To every male IT leader - it is your responsibility to get more women into IT

Congratulations to the 25 most influential women in UK IT – our annual list was announced yesterday, and it contains some amazing, high-achieving individuals (who happen to be women).

The event at which we announced the list – attended this year by 120 of the most senior and successful women in UK IT, every one a role model in their own right – is a fantastic afternoon. It has an atmosphere and an energy entirely different to the male-dominated, men-in-suits events that are so commonplace in technology.

But with only 16% of the UK IT profession being female – a statistic that continues to shame the industry – it is all too difficult to get a more balanced and diverse set of delegates to most IT conferences.

After last year’s event, I wrote a post on this blog with 10 things that men need to do to help get more women into IT. There’s a growing realisation that no amount of women in IT networking events or female role models or encouraging girls at school to consider a career in IT, will change the status quo.

The only way to make a change is if the men in IT make it happen – and that was the theme of this year’s event.

We heard from three male IT leaders – James Evans, director of IT strategy and enterprise architecture at BP; James Robbins, CIO at Northumbrian Water; and Kevin Gallagher, CIO of Channel 4 – each of whom has positively targeted a more diverse workforce in their IT teams. Every one of them talked about the benefits that more female representation has brought to their organisations – the diverse set of skills that add to and complement those of their male colleagues.

But those three are sadly rare exceptions. It is all too common to hear male IT leaders say, “Of course I understand why there should be more women in IT, but at the end of the day, does it really matter? I have a great team, does it matter that they are nearly all men?”

It’s an easy statement to make, and one that reflects the unconscious bias present to varying degrees in us all.

But it does matter.

We have a large and growing skills shortage that is the biggest single threat to the future success of the UK’s digital economy. We will not fill that gap with men alone – and nor should we want to.

Some of our speakers talked about the fact that women now influence the majority of consumer technology purchases – laptops, smartphones, tablets – yet remain vastly under-represented in the companies that design, manufacture and sell those products. Our event sponsor, Microsoft, talked about the efforts it is making to redress that balance internally.

The digital revolution is not gender specific – digital technology is changing the way all of us live and work. But digital cannot deliver its full potential if it is specified, designed, built, managed and supported by a professional group that reflects the characteristics of only half the population.

James Evans from BP said that one of the keys to the energy giant’s successful diversity policy was the commitment from the very top of the company.

That same principle applies to IT. To every CIO or IT leader who has responsibility for recruitment, talent management, skills, or staff promotions – the reason it matters is because you have to set the example.

It will be hard work – it will make recruitment harder, for example, but how will recruitment agencies change unless you tell them you want a quota for CVs from women?

It has to start from somewhere. Male IT leaders – it is time you took the lead. No more excuses.

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