We all know there is a problem getting women into the IT profession. I wrote last week that the only real solution to this problem lies with the men in IT – as the dominant group, the only way to improve the diversity and skills base of the sector is for the men that make most of the decisions to change their ways.
I’ve had a few people say to me since – that’s all well and good, but what can men in IT actually do to make a difference?
So, here are 10 top tips for things that men in IT can do to help attract more women into IT (in no particular order):
Be a mentor for women in IT
Experienced men in positions of influence can help women develop their careers by mentoring them, introducing them to your contact network, and providing coaching. Mentoring women also sends a message out to the rest of your organisation and your network about the importance of sharing your experience and cultivating diversity. It doesn’t have to be mentoring someone who works for you – what about “swapping” with peers at other employers to mentor each other’s female IT staff?
Offer work experience
Many firms already offer work experience for school or university students, but few will actively seek female candidates. It’s not about positive discrimination either – just make the effort to offer placements to girls as well as boys. It’s a target, not a quota. And when you do, offer the girls experience of work that will interest them and use their skills and capabilities. Don’t stereotype – but be aware that in some situations female students might have different interests, and offer skills in different areas, than men.
Specify a target for CVs from recruitment agencies
It’s easy to blame recruitment agencies when they send CVs through exclusively from men. Those agencies can justifiably point to a lack of women on their books – but that’s a chicken-and-egg situation that allows both sides to maintain the status quo. If you specify to agencies that you want a proportion of CVs from female candidates – 30% might be a good start – that puts pressure on the agencies to do more to sign up potential female recruits.
Review your HR policies
If you want to get more women into the IT workplace, it will mean adapting employment policies to suit. Things like flexible working hours, childcare vouchers, opportunities to work from home, job shares or part-time roles all make a difference. Don’t unconsciously rule women out of a job by making the role so fixed that many will find it difficult to comply.
Offer training for returners to work
Many women in IT take time out for children, and then find it difficult to get back into the workplace because technologies have moved on so fast – different programming languages, new versions of software, enhanced functionality, and so on. Offer schemes for women returning to the workplace to have training or special induction to get them up to speed. It needn’t cost more – a lot of women in such a situation realise they may initially be paid less while they re-acquire the skills and knowledge they need.
Improve your female contact network
So many jobs in business are filled through who you know, before they ever get as far as formal recruitment or agencies. Most senior male IT professionals have established peer networks, and those contacts are inevitably mostly male. Make an effort to increase the number of women in your contact network, and introduce them in turn to your peers. There is no harm in attending some of the many networking events targeted mostly at women – they will welcome men along too. Think how much of a forward-thinking boss you will appear to be by listening to the issues discussed at a mostly female event, and proactively making those sorts of contacts.
Review your skills profiles and person specifications
There’s an unconscious bias when it comes to describing the sort of people and skills you want in your team. We all tend to look for people like us. There are words and phrases that may put women off, without even realising it. Do you want an aggressive, self-starter willing to work long hours and proactively take the lead in managing tasks? Or would an assertive, team player who is able to collaborate with colleagues and focus on delivering the outcomes, achieve the same end? Seek expert help in how best to phrase your requirements to be more gender-neutral – subtle changes can make a big difference.
Speak at schools
There is no particular need, within the expectations of your job as an IT professional / manager, to help promote IT as a career to children, and especially school girls. But think about how much satisfaction and achievement you could gain by doing so. The lack of women in IT starts in school – girls think it is a nerdy subject learnt only by geeky boys. But you can bet all those girls are on their smartphones all day, using Facebook, searching the web, playing with mobile apps and so on. Their interest in the application of technology is there, but they don’t connect that with their career prospects. If you can go into schools and explain to children why IT is a great place to work – and even better, take along some of the female employees you’ve recruited – then it all helps to change those attitudes. Just think – the women you will want to recruit 10 years from now when you’re a CIO are still in school now.
Encourage more female speakers at IT events
Nearly every IT event or conference is the same: A line-up of male speakers, talking to an audience that is 85% men. We’ve been guilty of it too. There are some great female speakers around – Computer Weekly has run events featuring them. If you’re asked to speak at an event, encourage the organisers to find more female speakers. If you’re attending the event, question the organisers if they don’t have women on the agenda to talk. It’s all about doing what you can to challenge the way things have always been.
Encourage your children to consider science and technology
“Pink stinks” as they say – the assumption that girls will only want pink versions of anything that boys like. Challenge assumptions – surely you want that for your children too. If you have daughters, you are in the best position to help them to enjoy science and technology subjects, and to see IT as a career they want to pursue. Society talks about boys following in their father’s footsteps – why not girls too?