What the most influential women in IT had to say

Recently Computer Weekly held its Most Influential Women in UK IT event, which attracted over 90 women to the Doubletree Hilton hotel in London.

The event included several charismatic female speakers who discussed their experiences, within the industry, and the role that women play in IT.

Denise McDonough, IT director, Home Office, director of G-Cloud programme said her moving into IT was ‘not by design, but by ‘happenstance.’ She said more females need to be encouraged into making a move into the industry out of choice, instead of by chance, because they can envision a viable career route for themselves.

“Once we get people in, there is no biasness in women being able to race to the top,” she said.

Baroness Pauline Neville Jones, former UK government cyber security chief supported this by asking: “Where are all the graduates? They are not being produced, both male and female.”

“There is not a well mark career path. Instead IT is considered as a dull job instead of young people realising that it can be a route up to serious management responsibilities.”

The benefits of having more women in the tech department

McDonough said women bring a different skills set to men both in business and in their personal lives: “Organisation, communication – these are skills that women deploy every day.”

Jennifer Rigby, CIO, department of energy and climate change agreed and mentioned a survey which highlighted skills that are normally more likely to be seen in women. These included: The ability to be in someone else shoes, empathy, persuasive, attentive, collaborative, less competitive and fairness.

Another woman who said she has always had a passion for technology, but started out her career elsewhere was Sarah Winmill, director, IT support services, University College London. Winmill said she start out as a musician before taking care of ticket sales as various London locations including several Royal Palaces. She pointed out the fact that the youth of today are native users of technology, and that the majority of social networkers are women, however still the industry is regarded as an unattractive place for a young female.

Winmill drew attention to the fact that the industry does not always arrange events, with women in mind. Places she had been invited to include football and cricket grounds, as she joked: “They never hold events for afternoon tea.” Furthermore most tradeshows focus their competition prizes around driving cars or planes: “They never offer a cake decorating experience.” She also mentioned the ‘Battle of the Booth Babes’ at InfoSec 2010 and 2011.

Regardless of gender Winmill feels we should: “Just get on with technology and do the things we can do with it.”

As with Winmill, stereotyping genders was raised by Fiona Capstick, vice president of Blue Harmony IBM who said when she started out her career as a computer operator management would only allow one girl working per shift: “Because more than one woman can’t work together, because we chat,” she said sarcastically.

The importance of role models

Carrrie Hartnell, associate director at Intellect admitted to loving technology and everything about having a technical career, however said this is not discussed enough. According to Hartnell this means young girls do not know the full potential of working within IT: “We need to get to parents and teachers and make them children’s roles models. We need to get them at the age where they start to consider their careers, and get them excited and passionate about the idea.”

India Gary Martin, managing director of investment banking technology and operations at JP Morgan, addressed the room by saying those present should start to look upon themselves as roles models, to encourage other females alike: “When I was first asked about a mentoring role, I thought I don’t know if I’m ready for that. But when I thought about it, it’s something you do without realising. You are all roles models to females every day. The statistics are painful, but we are here.”

Sue Black, creator of the Save Bletchley Park Campaign and The <go to> Foundation said many girls do not know of any females role models that they can look up to within technology. For example Stephanie (Steve) Shirley, who in 1962 set up the software company F.I. Group and later sold the company for £150 million. Another example Black gave was Dina St Johnston, who set up the first software house called Vaughan Programming Services.

Catherine Doran, CIO, Royal Mail said to ensure we do not miss another generation, the women present at the event should remember that they are role models: “We should go into schools and tell them what our jobs are about. Explain that it’s not about boring things like spanners.”

Elizabeth Sparrow, former BCS president shared some interesting research, which showed the range of jobs available within the IT industry. However, women only outnumbered men in database assistant/clerks roles. She mentioned one her favourite quotes: “Women who seek to be equal to men, lack ambition.”

The day also recognised the most influential role models and the top 25 most influential women in IT. Find out who came in pole position and view the full list here.