Changes in attitudes needed to drive gender diversity

FDM Group event calls for a change in attitudes towards women and flexible working

Attitudes towards flexible working, for both men and women, need to change in order to drive gender diversity, was the general opinion shared at an FDM Group women in IT event today.

Women from the technology industry gathered at Glazier Hall, London Bridge, to hear a panel of speakers share their views and experiences of being a female in the tech sector.  

Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer (COO) at FDM Group, who chaired The G Factor: Driving change through leadership session opened by saying women enter the technology workforce at the same rate to men; however there is a higher dropout rate for women: “Diversity in teams leads to more innovation.”

One of the speakers Belinda Parmar, chief executive of Lady Geek, added that 40% more females leave the industry after 10 years compared with their male counterparts.

Lyn Grobler, vice-president and chief information officer (CIO) functions at BP, said role models and company ambassadors at middle management and higher can help change such attitudes: “The attitude is generally that if you’re not in the office, what are you doing? However, at BP we have agile working and we are looking into implementing role models to start working in this way.”

Grobler said roles models will help other employees see that it is acceptable to work in a more flexible way, if needed: “The attitude at present is if you’re not there full time then you’re not serious about your career.”

Christina Scott, CIO at the Financial Times, said working part-time can sometimes be harder than working full-time, as a five-day week needs to be fitted into three days: “Not working in the office full time does not mean that you are less serious about your career, it means that you’re just trying to get the balance right for you.”

Angela Morrison, CIO at Direct Line Group agreed by giving the example of a female manager at Direct Line Group that does not work on Fridays: “She works harder than any of the other managers, because she over-compensates for not coming in.”

Middle Management

Morrison pointed out that many women make it to middle management and choose not to go any further, due to a fear of “losing control.”

“Some don’t want to step up, because they think they can’t pack up and go home when they want if they have family commitments at home,” she added.

Flavell said that women are not just meant for middle management, but can break into higher positions: “How can we unblock the pipeline for women? How do we retain the outstanding women we currently have in place? By making sure that we mentor and nurture them throughout their careers.”

Morrison said a change in opinions and attitudes is needed throughout the industry: “More need to express the opinion that it is okay to go home at 4:30pm if you need to. But currently it is generally frowned upon.”

Parmar agreed by saying: “As an employer, I don’t mind being flexible if a mum wants to go home at 4:30pm, but I expect mums to be flexible too. Go home early if you need, but be back online at 8:30pm when the kids are in bed.”

Scott said she had not had the confidence to go for her current position, but the recruitment consultant pushed her forward for the role. “When I saw the job spec, I thought I’m not going for that role," she says. "However, the recruitment consultant told me different. A common female trait is a lack of confidence and I think more recruiters should push more women to go for higher roles that they assume they are not good enough for.”

We don’t recruit young ladies in the engineering division

The few women that do make it into the technology arena “feel like lone wolves” according to Parmar.

“When women get there they are not made to feel welcome,” she said.  

Parmar drew attention to a letter from the BBC in 1969 which was informing an aspiring female engineer that the division does not take females. The letter read:

“Dear Madam, thank you for your letter of 15 September. I regret to inform you that we don’t recruit young ladies in the engineering division. I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful, but I should like to thank you for your interest. Yours faithfully, the engineering recruitment officer.”

Morrison said she had the pleasure of receiving a similar letter from the BBC in the 1980s: “My now-husband and I applied for the same placement and while he got an eight week placement, I received a letter saying they didn’t take young ladies.”

Addressing the issue of the ‘glass ceiling’ she questioned: “What stops women? Their families. I couldn’t do what I do without the help of my husband – he is my rock. He takes the kids to school, goes to parents evening, etc. If you have a family something has to give and children need someone at home whether that is mum or dad.

“The way we do things is a choice we have made for us. Mums want to be full-time mums for a reason and they should always have that choice if they want it. But this means there will always be an imbalance as you can’t be a full time mum and focus on your career.”

Shatter the image of the male IT geek

Parmar stressed that we need to “shatter the image problem” with those that choose to work in technology.

She noted that 14% of the technology industry is made up of females and that is declining by 0.5% a year. However, Facebook’s biggest consumers are women over the age of 55.

“We need to get rid of the stereotypical male image of a pizza-guzzling nerd that can’t get a girlfriend and has never seen sunlight,” said Parmar.

She gave details of a project that she worked on recently, where children in a school were asked to draw a picture of a technologist: “Every single child drew a man.”

Parmar said the gender divide in technology starts from a young age in the different ways in which parents and schools treat girls compared with boys. 

“Little miss geek is pre-destined to think that technology is not for her,” she said.

Read more on IT technical skills