Breaking up the old boys’ club: female IT leaders challenge the gender gap

For a long time, the number of men in the technology industry has eclipsed the number of women. This trend has recently begun to reverse with a growing number of women pursuing technology careers. However, there is still some way to go before a 50/50 split can be declared.

Inherently the problem of the gender gap is most evident at the top levels of organisations. While the entry level in technology can be quite balanced, it is at the senior levels where a greater disparity remains.

A study by Tech London Advocates found that a staggering 18% of companies within London’s tech community have no women at management level, while women hold less than a quarter of senior management roles in 48% of tech businesses.

This, in turn, creates an almost vicious cycle whereby the lack of female role models at the boardroom level stifles the ambition and belief of women in the technology industry wanting to climb the ladder.

It was clear when discussing the gender gap with IT leaders that increasing presence and visibility of female role models can provide a vital source of inspiration for women at the beginning of their career path.

Changing the status quo of a male-dominated industry is by no means a simple task. It has only been one or two generations since the career options for women in Western society have opened up and so breaking this male monopoly in the tech industry will take time.

>See also: Women in IT Awards 2017 – finalists revealed

However, barriers are steadily being dissolved and the championing of women in IT will be vital in diversifying an industry in need of shake up.

Amy Wettenhall, commercial director, business unit IT and cloud at Ericsson, knows the importance of breaking up the old boys’ club and is working to increase the number of women in the telecommunications industry.

While acknowledging progress has been made both within her company and in the industry as a whole, she recognises that the road is still a long one.

Wettenhall emphasises the importance of changing attitudes internally, citing Ericsson’s mandatory unconscious bias training. This seems to follow the idea of leading by example and helps to create a culture of understanding.

Opening up STEM subjects to women, and making them more appealing, will be crucial in addressing the gender gap within the IT industry, suggests Wettenhall.

She concludes that it is the current responsibility of women leaders in the industry to “send the elevator back down” to encourage and provide mentorship and network opportunities for young women.

>See also: Women in IT Awards 2017 – finalists revealed

Annette Murphy, VP DFS Northern Europe at Zayo, suggests that the gender gap has improved significantly, moreso than what the tech industry might have expected two or three years ago.

She does establish, however, that improvements of gender diversity within the telecommunications industry lags behind other areas of the technology industry.

The issue of STEM is one that Murphy feels is improving, with more women than ever embarking on engineering degrees, for example. Encouragingly, she also believes that the stereotypes holding back women from leadership roles are slowly eroding.

Traditionally, she says, only men would apply for these more senior roles, but now women are going for these jobs. There has been a “mindset change” and “women are becoming more confident in their ability to apply and succeed, and develop into roles than perhaps historically they would have been,” she says.

>See also: Women in IT Awards set for record attendance after venue move

Lyn Grobler, CIO at Hyperion Insurance Group, has had an extensive career at the top level of IT. She has overseen IT strategy, operations and transformational change across global organisations. However, she suggests the technology industry is not where she wants it to be, in terms of women’s role within it.

As an improvement, Grobler recognises that at entry level the gender divide can be balanced in some instances. The problem, which she highlights, is that there is a huge disparity at the boardroom level.

At a time where disruption, or uberification, is terrifying most industries, innovation is key. The old ways of thinking are no longer appropriate and the technology industry needs to respond. One way of doing this, suggests Grobler, is too take advantage of the plethora of talent being underutilised: women.

Balancing the gender gap is almost certain to have a transformative effect on business operations and innovations with an influx of new, original ideas. Breaking up the old boys’ club might be necessary for survival. “You need that diverse view of the world,” says Grobler.

Similar to Wettenhall’s ambition within Ericsson, Grobler believes that recruitment is where the difference can be made. Equally, she told Information Age that more opportunities need to be provided once a woman has embarked on a technology career.

This, again, echoes the sentiment that more needs to be done to encourage women to reach management level within an organisation, such as the increasing influence of female role models to help women in the tech sector to aspire to something more.

Embracing this change is a challenge as “it’s still seen as a boys’ club in the tech industry”, explains Damilola Erinle, Area VP UK&I at Salesforce. The damning 18% figure of London firms still without women at boardroom level further highlights the challenge of producing female role models.

Erinle suggests that it should not only be female role models encouraging women into technology – men should also play an important role. This symbolises a dissolution of gender barriers.

Addressing the gender gap should be an inward process before tackling the industry-wide problem, suggests Erinle. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she says.

At Salesforce, for example, to promote diversity the company focuses on equal pay, equal advancement (tackling the lack of women in the boardroom) and equal opportunity (recruitment).

Teachers, parents and the tech sector must all encourage women to pursue and succeed in a technology career to get rid of the perception that the industry is a boy’s club and isn’t for women.

>See also: Women in IT Awards set for record attendance after venue move

Elizabeth Vega, global chief executive of Informed Solutions, says the gender gap was decreasing when she studied computer sciences, but has since grown wide because of a “lad culture”.

Instead of tackling the problem head on, Vega suggests looking for areas where there is a desire for change. She uses the example of digital and user experience, which is a relatively new discipline. There isn’t a legacy here and it’s a way companies can make progress.

This article is part of Information Age’s Women in IT Video Series, in partnership with Zayo.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...