How we can bring more women into IT

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If you visualise a software developer, what do you see?

We all have a preconceived notion with how the world operates. In some cases this notion is just a harmless assumption, such as assuming someone from California enjoys surfing. In other cases, it can be a detrimental stereotype - like automatically thinking a software developer would be male. This subtle, yet damaging, assumption has occurred throughout the history of women in information technology (IT).

The low percentage of women who are working in the technology sector is a hotly debated subject in Silicon Valley (Forbes). For example, 57% of professional jobs overall are held by women in the U.S., but only 25% of computing jobs are. This figure isn’t far off for Australia either.

Those who are working in the IT industry can expect one of the highest salary increases this year, with an increase in excess of 2.5%. This comes after a period of record low wage growth for most other Australians where most wage increases topped out at 1.9% (SMH).

The tech industry is rapidly growing, both in salary and job growth. Yet women are again being left behind in an industry that has some of the best career opportunities moving forward.

As a business, there are many benefits to employing, encouraging, and promoting women working in your IT departments. Including:

  1. Innovation - Research shows that women’s choices impact up to 85% of purchasing decisions (The Atlantic). If your products are being sold to or influenced by women, giving women a voice in the development of these products makes sense. This will allow the product to align and match more appropriately with the target demographic who is making the final purchasing decision.

  2. Company Image - Your reputation as a business can have a profound impact on your ability to attract new hires and potential clients. If you’re seen as a company that promotes diversity and encourages women in the workforce, your company reputation and consumer base as a result will improve.

  3. Diversity - Collaborating with people of different gender, ethnicity, and race leads to increased innovation and enhanced problem-solving. This is backed by decades of research. Those of different backgrounds can bounce ideas from one another based on their individual life experiences, providing a larger pool of creativity and improved innovation.

  4. Untapped Market - If you aren’t familiar with the movie ‘What Women Want’, Mel Gibson’s character has the power to hear women’s thoughts and derive understanding from what they actually want. Unless your 75% male-orientated IT department develops this uncanny ability, there is currently a marketplace of female-oriented products that desperately lack tech-driven innovation. These are products that by definition only women buy, such as menstruation products and ovulation tracking tools (Mondo). Employing women in IT will help to identify these gaps.

In the 1980’s the percentage of computer science degrees studied by women was close to 34%. The current percentage of women studying computer science has fallen to below 20%.

So, what happened? Firstly, most of the original marketing for computers was aimed at men, Research also showed that families were more likely to buy computers for their sons than daughters.

Whatever the cause and effect, companies have the power to shift the paradigm and bring more women into their company’s IT department.

This can be done through the following steps:

Develop an Equal Opportunity Policy - Notify your hiring committee of your goals and expectations regarding women’s opportunities in your IT department. Make diversity a part of your company’s culture so that everyone knows it is not a one-off initiative.

Provide Mentorships - Helping bring women on board is just part of the equation. Business leaders can also make a positive difference by equipping women in tech with the tools to find success (Entrepreneur). One such tool is mentorship. Having someone who is regularly willing to share their experiences and provide insight into the industry will help women progress to more senior roles in IT.

Provide pathways in the organisation - Large software companies are placing less emphasis on university education and more on experience. With the increase in coding and IT bootcamps, women can gain the necessary education much easier than before. Allow the female employees who are interested in moving into IT the access to do so through lateral movement within your organisation. Actively encourage, promote and provide resources to the women who wish to go down this avenue.

Without getting too philosophical, our wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers should all have the same opportunities that males have. The tech industry is one of the fastest growing (and highest paid) industries globally. Bringing more women into IT will not only help reduce the income gap between the sexes, but it will provide needed benefits to your IT department and business.