There is only one solution to the issue of 'women in IT' - it's men in IT

This time last year, after Computer Weekly announced the first of our now-annual list of the 25 most influential women in IT, I wrote in this blog about why we don’t want to have to write about the issue of women in IT anymore.

Simply put, if we had a workforce in IT that reflected the diversity of the audience that the IT industry seeks to serve, we would no longer need to. And as long as that remains a failing, it’s an issue we will continue to highlight, and we will continue to recognise the female role models who are at the forefront of making a change.

This year’s list of those women is a reflection of that goal.

Fifteen years ago we were writing about how it was an embarrassment for the tech sector to have less than 20% of its workforce female. Today, that figure has still not changed.

So there is clearly a bigger problem to be tackled, and it is this: What to do about the men in IT.

Men remain the primary decision-makers in IT recruitment and career development. And while many of those men will genuinely express their hope to see more women in the technology workplace, very few actually do anything about it.

As a male-dominated profession, it is only really the men who can change things. Successful, talented women will always do well – but they are too much of an exception to be able to make a difference across the whole sector. They can – and do – change the situation when they can. But to effect widespread change – sorry guys, that’s entirely up to you.

To reiterate an important point – this is not about recruiting women for the sake of recruiting women. It is simply unsustainable for the UK technology scene to take its rightful place in the economy without the broadest range of skills available, and the diversity that demands.

What will it take for men to take the issue of “women in IT” seriously? That’s a tough one to answer – and we would be very keen to hear from anyone who has any suggestions. Nobody has found the solution yet.

Our challenge at Computer Weekly is to make our event next year to celebrate the most influential women in UK IT one that appeals equally to men and women, with an audience that reflects the diversity we all hope to see in future.

But meanwhile – to all men in IT: the lack of women in IT is your problem to solve. Only you can bring about the change needed.

Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

Genuine question.

What are those changes that are needed?

I fully agree with the principles, arguments and reasons - BUT from my position the only option I seem to have available is to employee ( or encourage employment of women ).
That again is fine - but when no women apply for publicly and agency advertised jobs it is hard to know what to do to help.
I am not talking 2nd or 3rd rounds of the employment process - I literally mean getting no CV's from women.

I am fairly sure that it is not the agencies themselves as my general experience is that they focus on "sending you anything" - often not even screening for skills you requested.

It may be different within different parts of the industry - however in my experience I have been aware of several occasions where even positive discrimination would be impossible because literally 0 women submitted CV's/Applications.

So in all seriousness - what should the rest of the men in IT do to help?

I fully agree that this is something ALL men in IT need to change this problem - BUT there must me some men ( and women ) in better positions to change things than others.

I would love to do something to help - but what?

You make a REALLY good point there "Asdasd".

I often hear CIOs saying they want to recruit more women but don't get any CVs. The agencies do have a lot to answer for there, in many cases.

But the counter to this is the number of men who get jobs through who they know - friends of friends and so on - where there is no public recruitment process. Men in IT tend to have networks composed - inevitably - of mainly other men in IT.

If there's one thing you can do, it's to look for opportunities to build your personal network by making more female contacts. The more men that attend events that women go to, the more opportunities there will be to meet women who could be potential future employees.

Also, think about how you are advertising for jobs - does the wording of the skills profile or person specification contain anything that might put women off from applying? Do you promote female-friendly elements when advertising jobs - such as flexible working, childcare vouchers or maternity conditions? What about special training for women returning to work after taking time out for children?

There is a wider problem of getting more young women into IT in the first place - through schools, universities and apprenticeships. Even here there are ways men can help - although it requires rather more altruism than practical recruitment processes.

What can men do to promote IT as a great place to work for both genders? For example, if you ever take work experience placements from schools, stipulate that you want an equal number of girls, so they can get an idea of what working in IT is really like.

And think also of what work those girls might enjoy - the boys might like server rooms and practical things like plugging cables and so forth. The girls might like more creative tasks - what can they learn about project management, or business analysis, or requirements gathering, or rudimentary coding?

If all that men in IT do, is what they have always done - then nothing will change. You will keep on getting zero CVs from women. It needs men to change their own behaviour, and the way they manage, recruit and retain their teams, so that men's behaviours are more female-friendly.

It's not about positive discrimination or only targeting women - it's about working in a way that makes the opportunities the same for men and women.

Don't recruit a woman just because she's a woman - and don't recruit a man just because he's a man. Recruit the best person for the job.

But unless men in IT change their habits to allow them to assess a more diverse selection of candidates - and help ensure they have a more diverse selection of candidates to choose from - then nothing will ever be different.

It's not easy - it requires change from a lot of men who don't feel they need to change. But everyone - including men in IT - will ultimately benefit.

Thanks for your comments.

One more thing to add to that Bryan (and it's already quite a good list!) is BE A MENTOR. I think you hinted at it above but the more that men can reach out and help someone earlier in their career, the more likely those up-and-coming will be to succeed. I think this is particularly true for women because, as you hinted, we don't have the access to the "old boys" networks that guys do.
Thanks for the post.
There is an important action that men can take outside the workplace.

Bring your daughters up to be technically literate. Teach them about the wonders of science, engineering, mathematics, IT.

I was only two years old when I asked my father, "What's an atom bomb?" and he explained some basics of nuclear physics. I don't remember the incident, but I am told that I toddled away quite happily, because I had received a serious answer to a serious question.

Make sure that, from a young age, your daughters know that an interest in technology is normal.

Spot on Moira, catch their imaginations while young.

As Bryan said in the last reply there is an education issue here too.

While it was a long time ago, I taught ICT in a secondary school (All Boys school). It was a comprehensive syllabus, the local girls college down the road did not have computing as a subject available. We made as many places available as we possibly could but only a handful of students elected this option, from GCSE level up. I believe this is not uncommon today.

ICT at junior school is widely available but numbers drop of until the intake for universities shows very similar numbers from 10 years ago. The encouragement doesn't seem to be there in early education leaving us with the same gender gap at university based primarily around subjects, as this Guardian article suggests.

It would be interesting to see the statistics around the areas that woman work in within the industry too. I meet very few engineers and programmers, instead most woman I work with in the industry fill management roles and senior management positions, often lateral hires coming from other professions.

It is in need of change, proactive change to encourage more woman into an unfortunately male dominated profession. Our education system can go a long way to help remove the accepted truth that “IT is a blokes subject”