By targeting women you also get more productive men

I have just read the latest entry on WITSEND but my attempt to post a comment failed. The problem Kayleigh Bateman raises regarding accusations of feminism is not new. My prime qualification for helping organise the Women into IT Campaign in the late 1980s (the one that temporarily lifted the ratio of girls applying to do computer science from 12% and falling to 27% and rising) was that no-one could point to me and say, “Well she would say that”.

My core message was “You get a better women for your money because those who make it against all the discrimination are, person for person, more motivated and loyal and you pay less for them.”  It was as provocative and politically incorrect then as it is now. But it worked.  Employers started listening to how they could attract and retain more women. Some even started taking their career progressions more seriously. Others discovered that offering flexible working arrangements also helped retain some of the men they were most scared of losing.

Unfortunately the Foundation that ran the campaign had to be closed down before the trustees became personally liable when DESc slashed funding for mainstream careers advice services, both for schools and for women returners. This led to an overload on the WIT advisory services which industry felt should be funded from their taxes. Employers were happy to pay for events and careers materials but not to make up short-falls caused by government cuts. Plus ca change ….

I particularly remember an academic (now a leading light in the industry) lamenting that she had only 8% girls on her course. She feared wipe-put. She then added that, looking at the men on the course, it was not surprising. The girls come for interview, took one look at the boys on the previous course and went elsewhere.

A core finding from that campaign was that when employers changed their recruitment messages to emphasise the use of IT to benefit users and society they not only got more women applying, they also got a better quality of man. That is if you measured “quality” as avoiding conflict and delivering what users want, to time and budget – instead of spending time winning avoidable contractual or technical fire fights over who was to blame for problems. Unfortunately it was (and still is) those who win such battles, however unnecessary, who tend to get promoted. Hence the poor value for money that users so often get.  

Hence also, in my opinion, the “real” case for getting more women into IT and then promoting them to take charge of critical projects and change programmes – even if, or rather because, they often do IT very differently. Vive la difference.  But then I am not a feminist. I just regard discrimination and the failure to properly exploit the skills and aptitudes of half the human race as bad (as in stupid) business and professional practice.