What Geena Davis can teach the IT industry

This is a guest blog by Eileen O’Mara, vice president sales EMEA at salesforce.com.

This year’s shortlist for the ComputerWeekly Top 50 Most Influential Women in IT is more impressive than ever, and seeing the achievements of so many interesting and successful women in technology laid out before me got me thinking about Geena Davis and her See Jane campaign.

I realised I was looking at a list of the UK’s most intelligent, powerful businesswomen from every type of technology company. Their outstanding achievements will be celebrated through the rankings – clearly, great strides are being made to improve the opportunities for young girls and women alike within the IT industry.

But although it’s a great step forward, it’s still only just the beginning.  

At present, there are just over five men for every one woman studying computing in the UK. And this number is the lowest that it’s been in years. This means – sadly – that the UK economy is missing out on significant opportunities for growth, innovation and success.  One recent report predicted that increasing the number of women working in IT could generate an extra £2.6 billion a year for the UK economy.

The reason why Salesforce sponsors and participates in these programmes is to help drive interest for women of all ages to choose careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and start making positive strides to turn back this tide. We need to do as much as we can to recognise the achievements of female IT executives in the UK and Ireland.

But we need to do more than just sponsor – and attend – awards ceremonies, even though they have a massively important role to play of course.

A recent interview with Geena Davis in McKinsey Quarterly looks at the potential impact of the lack of girls in family films. The ratio of male to female characters is 3:1, the same as it’s been since 1946. Davis argues that it’s probably not a coincidence that in many segments of society–including on boards, in politics, and even in IT companies – the percentage of women stalls out at around 17 percent, given that we condition young children to see that kind of number as the norm.

It’s important therefore that we make the issue of women in IT not just about women. So many of the hurdles we face actually come from social and cultural norms that both men and women propagate. That means getting men educated and involved in the debate as much as women. Next year I hope to see even greater male participation and interest in the Top 50 Most Influential Women in IT event. 

We must do more to showcase the impact and potential for women in IT. Geena Davis talks about how easily and quickly children incorporate what they see into an understanding of the role of men and women in society. At Salesforce, we like to say that you can’t be what you can’t see – that young girls really need to see and hear from mentors and successful women to know and understand what we can achieve, in the IT industry and beyond.  

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