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Escaping gravity: Practical ways to support career growth paths for women in IT
Fri, 6th Mar 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that any report on gender diversity will contain the phrase: “there is still work to be done.” That is certainly true when it comes to female representation in leadership roles, which is currently orbiting planet employment at a relatively low altitude, held back by gravity and inertia.

According to research from Grant Thornton, in 2019 29% of senior management roles across the globe were held by women. While that's the highest percentage yet recorded, it's still short of the 30% tipping point that is expected to open the gates to gender parity. In New Zealand, the number may be as high as 40%, which would put this country just behind Canada.

However, in the IT sector, the picture is not as flattering. That's partly because women still make up less than a quarter of engineering students nationwide, and less than a third of information and communications technology (ICT) students. But it also reflects businesses' recruitment and promotion practices. And this is a problem – not just for women, but for the world, as tech has permeated all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Having women in key product development, marketing, and leadership roles has become nothing short of mission-critical for tech companies, as it is for a society that depends on and is shaped by technology

So how can tech companies perform better? At one level they can undertake support initiatives that provide a more accommodating environment for women. These include things like flexible working conditions, good parental leave policies and attention to the physical working environment. These will increase participation in the workplace but do not necessarily change the balance of leadership. Mentoring programmes and networking opportunities help, but these are seldom targeted at women and, by default, tend to perpetuate the current gender balance in leadership. To really make a difference, businesses need to do what businesses do best: set hard, measurable targets, develop policies that address them and then report back on progress.

Consider these commitments:

•    Ensure that 30% of hires or promotions in entry-level roles and skilled individual contributor roles and above are female
•    Include at least 1 female candidate/successor is considered for each senior role. 
•    Ensure 25% female participation in general leadership and coaching programmes
•    Mandate that all panel interviews for subject matter experts and senior management positions include a female interviewer on the panel
•    When interviewing candidates, do not ask what salary they are already on so as not to perpetuate existing gender pay gaps

To complement those, tech businesses need to take a lesson from marketing and do the other thing that businesses do best: develop specific initiatives to target a sector. In this instance, develop and Implement targeted extension and leadership programmes specifically designed for women at all stages of their careers. These might include extension programmes for entry-level and skilled contributor roles, transitioning programmes for successors and high performers, and leadership programmes for women who are subject matter experts and senior management.

Persuasion can take many forms, and your male colleagues, too, can actively support efforts to increase leadership opportunities for women. In a sector where conference participation is a strong marker of status, they can play their part simply by refusing to speak on panels where there is no female representation.

If enough tech companies and people commit these things, the sector may finally approach escape velocity. As Jane Austen said: "The distance is nothing when one has a motive."