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Leadership's tug of war

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

ANZ, she says, has set targets for at least 40 per cent female representation among participants in its key recruitment, talent and development programs. It also has a medium-term goal to achieve at least 40 per cent representation of women in management overall.

"I owe my early career step up to an organisation that worked really hard to identify and nurture talent regardless of sex, colour, religion or disability," Weatherston says. "Good people and specifically good leaders are in short supply; we must work harder at identifying and building talent."

This concept is particularly strong for women looking for role models and, more personally, direct mentors.

Biggin and Beveridge agree having good women as mentors early in their careers helped. "It was difficult to find female mentors, and I often worked with teams where I was the only female," Beveridge says.

"There have been times when managing a technical team was difficult because the boys thought a woman, let alone one with an accounting background as I have, couldn't possibly understand technology. There was always that little extra I had to do to earn credibility and respect.

Happily, I have seen attitudes change. Increasingly I hear male CIOs lamenting the lack of females in their teams and recognising the value diversity brings to team dynamics and effectiveness."

It all starts at the top, says Parton, and not with words but with action and role modelling. "A very successful senior woman I know working in wealth management has a high performing team who are predominantly women.

She told me her team had come up with a core principle by which they would operate, that 'we have got each other's backs', which I thought that was amazing and inspirational," she says.

"Imagine a leadership team that works as a united group — no wonder they are so successful. I compared that to the predominantly male leadership teams I have worked with and for and thought of the occasions I witnessed a real lack of cooperation, the establishment of fiefdoms and the battles of egos."

Ultimately, it's about being the best fit and demonstrating confidence. For management and society generally, Weatherston says that means obtaining a better understanding of the barriers to women's progress and "doing everything we can to remove them".

"There is now new and pretty consistent material emerging that shows the two major impediments to women's progress are, firstly, self confidence and belief as women set high standards for themselves; and secondly, unconscious biases that they encounter in the workplace. If we can help women overcome those two barriers to success, the rest will follow."

Forging a career in IT
Where women are accepted into leadership positions, it should be due to their skills in succeeding as CIOs and senior IT managers. Senior IT management must possess those same attributes of self-confidence and belief, not to mention strong communication skills.


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