Improved Gender Balance Sorely Needed in Tech Fields
By Jane Whitgift
It is well-documented that the technology workforce is male-dominated, with a high proportion of graying leaders. Many of this older cohort started their careers in a different era.
The norm was for the man to be the main bread-winner of the family, with the woman primarily taking care of the family, and her career playing second fiddle. This meant many women taking career breaks to look after both children and parents, often without returning to full-time employment. So, for the older workforce, there are fewer women in position to be selected for leadership roles.
Regardless of the historical backdrop, we are well past due for progress when it comes to addressing the gender gap in the technology workforce.
Recently published ISACA research highlights the underrepresentation of women in the global technology workforce. Women cited factors such as gender bias in the workplace, a shortage of female mentors and unequal pay among their major concerns. For me, the most frightening statistic in the report is that the proportion of women who are earning computer science degrees has halved since 1984. This is deeply disturbing.
We must all work toward progress. As Jo Stewart-Rattray, ISACA board director and director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich, says, "Addressing the gender gulf is everyone's responsibility."
There is no doubt that we need a more gender-balanced workforce to ensure that we have the number of qualified professionals needed in today's technology-driven global economy. One of the ways to address this problem is ensuring we do not let our talented women colleagues slip through the net and leave the workforce after having children. Nobody - male or female - should be stigmatized for taking time off to raise a family or look after aging relatives. We need to better understand at what stage those who have taken a career break may be ready to come back into the workforce in a full or part-time capacity.
Maybe we need to start thinking differently about what roles are required, and how much time is really required. Many roles have different elements - do they all need to be done by one person or could they be split across different roles? One of the most valuable thoughts to focus on when selecting somebody for a role is to consider how the candidate needs to be supported to be successful in the role rather than why she or he could not succeed.
I also wonder to what extent we all subconsciously reinforce the message that technology is something for men through the language and statistics we use. Don't think of technology as being a male-dominated field - bur rather a promising and in-demand field for everybody.
Here are a few notions women should keep in mind as they consider careers in technology:
- Take the time to work out your career goals, and then apply for the jobs and opportunities that will best set you up to reach those goals.
- It is not necessary to have all the skills listed in a job advertisement - in fact, missing some is what will make the job exciting and keep you motivated.
- Building support networks is critical. These are the people who will help guide you, and the people who you can ring when you need an uplifting conversation, or just to commiserate with when things do go your way.
While having a constructive mindset can go a long way, being a woman working in the technology field can certainly be difficult. Throughout my career, I have attended meetings and conferences where I have been the only female, or one of few, in a large group. While that can help women stand out and be remembered, it also can make for an intimidating experience.
As more and more millennials enter the workforce, my hope is that many of the generational dynamics that have worked against professional women will become a distant memory, and gender barriers will be removed once and for all. The technology workforce - and society as a whole - will be better for it.