It’s an old adage that women, generally, are not prevalent in the IT and technology sector. However, the women in tech trend has begun to reverse. More women than ever are choosing a career in the tech sector, but a big disparity remains – especially at boardroom level.
Discussing this with Information Age, Faith Clayton, head of regional government at Computacenter, explores the state of female employment in Government and public sector ICT.
More specifically in the interview, she looked at how the sector can bridge the gap between increasing support for STEM for girls in schools and losing them before they go into the workforce (or indeed quickly once they do). She also offered insight into how organisations can encourage and support women returning to work after having children.
Prior to starting your career with Computacenter, were there a lot of prevalent/high-profile female role models available to you in the technology space? Who inspired and motivated you to move forward in your career?
No is the short answer! I came from a scientific background in terms of my degree, but I went into the working world with a desire to do something that would see me move up the ranks pretty quickly. I feel like my own drive for success motivated me in this space.
In terms of who inspired and motivated me, there are several women in Computacenter that gave me something to look up to. I’ve seen recently that there are more women in senior roles in comparison to how few there were when I first joined. I think that was another inspiration for me to move forward in my career, so that I could become a role model myself.
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In fact, I am now a mentor to several people internally at Computacenter, and have also been involved in the graduate scheme, mentoring both men and women.
I often have colleagues coming up to me and asking for my advice, and I think it really helps women in the workplace when they have an example of someone who has worked their way up, how they’ve done it, and they can map their own trajectory against it. I am also a mentor on the Scottish Women in IT programme, mentoring women from another IT organisation in Scotland to help further their career progression.
From my mentoring experience, I’ve found that lack of access to female role models is one of the biggest challenges across the whole IT industry. There are also concerns from women in tech about developing their personal life alongside their professional, and what happens to your career once you become a mother, for example.
A lot of these concerns from women come them wondering how they will be viewed internally, rather than doubting their own abilities. A strong female role model that younger members of staff can relate to really helps to stamp out these concerns.
You mentioned motherhood – how do you think businesses can support women coming back to work?
As a mother of four, I’ve seen the attitudes from organisations change immensely when it comes to women returning to work after having children. I find that most organisations focus on the legalities involved; equal pay, keeping the job open, treating women fairly whilst they’re off etc.
However, what’s most often overlooked is the psychological element of coming back to work. You change as a person after having a child, and often it can be difficult to come back to work after such a life changing experience. Your confidence may also take a knock as you haven’t had full visibility of what’s been happening while you were away.
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However, there are some organisations who are looking to change this. An example of a great initiative is Vodafone’s ReConnect, a paid six-month transition programme that supports women returning to work, providing targeted development and re-integration on a 4-day working week.
The singular most important piece of advice I can give to women returning to work is to assert yourself, and know your rights. One woman that I mentor told me recently that she didn’t feel like she was being supported enough, but didn’t want to raise it with HR. Self-assertion really helps in situations like this, as no woman should feel that she isn’t able to discuss her support network openly, especially with HR.
Why do you think it’s important to diversify in the IT sector? What is the most important factor in diversifying in this industry?
I don’t think it’s just specific to IT. There are several important reasons why we should have diversity in the workplace, and in society in general. You need to hire different people to get different ideas.
Harvard Business Review conducted research into improvements in decision making, new ideas, and innovation in the workplace, and found this is only truly achievable when you get diverse groups of people working together and challenging each other. It sounds so obvious, but you would be surprised how many organisations still lack this level of diversity.
From working at Computacenter, have you noticed how diversity ranges between clients in different sectors?
Over the last four to five years I’ve seen more women getting into senior positions in IT. I’m meeting with more women at a more senior level than I did six to seven years ago, which is great to see. There’s not so much a difference between sectors, but it’s more to do with trends in business and recognising how much we need diversity.
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What roles do you see in Government computing that have the largest disparity?
It’s often the same age-old thing of; the higher up you go in the food-chain, the less chance there is of seeing a woman in one of those positions. I still tend to see that women I deal with at that higher level have come up through the finance and management route, as opposed to the technical route. Technicians are still more likely to be male, for example.
Often there is a gap between girls studying STEM and retaining their talent in the sector. How can this be improved?
It mostly boils down to having the appropriate role models, and the right working environment. Do young women feel as though they have enough people to look up to? Is the atmosphere of an organisation unbalanced, and perhaps too male-orientated? Environments like this can be difficult for women to get into, and can make them uncomfortable.
Programmes need to be put into place to nurture diversity in the workplace, looking at differences in psychology and how different people work. Ultimately, businesses need to realise that it’s expensive to hire someone and train them up only for them to leave. Organisations need to nurture their talent and retain employees by acknowledging that everyone needs different types of support, regardless of their gender.
Is Computacenter working on any initiatives to address these issues on an industry-wide scale?
I’m very proud of the work that Computacenter is doing in this space. We have female members of staff trained as WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) ambassadors through the Herts Chamber of Commerce.
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It is an initiative called ‘People Like Me’ and encourages girls to continue studying STEM subjects past GCSE, opening up more opportunities in the Science and Tech industries. We’re also supporting a local Hatfield Girls School throughout 2016/17 by helping them design their employability curriculum for the entire school. This involves educating teachers and students on opportunities within IT rather than just coding and programming.
Additionally, Computacenter is looking to support five local schools by offering work experience placements throughout 2017, helping educate students about the IT industry and the different careers in IT.
During National Apprentice Week, which coincided around International Women’s Day, Computacenter attended an ‘Inspire the Future’ event at St Albans Girls School. We also visited Bishop’s Hatfield Girls School for a ‘careers and apprenticeships’ assembly for year 11-13 students, talking about our apprenticeship scheme and showcasing opportunities for girls to get involved.
These are all very local to Computacenter’s headquarters, but it’s a good example of how, if rolled out across the country, we could see almost every school and all young women encouraged into STEM if individual companies rolled out similar initiatives. One tech company can’t do it all – it’s up to the entire industry to make this cultural change.