I often sing the praises of the multi-disciplinary education that I received at the University of Sussex in the early 1990s.
I 'majored' in Social Psychology but was required to take extra courses based on the focus of the faculty that offered the degree. In one of these units I read a sentence that left a lasting impression on me. I was initially irritated by the words but subsequently came to realise that it was in fact brave, hopeful and futuristic.
The female writer said something like: "why should we aim for mere equality with men, we can be so much better than that".
I eventually understood this to mean that the way society has been organised (let's face it, mainly by us guys) has left a great deal of room for enhancement; ie, a new female-inspired approach to organising life, society or even the workplace may offer an improved paradigm through which to create the future.
Feminist thinking created a discourse of an alternative. While some women demanded equality and sought to ape male methods in order to gain a share, others called for an improvement of the 'flawed' male structures. So what's this got to do with IT? Well, the feminist call for better may also offer an opportunity to create a new paradigm for workplaces – and perhaps particularly ITSM workplaces.
Firstly, IT is still a male-dominated industry, the male to female ratio is in the region of 8:1 (e-Skills, 2008); and unlike other industries where women have already made considerable fractures in the glass ceiling (e.g. media, publishing, arts) there may still be much scope for gender-driven change. One doesn't have to search too hard to find positions of influence in IT organisations that are held by former sporting and military men: eg ex-karate champion, ex-rugby international and an alumnus of the special forces.
Secondly, technology is no longer the preserve of the male anorak. The internet and mobile devices mean that women are now as enthusiastic about technology use as men. Thus this may reduce cultural barriers to women entering the industry. Finally there is research evidence of gender differences in approaches to work. This could be the alternative that female paradigms might bring to service management leadership.
One worry is that it's too late; that the dream of a better tomorrow through a new feminist paradigm may have faded into a demand for the 'mere equality' that the feminist author spoke disparagingly of. However, recent work (eg Learmonth, 2009), seems to indicate that something about the norms of women still defaults to the creation of alternatives to the masculine status quo.
I find these ideas of feminism exciting in the ITSM context because a differentiated female culture appears to exist and may be immediately available in our workforce. In the coming years this could offer workers a Tom Peters-style, bold-stroke of a change that may lead to a greater prevalence of participatory styles in the ITSM workplace.
This could be a fast track to that culture change that for years many in the industry have been crying out for.
Peter Johnson is a work psychologist and owner of Fairday Research Limited, a company that focuses upon people aspects of IT service management
e-skills UK (2008) Technology Counts - IT & Telecoms Insights 2008. London: e-skills UK. Retrieved July 21, 2009, from the e-skills UK web site: http://www.e-skills.com/Research-and-policy/Insights-2008/2179
Learmonth, M. (2009). 'Girls' working together without 'teams': How to avoid the colonisation of management language. Human Relations, 62, 1887-1906
This was first published in November 2010