Success in IT is male-shaped but we can't give up, says BCSWomen chair

Gillian Arnold used International Women’s Day to urge ladies in Manchester not to give up on driving the message that diversity drives innovation

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“Success in IT is male-shaped but we can't give up and will make it work,” stressed the BCSWomen chair Gillian Arnold on International Women’s Day.

During Manchester Girl Geeks 50th Tea Party event, held at AutoTrader’s Manchester offices on 8 March 2015, Tectre founder Arnold urged females not to give up on driving the message that diversity creates innovation.

She said the IT and telecoms industry was found to be worth £75bn in 2012 and has the potential to generate £47bn more over the next five to seven years.

Arnold added that the industry requirement is to have 129,000 new entrants each year but currently only 17,500 are coming through education routes annually.

The 2014 BCS scorecard revealed there are 1,129,000 people working as IT specialists in the UK, but only 735,000 people are in the IT sector. Furthermore, only one in five were women.

“Organisations with diversity at their highest levels have more financial and innovative success,” said Arnold.

She added that 58% of Fortune 500 CEOs are six-foot-tall or over, yet only 14.5% of the male proper population is of that height.

“Approximately 75% of both men and women have an implicit stereotype in which they more strongly associate women with family than career,” said Arnold.

Equality fix

According to research from McKensy, of the 93% of women who have taken career breaks and intended to get back into work, only 74% managed to do so – and just 40% of these managed to find full-time work.

Arnold said we need to question what made those people accept a lower wage or part-time work.

Read more about women in IT

According to the Harvard Business Review, only 15% of highly qualified women aspire to be in positions of power as opposed to an average of 27% of men.

“Examine your own motivations,” said Arnold. “Check your visibility, know your value, find and use active networks and gain experience externally.

“Take your boss in hand and say what you plan to do in your review for the year, then at the end you can say I did this and this, I met my objectives and more. Our salaries are 23% less than men in this sector, so if you do this you can ask for that pay rise and demonstrate why you deserve it. Ask for  a pay rise annually.”

Arnold said if you feel like you have been “bashing your head against a wall for months and not getting the job you want", try to secure a a board position. "You can gain some amazing external experience that way and it is a route out when you’re ready,” she said.

Arnold advised women to be assertive about their ambitions and be a powerful resource to others.

“Take some risks and get some trusted mentors. If all else fails go somewhere else or find another manager, job or network," she said. “And if all else fails after that, set up your own company.”

Technology & Tiaras 

Also present at the event in Manchester was Rana Tassabehji from the Bradford University School of Management, who discussed a British Academy-funded study called Technology & Tiaras.

The report aimed to find out what it is that facilitates women working in the tech sector and how gender influences technology innovation. 

The study consisted of a cross-country comparison between the UK and France, analysing the cultural and social issues through various focus groups and interviews. It focused on individuals in technical roles such as coders and developers.

Tassabehji said females in the UK had reported problems with male tutors and issues with understanding things when taught by male tutors. However, females working in technology in France painted a different picture.

Men felt that having women present would stablise them more. Women were seen as not allowing things to happen and changing trajectories

Rana Tassabehji, Bradford University School of Management

“Coding in the UK was found to be boring with no variety, so most females moved into project manager roles instead. In France they did not have the opportunities to move into project manager roles, so they stayed in coding for much longer," she said.

According to Tassabehji, the study showed men in the UK had a passion for coding. But there is a mystic surrounding code, she said, which makes it out to be really difficult.

“Like when you go to a garage and they kick your wheels and say you need this and that, making out that things are worse than they actually are,” she said.

The research also suggested that men in the UK believe women lack a passion for coding and are better for communication roles.

“It’s a territorial thing," said Tassabehji. "When women come in, the men move them out to managerial roles. It’s what the women wanted, but the men didn’t think of it that way.”

According to the report, the characteristics of a techie are found in men who have their hobby as their work. It said they are easily offended individuals, have logical and analytical brains, are shy, inquisitive and work in an unhealthy and detached environment with a strong sense of bravado.

No man questioned during the study could name a woman they had worked with or wanted to work with. Many women also struggled to identify more than one woman they had worked with.

The report also looked at what technology would look like if more women worked in technical roles. Interestingly, during the focus group men could not see how there would be a difference in the creation of actual technology. However, in the interviews they said the workplace itself would be more ordered, more balanced, less risks would be taken and there would be fewer failed projects.

“Men felt that having women present would stablise them more. Women were seen as not allowing things to happen and changing trajectories," Tassabehji said. 

On the other hand, women were very clear about the fundamental differences. They mentioned the benefits of co-creation and co-production and said “tech would actually work, for a start”.

Unanimously, all women surveyed said they hated the fact they were discussing gender as an issue and men believed the situation had got worse over the years, with many just accepting it is "just the way it is".

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"Male-shaped" is definitely an accurate term. I think that while it's totally possible for women to be successful in IT, they're still expected to behave more like men. 
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