Ruby Dixon, Head of Local Government, Alpine

Recently, I attended the prestigious Women in IT Awards 2017, celebrating the achievements of women in technology across different sectors. The surprise Keynote Speaker was finally revealed as Alex Younger, the Chief of MI6. Neither shaken nor stirred in the company of a thousand technically accomplished women, he stressed the importance of debunking workplace stereotypes to keep one step ahead of competitors. Alex explained that MI6 recruits from every corner of every community for the very best talent. And that must include the female half of the population.

This was music to my ears. Why? Because the paucity of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects has serious implications for our future skills base in post-Brexit Britain.

Unless we address this at national, organisational and individual level, we’ll not only waste the potential of half of our population, we’ll lose competitive advantage.

The revolution in digital, technological and data has – and continues to – change our world forever. Changing the image of women in technology will help us to create inspirational female role models, capture and nurture new talent, and realise a diverse workforce that that reflects our diverse demography.

In 2014, the Spinks Mortimer Women in IT found that 87 per cent of women felt the image or perception of working in the IT industry experience was not accurate. These women felt the industry needed to rebranded, in order to recognise gender diversity.

We need better information and the provision of fun and varied opportunities to encourage girls and young women to get involved in IT, such as the work done by the Code Club, to change the image of women IT. Here are are five key factors to take into account:

1. Recruitment

The Women in Tech 2016 Survey reports that women in tech are 32 per cent less likely to begin careers in technical design roles. So, a traditional gender-blind, technology-orientated recruitment approach is likely to be ineffective. As women simply don’t value a passport to ‘geekdom’, organisations should emphasise other essential aspects of, and a clear outcome for, a role in technology.

MI6 advertised in non-traditional places, such as Mumsnet, and rather than focusing on the tech or data side, they looked at outcome – people, relationships and public service excellence. Similarly, the team of (majority) female enterprise architects at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was recruited as much for its social entrepreneurship as its technical competence. Service transformation and co-creation are crucial responsibilities when the Council has a Statutory Duty to provide people-based services (e.g. children’s and adult social care, housing) that safeguard its most vulnerable residents. The pull for female candidates is in messaging technology as an enabler – not a panacea.

2. Retention and progression

The Women in IT survey 2016 reports that women use different front doors as an entry point to the IT sector. 93 per cent of female technologists were cross-trained into tech from other departments, such as marketing, sales, customer services. They said it helped progress their careers. And as Easy Jet’s Amy Johnson programme shows, providing wrap-around support to training helps women embrace technology is a pathway to personal and professional development.

3. Reward and flexibility

Last year the number of females working in contract roles in the IT sector rose by 32 per cent. For many women, the reality of everyday life is juggling work with home, family/ essential care, and study. A role that accommodates flexibility in hours, ways of working, and offers variety and responsibility with some security and work-life balance is more valued by women than a pay rise. In this context, women see technology as a tool for productivity.

4. Developing female leaders

One-fifth of senior tech jobs are held by women, and they are in a privileged place to support and coach their female peers in their workplace. Creating a critical mass of women in IT roles can contribute business transformation and culture change. I’ve been impressed by the way companies such as Oracle have mainstreamed this female-friendly approach into its business. During my work on the Socitm Women in IT national steering group, I’ve seen inspirational women such as Debbie Green, Joan Fennelly, Musidora Jorgensen and Vivienne McNab lead different aspects of a global business (Sales, Applications, Information Technology Services, Consulting) with a personal commitment to mentor, develop and advance women in their workplace, providing positive role models for women across public and private client organisations. For them, technology is an arena for digital leadership.

5. Celebration

The Women in IT Awards brought men and women together to celebrate the achievements of women in the digi-tec industries, showcasing motivational role models to inspire others. Whatever the starting point – be it as a force to keep us safe and secure (M16), as a force to support the most vulnerable (RBKC) or a market force for business efficiency (Oracle), technology offers us choice, convenience, speed, and connections relevant to our everyday lives. The image of women – as consumers, creators and leaders of IT – is changing, and debunking inaccurate perceptions of the sector, for the better. And that’s no secret.

Profile

Ruby Dixon is Head of Local Government at Alpine. She is a member of the Socitm national Women in IT steering group and interested in gender inclusion in IT and public services: ‘Reclaim the Byte’ http://rubydafc.tumblr.com/

Watch Ruby discuss how we can combat gender stereotypes in tech in this latest video in the ‘women in digital’ series:
https://cogeco-peer-1.wistia.com/medias/6wo286646y