IT Employment investigate

Why the IT department needs more women

CIOs need to tackle the IT department's embarrassing shortfall of female staff, or risk falling out of step with the prevailing mood in the boardroom.

As companies face pressure to bring more women into senior roles the overwhelmingly male IT department is likely to increasingly stick out like a sore thumb, CIOs have been warned.

When it comes to gender diversity the make-up of the IT department is embarrassingly one-sided. Only around one in 10 CIOs is a woman and a recent survey of tech chiefs found that less than one quarter of their IT managers were female.

Tackling gender inequality at the top of business is becoming more of a priority for corporations, as voluntary groups like the 30% Club in the UK and lobbying bodies such as 2020 in the US work to bring more women into the boardroom.

IT chiefs that want to keep step with the prevailing mood among the execs should start thinking about how to redress the balance of the sexes, said Gartner VP Mark Raskino, who flags the issue in his report Three Boardroom Trends CIOs Should Watch With Care.

"If you get a mood in the boardroom of companies that is saying 'Gender imbalance is a bad thing', which is definitely happening, then the likelihood is that view will percolate down into areas of the business like IT," said Raskino.

As that mood spreads the IT department's largely male workforce will be particularly conspicuous: "The IT department is likely to be one of the most unbalanced departments," said Raskino.

"You can confidently say that if you look at most other support departments in a business - HR, legal, accounting - you will probably find a higher female workforce."

A "thoughtful, senior CIO" will, he said, try to ensure that the IT department has a balance of sexes closer to the rest of the business.

"These CIOs will look at themselves in the mirror and say 'We're not doing very well on this issue in comparison to the rest, maybe we should be a bit more thoughtful about it'.

"That will have repercussions in hiring, promotion, selection and trying to counterbalance the perception that maybe there are biases, or working and cultural practices, that are getting in the way of women moving up the ranks."

There is an argument to be made that the much of the work undertaken by the modern IT department, with its emphasis on maintaining strong relationships with service providers and the rest of the business, is better suited to women than men, he said.

"The value of IT over the last decade has shifted towards the customer interface and away from the back office administrative automation," he said.

"There are perceptions that there are a lot of soft skills that women have - conversational skills, attention skills like listening to more than one conversation at a time - that put them, on average, in a better position when it comes to doing things like account management work.

"We need more account management work - we need internal account managers and relationship managers working out of IT departments with the business and with service providers. These are all much more important in today's IT department than they would have been 20 years ago."

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. 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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