February 2012 Archives

Get Shirley

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This is a guest post by Sarah Burnett, research director for public sector BPO at analyst NelsonHall.

IT employment market data indicates a shortage of professionals to fill advertised vacancies. It was in similar circumstances that Steve Shirley set up one of the most successful IT services businesses in the UK, staffed almost entirely by women returners working part-time. The time has come for organisations to revisit the very flexible working model that Shirley pioneered.

Stephanie "Steve" Shirley, is a truly remarkable lady. She arrived in England as a child refugee from Nazi Germany and was brought up by foster parents. From such tough beginnings she went on to become one of the most innovative employers in the industry the likes of whom we have not seen since.

In the 1960s, Shirley set up a company called F International which allowed women returners to work the hours and the pattern that suited them. F International later became FI Group and later Xansa which was acquired by Steria in 2007 for a handsome sum of £472m. The success of the company shows that innovation in employment policy can deliver huge benefits. It is a question of timing and adapting. The bursting of the dot com bubble in the 1990s changed the market dynamics. Demand for part-time workers dropped and Shirley's company changed the emphasis of its employment policy.

There is a shortage of skills again today. Recent estimates from e-Skills UK indicate a gap of around 12% between the number of IT jobs advertised and professionals looking for jobs. The gap is likely to increase as the economy recovers. The time is right for companies to rethink their recruitment and employment policies to attract skilled women back into work, to fill some of those vacancies.

Some employers would baulk at the thought of having to manage women returners' different work patterns. Others might be inspired by the success of Steve Shirley to think of different models that maximise the use of part time workers but in the modern age.

How can we get more female representation on company boards?

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A guest blog from Maggie Berry, managing director of WomeninTechnology.co.uk.


Nobody likes being told what to do, and big corporations are no different. So what will happen if the Prime Minister goes ahead and brings in laws to force companies to have more female board members?


During a speech at an event in Sweden, a country with a high proportion of female board members, Mr Cameron said he was not in favour of quotas to tackle the lack of female representation, but he will consider it if companies do not take action. He pointed out that there was overwhelming evidence that companies are run better when men and women work alongside each other.


At present, just 15% of the directors at major companies in the UK are women. In Sweden, women hold a quarter of board positions, and in Norway the percentage is even higher at 40%.


Mr Cameron went on to point out that although female board representation has increased slightly over the last couple of years, the rate needs to accelerate so that women make up at least 30% of board members. That's where quotas could play a part and they should not be ruled out as a last resort. The Prime Minister also suggested that setting targets, rather than quotas, could be the first step - an initiative I certainly favour over quotas.


A government commissioned report last year said quotas should be imposed if companies do not increase female representation on their boards to at least one in four by 2015.


Helena Morrissey, a City fund manager who was accompanying the PM on his trip, told delegates at the Northern Future Forum summit that quotas could backfire. Women would find it difficult to feel they were an equal member of the board if they thought they were only there to satisfy the quota.


Mrs Morrissey, a mother of nine children, does have a valid point. Surely people should be appointed to the board through merit, not solely to make up the numbers.


What's the solution? How can we increase the number of women on our boards without resorting to quotas and targets?

Plain speaking about quotas for women directors

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This is a guest post by Sarah Burnett, research director for public sector BPO at analyst NelsonHall.

The subject of quotas for women on company boards has been in the news again. It follows recent publication of figures by Norman Broadbent, the recruitment company, which show women make up only 14.9% of company board members. The figure for the technology sector is slightly better, roughly between 15% and 17%. These figures lay bare the scale of gender imbalance that is typical of the British company board. Yet media coverage of the subject tends to skirt around the real career challenges that women face.

There are a number of issues that have to be discussed openly if we are ever to get to the bottom of the problem. And discuss we must as the alternative is the dire picture that was painted by a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) report in 2011. The report titled Women on Boards estimated that at the current rate of change it will take over 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK. The same report also noted the high level of female attrition from the UK workforce. It states that, "Male and female graduate entry into the workforce is relatively equal. This equality is maintained at junior management positions but then suffers a marked drop at senior management levels".

As a working mother, I can hazard a couple of guesses as to the reasons: first, women who start a family face difficult choices when balancing the demands of a high-pressure job and the needs of their children. In reality, working mums have to become masters of operational excellence, organising two sets of processes that run in parallel every day: one set of operations structured around the home to take care of the needs of their children, and another in the office to handle their responsibilities at work. Although separate, these operations can affect each other dramatically should an unexpected event occur, such as a child falling sick or a system crash creating extra hours of work. Flexibility and support provided by the employer is essential if women are to be able to continue to work.

Second, those who take a career break to look after their young children find it hard to get back into work let alone at the same level of seniority as before. They have to rebuild their careers, often having to start again on a lower rung of the career ladder. Gaining lost ground is not easy in the competitive jobs market and male colleagues who have not taken a career break have a huge advantage.

If the government really wants to see more women board members, it must look into how to make it easier for women returners to regain senior roles after a career break of three or four years. It must consider how to create an employment market that looks more favourably on part-time posts or job-share at senior management levels. The government often quotes Norway's success at achieving broader gender equality in its boardrooms. Norway also happens to have employment laws that foster work-life balance. As far back as 2007 half of Norway's workforce was able to work flexibly.

There are other issues too. Take the example of technology companies. Their boards are often dominated by sales people who have generated huge revenues for their companies. These people have worked all hours to further their careers, often at the expense of family time. For women with children it would take more than the company's 9-to-5 day care nursery to enable them to work the long hours that are usually expected of such upwardly mobile managers. In reality, this is an issue that the government's quota system is unlikely to be able to address even if a huge amount of effort went into implementing it. The culture that favours people working long hours at the expense of their work-life balance runs deep. It will take a long while to do anything about it and the current sluggish economy is not conducive to change.

