More women needed in recruitment process, say industry experts

Everywoman roundtable calls for more women to be involved in the recruitment process to improve gender balance in technology

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More women need to be involved in the recruitment process to attract and retain female talent, said industry experts at a recent FDM everywoman roundtable discussion.

The roundtable took place on the morning of the recent FDM everywoman in Technology Awards.

Jo-Ann Feely, head of the banking sector for Alexander Mann Solutions, said: “We need to create an interviewing panel with diversity and role models.

“We need to ensure that senior-level women are involved. For example, Lyn Grobler, vice-president and CIO of IT strategy and corporate functions at BP, makes the effort to sit in on interviews and this is having an impact.”

Jacqueline de Rojas, board member of TechUK, said: “We have to challenge the policy of who is actually doing the recruiting. Our industry is male dominated and it will remain that way until we engage more female or diverse recruiters."

"techUK has four initiatives in its manifesto and one of them includes getting more women into FTSE 350 board rooms. Part of this initiative involves putting next-generation digital talent in front of the executive search firms so that shortlists include women."

According to de Rojas, there is an issue with getting the female talent pool back into work after career breaks: “We acknowledge that our industry progresses at breakneck speed and after a career break women can suffer from lack of confidence.

"TechUK intends to create a programme for women, which will enable them to rediscover their ability to project themselves with confidence back into the talent pool."

“Senior executives will put them through a panel and certify them, even acting as references. This gives the women something tangible and a sense of achievement and increases confidence.”

De Rojas said the industry should stop talking about technology in technology terms and instead talk about its digital outcomes to make the sector more appealing to females: “We need to change the rhetoric. Talk about digital outcomes and what it can achieve, rather than pepper our conversations with technical acronyms, which render our sector inaccessible and unappealing!"

Karen Gill, co-founder of everywoman agreed by saying: “The technical aspects of the music industry or fashion industry are more likely to attract young women to begin learning technology subjects at school.”

David Parry-Jones, regional director for UK and Ireland at VMware, said the supplier looked into the wording of its job specs and identified ways to make a career in technology more appealing for women: “We have made great strides in improving gender diversity at VMware, and I personally ensure that this is kept front of mind when hiring for my UK sales teams.

“Within VMware the culture is very technical and we have daily challenges to overcome; the broader thinking offered by a diverse workforce is vital. We launched a pilot graduate programme in 2013 and, as a result, the majority hired were female."

Parry-Jones said women who apply for jobs at VMware also have access to other women to explain the role and give some insight.

Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer of FDM Group, advised: “Aim to recruit as many women as possible.”

She explained that four out of five women join FDM because of the service provider’s Women in IT programme which aims to encourage, support and nurture women." 

Our Flexible working policies and practices aim to support our employees in their role as a parent or guardian

Sarah Hester, Alcatel-Lucent

Flavell raised the importance of a diverse workforce not just in terms of gender, but age, and past experience. FDM recently hired a retired ex-forces Colonel to encourage more ex-military into the organisation: “Ex-soldiers in their mid 20-30s are great candidates. We have to give our clients what they want and they want to see a diverse workforce.”


De Rojas highlighted the issue of employee head count and measuring revenue per head when two employees share a role: “If women choose to job share then this is classed as two heads. This prevents companies offering job-sharing opportunities to working mothers who need flexibility".

“This is a legacy accounting practice mainly seen in US companies where a measure of success is based on revenue per employee, but when there are job share partners it lowers the revenue per head measurement.  There is too much focus on numbers and not enough focus on outcomes.” 

Sarah Hester, director of human resources UK and Ireland of Alcatel-Lucent, said her employer has open, flexible working practices: “Women coming back to work may sometimes struggle after an extended break like maternity leave to quickly reintegrate back into a very fast moving environment whilst also managing parental duties. 

"Our Flexible working policies and practices aim to support our employees in their role as a parent or guardian. We need to support these women and say ‘it’s ok’ to ask for flexibility.”

Feely agreed and said: “We need to change the dialogue so that it is about the outcome of the role. We need to talk about the outcomes of the workforce rather than the headcount.”

Work and life balance

Anne-Marie Neatham, Chief Operating Officer at Ocado Technology, said more men are now broaching the idea of taking time off instead of their wives, meaning flexibility and job-sharing is not just an issue for females anymore: “Men coming back from paternity leave have the same issues as women. Two weeks is not enough and often they want the opportunity to support for longer at home.”

We have to stop saying women need to do this and men need to do that

Karen Gill, everywoman

"We think it is vital to have diversity in the technical workforce so that we have both female and male technical input into how we build everything. The majority of people using our website are female, many are technically savvy. 

"We would like to see women like these being encouraged to take technical subjects at school or to actively take up technical development training later in their careers.”

Hester commented: “It will be very interesting to see what happens to the ratio of male to female requests for shared parental leave when legislation changes.”

On flexible working Gill said board level have to be visible in making a balance in both their work and life for others to feel they can follow: “Senior level men and women need to be visible in work life balance and show examples of flexible working.”

“We have to stop saying women need to do this and men need to do that – we need to look at our working environments,” added Gill.

Although Flavell said it is important to listen to female employees needs she said: “We need balance, not to pander to women but not to be too rigid. Flexibility and support are key”.

Unconscious bias

All attendees agreed that tackling the issue of unconscious biasness in business is vital.

It’s all too easy for unconscious bias to cloud the judgement of recruiters

Sarah Hester, Alactel-Lucent

Gillian Arnold, chair of the British Computer Society’s (BCS) Women’s Group, said: “IBM did some great work working with board level members to tackle unconscious bias.”

Hester agreed and said: “It’s all too easy for unconscious bias (in relation to gender) to cloud the judgement of recruiters.  It’s all too easy to without realising it, to interview someone and think ‘can she handle the travel, long hours etc’. At Alcatel-Lucent we have developed gender diversity awareness sessions in an attempt to ensure that these biases are identified. Jobs must be gained on merit.”

everywoman will be continuing the discussion of these issues through conducting a survey of attendees at the everywoman in Technology Leadership Academy on 21 May around women’s perceptions of the industry. Computer Weekly will be covering this insight.

Read what issues were discussed at the academy here. 

Read more on IT technical skills