In a society that claims a system of equal opportunities and in which women have had the vote for nearly 80 years, it still astounds me that the IT sector is so blinkered in this area. It hasn't yet got its act together to make the effort to encourage more women into the industry.
Have we learnt nothing since Mrs Pankhurst chained herself to the railings?
How did we get into this situation and, more importantly, what do we propose to do about it?
Undoubtedly, the industry has a 'toys for the boys' image with the larger percentage of its female employees engaged in administrative duties. You don't have to look too far to find macho culture alive and well and it befalls all of us, if we want to shrug off our current poor image, to pay more than lip service to the issue.
Come the new century, people working within the IT sector will need more than technology skills to get by. They're going to have to be more articulate communicators, more effective people managers and understand a lot more about business issues.
Instead of engaging in mass 'short-termism', which only has the effect of driving salaries and fee levels to unsustainable heights, we should be focusing on developing an 'equal' IT industry. Do we want to perpetuate a reputation for treating staff as if they were contractors, and if so, who can blame them going to the highest bidder?
The level of investment a company is prepared to make in staff loyalty and motivation is an indicator of the value it places in them. Managed properly, a well-planned, well-executed staff retention programme will soon ensure a good return on investment. After all, when you consider it costs almost three times an individual's salary to recruit them, who wouldn't want to lower their staff turnover rates?
Last year, following staff feedback forums, we set up dedicated working parties to look at personal development, internal communications, mentoring, flexible benefit packages and, of course, equality in IT. The latter group focused on ways of promoting more flexible and mobile working systems for all of our employees. While this programme benefits all staff, it's clearly attractive to female employees on whom family-and child-rearing pressures tend to fall.
We don't claim to be able to change the world on our own, but we're committed to building a stronger company by ensuring that we have a balanced workforce.
It's an equal mixture of sexes expressing themselves openly who produce the best results and we have to remember that in any number of the projects we undertake, half of the users will be female.
There are an enlightened few who agree the only long-term way to promote a career in IT is by going back to grass roots. Schools and places of higher education are the ideal starting point and prime minister Tony Blair's pledge of providing children with internet access is a good blueprint for action.
But we as an industry must also play a part in ensuring that the message is perpetuated throughout educational establishments and that students of both sexes are encouraged to see the benefits of a career in IT.
We have to realise the need to be equipped with good communication skills, business empathy and man management capabilities. Only by recognising that people are a company's biggest asset and that they need to be equipped accordingly, which requires investment in training and personal development, shall we have a truly sustainable IT industry.
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