Do we still need International Women's Day?

This is a guest blog from Christine Hodgson, chairman of Capgemini UK

Christine Hodgson for witsend.jpgToday we will mark International Women’s Day across the 40 countries in which Capgemini operates, and will continue to do so until we have a better gender balance in our workforce.


While there are many aspects to gender discrimination, workplace attitudes affect almost all of us in the UK. I’ve been lucky enough to pursue my career in a country and sector where I’ve seldom felt discrimination, but we are still a long way from equality.


Equality shouldn’t equate to even proportions in every field, my own experience of accountancy teaches me that the numbers are rarely 50/50, and if they are then there is likely a partisan factor at play. Equality is about an assessment of an individual’s skills, not just by the assessor but also by the candidate. Until women believe they have a fair chance in all careers we will continue to need to highlight gender equality as an issue.


In my own company, our IT apprenticeship schemes are expanding rapidly but, despite our best efforts, the proportion of female applicants for IT focused roles is far smaller than for other positions such as in consultancy. From all the evidence I have seen, and conversations I have had, other big recruiters of ICT talent see the same imbalance from apprenticeship to senior levels when it comes to pure-play IT roles.


The ICT industry is starved of female talent because of two prime factors; perception and persistence. A poor perception of ICT means that young women are reluctant to study related subjects in schools and universities, and those at the point of employment with the right skills are turned off to the sector and are taking their talent elsewhere. Secondly we have too few women persisting in ICT to reach the highest levels. While, we have long pointed the finger at the “glass ceiling” holding women back, we also need to recognise that many women wish to pause their careers to start a family and the demands of work are such, that trying to balance work and parenting are often difficult


We must be clear that making the choice to pause, does not reflect on an individual’s commitment to their career, nor affect their ability once they choose to re-enter the workplace. Too often I see highly talented women believing they need to compromise on less demanding roles for fear that their employers will question their commitment or ability to carry out their duties now that they are mothers.


And why must working mothers be portrayed as “super” mums for juggling both children and career any more than our partners? It is unspoken discrimination such as this that we must tackle through open and honest dialogue on talent management and working practices across the industry. We must ensure promotions are based on a fair assessment of the actual, rather than perceived, ability of a candidate to carry out the work.

We need as an industry and a nation to ask ourselves the question of why, despite girls outperforming boys in IT-related subjects at 16+ (ICT, maths, physics), there is then an alarming dropout rate at A-level and university stages? The stock answer to this, and to qualified women turning away from ICT, is that IT is perceived as a male preserve and that women may encounter resistance in pursuing careers in this field.

The numerous success stories of women reaching the top both in the IT services sector and in industry disprove this notion and I am pleased to work alongside many prominent female CIOs and CEOs. Challenging ingrained perceptions will take time, and must start from the bottom up, by promoting IT careers to schoolgirls. Campaigns such as Girls in IT from e-skills UK, are an excellent example of this in action.

International Women’s Day should not be about quotas, which lead to resentment and inappropriate reward, but instead about unceasing promotion of fair talent management. As an industry we must access the full pool of talent available, regardless of gender.

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