Tech & Work

Want the right techie for the job? Employ more women

Attempts to get more women to work in IT are in the long-term interest of the industry and should be supported.

Recently I've been writing about the lack of women working in IT, and I've come up against an argument in favour of the status quo which runs something like 'I don't care if it's a man or a woman, businesses need the right person for the job'.

It's a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. But I don't think it's a sound argument against making it easier for women to succeed in the IT industry. In fact I think it's a case for a better balance of sexes in the profession - because how do you know you have got the right person for the job if close to half of the working population aren't applying in the first place?

Recent research found that only around one in 10 CIOs is a woman and about three quarters of IT managers are male.

If you are comfortable that those figures are a reflection of business finding the right person for the job then you are effectively saying women don't have what it takes to succeed in IT.

While some researchers have found that girls tend to favour languages, arts and social studies over maths and science from age 12, there's no evidence to suggest that women are not suited to a career in tech.

The key is understanding what's being asked here - it's not a demand for women to be parachuted into jobs they are unqualified for. It's asking for an examination of our schooling systems and workplaces to see if there are ways that could encourage more women to choose a career in IT.

This is about providing more opportunities and stamping out inequalities, not swapping favouritism towards one group for another.

If you want to make sure that businesses are getting the right people for the job then why not try and root out inherent biases in our schools and offices?

Do you really think that business always picks the right people for the job at the moment? Isn't it worth examining whether IT, as a profession that has been largely male-dominated since its inception, has institutionalised practices that favour the men who make up the bulk of its workforce?

There are those that argue that pursuing gender equality is a distraction at at a time when countries should be focusing on getting their economy off the rocks. A reader emailed me after about a gender equality article to say: "Isn't the UK in another recession right now? See any correlation with policies you're pushing". But this argument only holds water if you believe that bringing women into the workforce will deliver no net benefit - a position that seems difficult to justify.

Of course, there is also the question of how many IT roles there are to go around in Western countries at a time when many entry-level positions are routinely carried out offshore. This is a genuine issue, but not a reason to ignore the gender imbalance.

Encouraging more women to enter the profession doesn't require anything as drastic or counterproductive as quotas. It can be as simple as better publicising successful women in IT or after-school clubs like e-skills UK's Computer Clubs for Girls.

Trying to ensure that both sexes get a far chance to get ahead in IT isn't about forcing people out of jobs they were born to do, it's about giving people opportunities to fulfil their potential whatever their gender.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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