremost this is because diversity is a business issue. There is no shortage of research showing the positive correlation between a diverse workforce and business performance. In the area of technology, digital transformation of companies is all about meeting the needs of their customers and how could you do this if you don't understand the needs of a diverse population?

Secondly, and actually a question I am asked most frequently by senior men in the industry, is that everyone has ambitions for their children. Many people ask me how to support their daughters into a career. It's anecdotal, but I see this as a sign of progress.

Hopefully this year's International Women's Day will not only act as a spur to prevent complacency but also be a chance to change perceptions and encourage more women to look carefully at an industry they may not have considered before.


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