Announcing the finalists in the 2012 Everywoman in Technology Awards

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Computing Weekly is once more supporting the annual Everywoman in Technology Awards to recognise the achievements of women in IT.

As readers of this blog will be aware, the proportion of women working in IT in the UK is shockingly low, and continues to decline - although 47% of the total UK workforce is female, only 18% of IT professionals are women, down from 22% in 2001. With growing skills shortages and the need for new blood to ensure the UK technology community can support the demands of business and government, encouraging more women into the profession is essential.

So it is with pleasure that we can publish the shortlists announced this week for the Everywoman in Technology Awards for 2012.

Maxine Benson, co-founder of everywoman says: "These women are shining examples of the diverse and rewarding opportunities that are available within the IT sector. It is a common misconception that senior roles within technology are an exclusively male domain, but these hugely enthusiastic and energetic women dispel this myth, showing how talent can take you to the top. Despite the current challenges facing the UK economy, technology is a growth area, and encouraging more inspirational women like these to pursue a career within the industry can only aid this positive growth potential."

Congratulations to all the shortlisted candidates - the winners will be announced at the awards lunch on 29 March at The Savoy in London.

The finalists in the 2012 everywoman in Technology Awards are:

Rising Star of the Year - Sponsored by BP

  • Orla Baker, NTP Head Office Data Programme Manager, Accenture from London
  • Kim Cooper, Senior IT Consultant - Business Analyst, IBM from London
    Laura Earle, Executive Communications Manager, Services, EMEA & Russia, Cisco from London
  • Maria Navrotskaya, Information & Decision Solutions Manager, EMEA Financial Projects, Procter & Gamble UK from Newcastle Upon Tyne

Team Leader of the Year in an SME (with under 500 employees)

  • Kirstin Duffield, CEO, Morning Data Limited from Dorchester
  • Jules Howard-Wright, Broadcast Project Director, Digital UK from London
  • Poonam Joshi, Head of Advertising Operations, Gumtree.com from London
  • Pam Maynard, General Manager, UK & Ireland, Avanade from London

Leader of the Year in a corporate organisation (with over 500 employees)

  • Sheila Flavell, Chief Operating Officer, FDM Group from Brighton
  • Tracey Foster, Manufacturing Director- Peterlee, PepsiCo UK & Ireland from Peterlee
  • Alix Pryde , Director of Distribution, BBC from London
  • Emer Timmons, President, BT Global Services, UK, BT from London

Innovator of the Year - Sponsored by Cisco

  • Mandy Chessell, IBM Distinguished Engineer, Master Inventor, Chief Architect for InfoSphere Solutions, IBM from Hampshire
  • Polly Gowers, Founder and CEO, Everyclick Ltd, Worcestershire
  • Cyndi Mitchell, Managing Director, ThoughtWorks from London
  • Jo Reid, Creative Director, Calvium Ltd from Bristol

Entrepreneur of the Year

  • Nathalie Gaveau, CEO, Shopcade from London
  • Olga Kubassova, Founder and CEO, Image Analysis Ltd from Leeds
  • Vin Murria, Chief Executive Officer, Advanced Computer Software Group plc from London

Inspiration of the Year

  • Gillian Arnold, Director, Tectre from Huddersfield
  • Hazel Moore, Chairman and Co-founder, FirstCapital Corporation Ltd from London
  • Sheryl Newman, Operations Director, Appetite for Learning from Aberdeen
  • Pat Ryan, CEO, Information Technology for Children in Hospital from Bletchley

Click here for more information on the Everywoman in Technology Awards.

Debunking stereotypes in decision-making

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Erica Driver, QlikTech-1.jpg

Erica Driver, strategist at QlikTech, argues that the creative right brain way of thinking stereotypically associated with women can be an advantage in business

Have you ever been called a right-brain thinker? If so, creativity, innovation and the ability to view situations as a whole may be some of the skills you pride yourself on. Male or female, young or old, we all like to have faith in our own way of thinking, but women are often expected to embody the right-brain characteristics listed above, especially when it comes to business. So why is this? And more importantly, how can women revert from this stereotype and expand their potential?

The theory of a right and left side of the brain was developed by Roger W. Sperry following his work with epilepsy sufferers. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981, Sperry found that by dividing the brain's two hemispheres, communication pathways could be altered. Patients suddenly found themselves unable to recall the names of objects processed by the right hand side, suggesting language was controlled by the left hand side. Further research has since shown the right is linked to expression and emotion. It controls reactions to music, colour and image, values inherent in females and associated with artistry and intuition. The left side is more adept at tasks involving logic, language and analysis. Calculation, reasoning and critical thinking are often features described as naturally male.

The part of the software industry I work in is business intelligence (BI). It focuses on helping people derive insights and make better business decisions based on data. When I usually start to talk about my job, most people instinctively think about activities associated with the left-brain such as analysis, calculations and logic. But not all business problems can be solved with numbers alone. It takes a certain kind of mind to be able to find the meaning in black and white rows and columns of numbers.

With an increased focus on data visualisation, collaboration and social capabilities in business and BI, the way many of us are finding meaning in data is changing. Right-brain capabilities make it easier to identify relationships and patterns, connect the dots and predict consequences, all while leveraging reason and objectivity.

Computer Weekly is supporting

CWT everywoman in Technology Awards


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This page is an archive of entries from February 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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