Bridging the gender gap: Why are there still so few women in IT roles?

If you had asked the graduates of 1993 how they imagined the gender gap would look in a quarter of a century’s time, the chances are they would have laughed in your face. The girls were outnumbering the lads in the traditionally male disciplines of engineering and technology, and it would have been reasonable to assume that by 2018, this would have spread to all sectors and management levels.

Yet here we are, and things do not quite look that way. Gender diversity remains as much of an issue in technology organizations as it was at the turn of the millennium.

Career breaks?

In part, it is down to the fact that more than 50 percent of women who begin careers in technology leave their jobs mid-career. However, there must be more to it than that. The pattern is not seen to the same extent in other sectors, and to the best of the researchers’ knowledge, technical workers are not the only women on the planet who have babies.

A normalized career path

The question is one that was recently studied by Girls Who Code (GWC), a non-profit organization that provides computer-science education and training to girls and young women aged 11 to 17. Their after-school and summer camp style programs have gone a long way to normalize technology as an educational path, and to foster a sense of curiosity and engagement in technology among teenagers.

The real trick is to keep that momentum going into the world of work, and the recent trend towards outsourced IT services could be key. It is no secret that there is still something of a “boys locker room” mentality in the archetypal corporate IT department. But with internal IT teams rapidly going the way of the dinosaurs, so are the attitudes.

Today, businesses are increasingly looking at third party providers to meet their IT needs – that means companies like Probrand, that provides third party solutions ranging from technical support to managed services to a whole lot more. With the new style of service provision have come new attitudes, and the whole sector has a feeling of fresh air about it.

Identifying the talent

Of course, not every major organization is outsourcing its IT. What can those who keep their technical departments in-house do to improve gender equality? Jane Chwick, a senior advisor at Goldman Sachs, is a speaker for GWC and a member of its board. She feels that the major corporations can and should be doing more to identify, develop and retain the most talented employees and cited a project that she led at Goldman’s 15 years ago.

By creating leadership training programs for the most talented and high-potential female employees in the technology departments, she raised their profiles, allocating real-life projects that would have tangible deliverables. She said: “Within five years, 70 percent of those women became managing directors at Goldman. I think that particular program started a movement at the firm.”

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