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Women in “a position of power” in IT industry, says BBC panel

Women looking to make the move to the IT industry have the upper hand, according to a panel discussion at the BBC

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Women with IT skills should be taking advantage of opportunities in the IT industry due to their high demand, said a panel at the BBC Women in Technology Conference on 25 September 2015.

Panel members discussed diversity in IT teams and the advantages for businesses of having more women in technical roles.

“Women are in a good position, a position of power,” said panellist Vicky Brock, CEO of retail technology firm Clear Returns.

The panel discussed the lack of women in some technical teams, claiming that when so few women are in a male environment, they can become aggressive towards each other because they try to act like the men.

“You see a bunch of men around the table and you think that’s what leadership looks like. We are the ones creating the environment and the culture of the group,” said Julia Whitney, general manager for BBC user experience and design.

Just by being injected into a team and thinking differently, women or staff from under-represented groups can have an impact on ideas, productivity and ultimately profit.

“The most important strength women can bring to the workplace is just being a woman in the workplace. I don’t want to be treated differently as a woman, but we do need to raise awareness about diversity,” said Whitney.

Raising workplace diversity

However, as the group pointed out, increasing diversity in organisations is not just about injecting more women.

Tunde Ogungbesan, head of diversity and inclusion at the BBC, stated many women who enter a male-dominated organisation are still judged by male qualities rather than their individual skills, which is a culture that needs to change.

“What got us to where we are today isn’t going to get us to where we want to be. It’s one thing to get you into an organisation, it’s another to stay,” said Ogungbesan.

He explained that he aims to introduce a diversity strategy in the next three months at the BBC, which will use recruitment targets to ensure women and under-represented groups are on shortlists for jobs, with the hope that those looking for staff will cast the net wider to find skilled workers.

“We’re not talking about positive discrimination here, but we’re saying you haven’t looked hard enough if all the people you’ve brought to that interview are the same,” said Ogungbesan.

BBC Click presenter and technology journalist Kate Russell, explained that although there are approaches being taken to teach children technological skills, there is still a lack of role models for young girls considering tech careers.

“There aren’t enough people doing my role who are female at the moment. Young girls need solid role models they can see in the context of the real world,” said Russell.

Filling the skills gap

The panel argued that too much emphasis is being put on learning to code, as opposed to filling upcoming gaps in the technology industry in skills such as digital and cyber security.

“When I was at school, I wasn’t given the opportunity to learn about technology. We need to redefine how we view digital skills,” said Russell.

Brock argued there should be a focus on age diversity, as well as promoting skills earlier in the pipeline, as underused talent already exists.

The panel said we should “work with the talent we already have”, giving more opportunities to people who have left work on maternity leave, for example, who will already have workplace and technology skills.

“Having people who understand how families and technology work and how young people are consuming our content, we are making experiences that are better,” said Grace Boswood, chief operating officer (COO) of BBC digital and engineering.

“That is what modern workplaces are like,” she added.

According to Boswood, men are treated differently in the workplace and it’s difficult to change expectations of how they should be treated.

She said that women who are already at boardroom level should be using their position to make sure diversity is on the agenda.

To address age diversity and getting women back into the workplace, the panel discussed returnship programmes, with Boswood saying they are something the BBC might consider in the future.

An emphasis was put on current efforts being made by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to run return-to-work schemes to help use talent currently out of work.

“At the moment, the UK government is really aware of the deficit of IT staff in the future. One of its core goals is to try to plug that gap and get women returners back into the technology sector,” said Russell.

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