Wise chair Trudy Norris-Grey urges greater awareness of roles for women in IT

Chair of Wise Trudy Norris-Grey talks to Computer Weekly about raising awareness of opportunities for women in technology

There are “fabulous” opportunities for women to take up careers in IT, but unfortunately most are unaware of them, according to Trudy Norris-Grey, managing director Central and Eastern Europe public sector at Microsoft and chair of Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (Wise).

Norris-Grey recently spoke to Computer Weekly about a lack of awareness about the range of roles on offer in the technology sector. She said more needs to be done to promote success stories to young women considering a career move into the industry.

Norris-Grey said she fell into a career in technology, adding that this was a familiar story for other women who work in the sector: “I was one of eight children and grew up in Swansea. When looking for work there was none in Wales, so I went down the M4 and bumped into the tech industry.

“I trained as an accountant in technology and was lucky that there was a lack of talent around at the time. It’s good news that I fell into technology, but bad news for those who are not aware of the fabulous opportunities available to them.”

Norris-Grey will be speaking at the everywoman Forum 2015: Advancing women in technology this month about her experiences.

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Apprenticeships help young women in IT

She said: “I’ve been lucky to have a good living, great jobs, great career, training and meeting great people and I think other girls deserve the same opportunity – and that is where people like everywoman come in. It’s about telling girls: 'Look there's a fab career for you here if you consider technology.'”

Throughout her career she has held senior roles at BP, Racal/Vodafone, Digital/Compaq, Kodak, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, BT and Microsoft.

As chair of Wise she discussed the organisation’s aims to encourage more girls into apprenticeships in these sectors.

She explained how apprenticeships can help in highlighting the available roles to young people interested in a career in IT: “Sometimes the girls go into a profession and find it's not working for them. Apprenticeships are a real avenue to figure out the choices available.

“It's not about changing the man with the hard hat to the woman with the hard hat.”

Retention and unconscious bias

Norris-Grey said there are issues with returners and retention rates.

“Returners or retention is an important issue. We know there are leaks in the pipeline and we need to fix that,” she said. “It’s not just returners where there is a problem, but also those switching industries – so training or refresher courses are needed to help with that.”

She said the ever-growing problem of "unconscious bias" needs to be addressed if the industry is to make any progress: “I can’t tell you how many times I've been told to 'man up'. It’s not an appropriate term. Or I’ve heard things like: ‘We couldn't give that to Trudy as she has to go home to look after the kids.’ These comments are not coming from bad people, they normally think they’re helping, but it’s not acceptable. We need to find a way to coach people in unconscious bias.

“They're blind spots and if you raise the mirror to these people once they won't do it anymore. Don't accept the put-downs.”

She stressed that work flexibility is key and that such a culture needs to be set from the top-down: “Learning how to juggle between being a mother and work has made me a better manager.”

Norris-Grey said she believes women can thrive in technology, but sometimes they just need encouragement and to see other women being successful in leadership roles.

Schools invited to apply for diversity funding

Recently secretary of state of education and women and equalities Minister Nicky Morgan announced that schools can now apply for funding to help boost diversity in their senior leadership teams.

Schools are being invited to bid for grants up to £30,000 from the government’s Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund, to remove barriers for women and individuals from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds in school leadership positions.

Morgan said: “Ensuring there are excellent leaders in our schools, to raise the standard of teaching and achieve the best outcomes for their pupils, is a key part of our plan for education.

“But good school leadership teams should also reflect the diversity of the teaching profession and recent figures show there are still significant gaps - particularly for BME individuals and women.”

Morgan said the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund has been running since 2014, with the aim of supporting under-represented groups, as defined by the Equality Act 2010.

Some 30 schools have been awarded funding so far, for diversity lead projects and 1,000 teachers are expected to benefit.

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