5 March 2021

Positive Progress in IT Equality

Positive Progress in IT Equality

Change is coming, and it’s refreshing. In the first post on our exploration of gender equality in the IT industry, we discovered a huge variance in genders working in IT when compared to the general population.

We traced the source of this discrepancy to three key factors that put women off choosing to study IT. You can discover how these factors influence the workplace experience here: “We can do IT better.”

Happily, it’s not all doom and gloom. Our interviewees report that they are already seeing changes across the industry.

“Most IT companies are looking for technically competent women to hire. I almost always get an interview based on my resume, which I know because my gender makes me stand out from many applications. Despite my experiences, I’ve worked with a lot of excellent mentors – all men. They saw me only as an eager-to-learn technician with a curious mind and an intense drive for learning with no regard for my gender.”

“The enormous benefits of mentors in this field willing to take on a woman rather than just taking on men because they relate to them better is one of the largest reasons I’ve been able to make it this far.”

“I’ve moved quickly through most companies I’ve worked for by aggressively pursuing knowledge and training, or having a senior staff member taking me under their wing and mentoring me.”

“I had to make a couple of adjustments on my leadership style. I spent time and effort to get to know my team outside of work, as that really helped me understand their individual personalities which helped pave the way to a fun working environment that’s based on trust and collaboration. That made them realize that women leaders can be fun, too.”

I got there, and I definitely did not do it alone. We only ever look back to remind ourselves why we keep looking forward.

“I made progress because of mentors who saw me as a PERSON – someone who was determined to make something of myself, to do whatever it took to achieve my goals.”

“My mentors taught me that being a woman is powerful. Being a mother is powerful. I learned that saying NO is okay. Those mentors? 95% of them were male.”

“I got the chance to prove what I was capable of. I got the chance to put my money where my mouth was, and I delivered. Perseverance, a fail-or-pivot mindset, resilience, call it what you like. Over time I learnt what healthy conflict did and how it influenced change. I learnt what the difference was between a company that actually lived its values vs just advertising them.”

“I took the initiative to invest in myself by paying for boot camps with my own money. I searched for free seminars and training on different technologies that relate to my day-to-day job. I wanted to understand the functions and process involved when handling requests and resolving incidents. Also, learning best practices, improving my troubleshooting skills, and gaining more exposure to different technologies.”

“I continue learning every single day. I created a knowledge base that helps me build the confidence to fix issues quickly and easily process even complex issues. I also make a point of collaborating with others and seek help from my peers to gain more experience and to build relationships.”

“Being a working mum is not easy. Handling different roles and responsibilities across personal and work-related areas gets tough. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and struggle to handle my priorities. It used to make me question myself about my productivity. I now know it’s important to seek help and use support systems that let you prioritise according to need. Now I enforce time management by blocking my calendar for the tasks that I need to be done for a day.”

Building a better IT industry

As our interviewees have indicated, there’s room for the IT industry to challenge itself and generate lasting improvements that make it an appealing career choice. And many of these improvements are already underway. Some are independent actions within separate organisations. Others are industry-wide reforms.

But to fix the IT industry, more needs to be done. Equality in IT requires increasing the number of women eager to join the industry. And this starts with levelling the playing field, encourage new entrants, and support people in caregiving positions.

Microsoft’s Gavriella Schuster has echoed these sentiments, explaining that it’s up to existing leaders to achieve true gender equality. To this end, Schuster has suggested four ways that IT leaders can help close the gap.

  1. Connect – “This is about creating access, connecting deeply into your network, giving women access to you and each other through your connections.”
  2. Outreach – “This is about adjusting your recruiting practices, your hiring practices, your supplier selection practices. When you have an open job, do you screen out candidates, or do you screen in candidates for diversity?”
  3. Mentor – “I would not be where I am today without the many men and women throughout my career who have mentored me, who have helped me learn from their successes, learn from their failures, helped me avoid those tripwires and unwritten rules of business, and lifted me up when my confidence waned. When you mentor, you blaze a trail for others to follow.”
  4. Empower – “Empowering people is easier than you might think. It’s about including them in the discussion. It’s about seeing them, hearing them, enabling them to be visible, making them visible. Studies show that leadership teams with diverse representation are 19% higher in profitability; they have higher levels of customer satisfaction and higher levels of employee engagement. So, this isn’t just good for society. It’s good for business.”

Our interviewees agreed. While mandated hiring, promotional, and training practices can help restore the gender balance in the workplace, they also can harm workplace cultures. Making decisions to tick a box on the diversity checklist can lead to resentment. While making transparent, accountable decisions based on potential, merit, and skills makes sense.

Here at First Focus, our CEO Ross Sardi says: “For such a young industry it’s a shame that we haven’t been able to start with a more diverse workforce from day one. Most technology companies are full of guys in their 20s and 30s who should be champions for change and diversity and shouldn’t be carrying old-school views from decades ago. It needs those people to make deliberate choices to alter the workforce around them rather than defaulting to the easy or comfortable choice.”

Deliberate choices that champion change

There’s a lot we can do in the IT industry to help challenge these decades-old conventions. The positive changes these activities deliver serve to attract people who will build your business from within. In turn, their positive experiences serve to make your workplace more attractive and improve the perception of the IT industry as a whole. This attraction starts a recursive loop that will build up, over time, across the industry, helping us achieve equality.

Build support. Make support accessible and make the benefits obvious. And make it part of your workday DNA.

Dedicate resources to growing your culture. Support and defend radical honesty and use it to crush sexist behaviours. Rather than having a single point of contact for HR-related issues, build multiple communication channels, and enforce responsibilities.

Take caregiver needs into account. Offer generous leave for parents and caregivers of all kinds. Stop punishing those who have outside responsibilities.

Lead from the top. Make it transparent. Recognise that you won’t see immediate results but still aim for them.

Make changes stick. Make positive values an intrinsic part of your culture. If you lose people who disagree with them, so what? You don’t want to be working alongside those people in the first place.

What specific action would you like to see in the IT industry?

Our interviewees have identified a number of common issues that they feel make it hard for women to choose to enter careers in IT.

Current issues:
  • Calling female workers pet names.
  • Normalising practices that over-work staff.
  • Female co-workers get told to “smile more”.
  • Sexist jokes are still prevalent in the workplace.
  • Passing over women for roles they are qualified for.
  • Toxic positivity gets used to cover negative attitudes.
  • Sexist comments directed at staff, clients, and other stakeholders.
  • Hiring people externally when internal female workers are qualified for jobs.
  • Clients asking to speak with someone “technical” when dealing with a female.
  • Work shirts often don’t fit because it’s too expensive to buy better shirts for 15% of the workforce.
Easy fixes:
  • Make saying “no” okay.
  • Include women in decision-making processes.
  • Offer resources to help staff develop emotional intelligence.
  • Make hiring, promotions and pay decisions more transparent.
  • Dedicate resources to enhancing the work-life balance culture.
  • Highlight and support mentorships that help pass on knowledge.
  • Honour the work done by individuals by giving credit for work done.
  • Encourage people in positions of power to be the voice of the unheard.
  • Research how recruitment events can help encourage women to apply in IT roles.
  • Dig into what makes your culture work instead of just serving cupcakes and making people wear pink.
  • Get better shirts.

If these changes are the way forward for the IT industry, what will the workplace look like? Our interviewees have the answers, and you can check them out here: “What IT Equality Means In Practice”.