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Leadership's tug of war

Tim Mendham | Feb. 18, 2014
Why IT is proving a less attractive discipline for women

I led an initiative to increase the number of women returning to work after maternity leave from 55 to 80 per cent by introducing stay-in-touch days, pre- and post-maternity mentoring, paid leave for fertility treatment [which appears to be an occupational hazard for hard working career women who leave it later to start a family], nine months fully-paid maternity leave, opportunities for part-time work [for both mothers and fathers] and role modelling.

"We saw good results from this campaign, and other big organisations in the UK were undertaking similar exercises to retain their talented women."

In Australia, however, Parton noticed a big difference, even though she was working for a big bank. "Maternity and paternity policies were archaic compared to Europe; there were very few women in senior roles and not a lot of impetus to change things," she says.

"From my observations and commentary from peers, it also seems a very high proportion of CIOs are men and many recruit in their own image. In one particular organisation, the CIO recruited his skiing and drinking buddies who proudly displayed photos of themselves together in their offices."

This concept of "hiring in your own image" is supported by Beveridge. "Without guidance, managers of a particular cohort will tend to hire people within the same cohort," she says.

"In the ICT industry, that has contributed to the male majority perpetuating the male majority. It is often an unconscious thing, and it's one of the reasons HR professionals have developed tools and techniques like behavioural interviewing.

Positive discrimination is an additional mechanism to broaden the candidate pool to include a representative group that is 50 per cent of the population using our products and services."

Jennifer Biggin, IT manager for the Australian Medical Association (NSW), says the difference in percentages of male versus female should not be a killer issue.

"When I did my initial degree there were two other women in our final year of 120 students. Throughout my career I have always been in a male dominated IT environment.

"You can't let that worry you — nor the endless need to have to show you know your subject each time you meet a new person."

Weatherston hasn't found the barriers for women in technology any different from other disciplines. The challenge for all companies, she says, is to assist women to rise through the ranks. As a way forward in IT, she cites several current moves in the UK and US to encourage girls to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers.

"In the US, there are non-profits such as the National Center for Women and Information Technology and 'Girls Who Code'. The goal is to educate and inspire high-school girls and women to consider careers in information technology. There are similar initiatives in Australia including 'Go Girl IT' and 'Women in IT'. "But the jury is still out."


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