It has been long said that attracting more women into the IT industry would
be one way of helping tackle the growing skills shortage, yet this is easier
said than done.
Despite the majority of businesses across the channel openly willing to take on female staff, the reality is that large numbers of females simply are not applying for jobs in IT.
Dan May, director at Ramsac, said: “It’s definitely still a male-dominated sector because the majority of applications we receive at Ramsac are from men. We have female support consultants, but no female field consultants and that is not through a lack of trying. I get female applicants for project management roles, but very rarely for field or on-site engineers positions.”
Thomas Barrett, northern europe regional director at storage vendor FalconStor, puts the lack of female applicants down to the IT industry having a geeky image.
“I did not set out from school to get into IT - I wanted to be an airline pilot - but I now love working in the industry,” he said. “In business terms it is a lucrative industry, it is clean, honest and good fun.”
A recent survey by IT recruitment company, Just IT, backed up Barrett’s geeky theory. Questioned on their thoughts surrounding different graduate professions, 78 per cent of graduates believed the IT profession was the geekiest, while 62 per cent thought that working in IT would not give them the chance to work with other people.
Maggie Berry, director of Women in Technology, an on-line job board and networking group for women working in IT, agreed that the industry does have an image problem.
“Unfortunately, IT is deemed techie and geeky by many people - but it actually is not,” she said. “It’s hard for people to envision what working in IT is like - the industry needs to work on changing people’s perceptions.”
Carrie Hartnell, programme manager for transformational business at Intellect, said: “There are lots of different roles in IT - people do not necessarily have to have a science or engineering background. There are still roles that require that, but there are also roles that do not.”
According to Berry, the Women in Technology site features a diverse range of jobs in IT.
“We get a mix of roles advertised on our site from systems engineers and technical architects to client connectivity analysts and sales positions,” she said. “On average we have between 400 and 600 jobs advertised on our site at any one time. We do not allow recruitment firms to advertise only the companies themselves.”
Hartnell believes the key is talking to teachers and professional careers advisors and explaining to them how technology has changed and how diverse the roles are now in IT. “Changing the perception of what IT actually entails now is really important,” she said.
“I think it does need to be encouraged at school level. The careers advice that school, college and university students receive is absolutely vital,” Berry added.
Clearly an image-changing campaign is needed if the industry is going to attract new recruits, of either gender.
SCC is doing its bit to try to raise awareness of women’s potential in IT and as part of that sponsors the annual Women in Business awards and luncheon.
Keith Moore, head of distributed IT at SCC, said: “We are committed to raising awareness of the expanding career opportunities for women in IT, particularly in areas such as engineering, which have not traditionally been viewed as ideal. Advances in technology have removed any physical strength considerations. Today our challenge is encouraging women to come in, gender is not the issue, its all about changing old attitudes and highlighting women’s career potential.”
To date, 800 people work in SCC’s distributed IT division worldwide - 10 of which are female. While this isn’t a huge number, it is still a start.
Other firms in the channel are also making inroads with recruiting more women. IT services VAR Connect has launched an initiative aimed at increasing the proportion of women working at the company in every team from finance and HR, to IT engineers.
Plugging the skills gap
Mark MacGregor, chief executive of Connect, said: “There has been a lot of concern about the growing skills shortages in IT, particularly for engineers, and there are only a few ways the industry can fill these shortages. Recruiting more women is one way so it has become something that Connect is pioneering.
“We have about 100 staff in total - 25 per cent of which are female,” MacGregor added. “The aim is to achieve a 50/50 split over the next two years.”
In order to not only attract more women but to retain them, Connect has set up an internal company group, nicknamed the Google Girls, for female IT engineers that organises regular events including wine tasting, films, health and beauty events, as well as a mentor scheme for new joiners. The VAR also provides flexible hours, job share and childcare vouchers for returning mothers and works in partnership with the Computer Club for Girls group and local colleges to encourage women to become involved in IT.
“We asked some of our female staff what attracted them to work in IT and what changes we could make at Connect to entice and keep female staff on board,” MacGregor said. “One suggestion was for a quiet area or room as our main break-out area tended to be mainly dominated by men as there was a games console in it. So we now have a room for those that would prefer a quieter place to eat their lunch.”
According to MacGregor the image of big, burly male engineers lugging computers around and crawling around installing cables is an outdated one.
“We actually fix about 90 per cent of IT problems remotely so there is no reason why people of either sex cannot fix IT problems these days,” he said. “Also, IT equipment is a lot smaller and lighter than it used to be so you do not need to be big and strong to carry it around.”
The time is right
Hayley Davis, first line team leader at Connect, believes now is an ideal time for women to get into IT. “Companies are more willing to look at women now and are offering more benefits,” she said
Davis joined Connect in August, but has worked in IT since she was 17 and claims she is not treated any differently by her male colleagues. “Google Girls enables all the females at Connect to get together regularly,” she explained. “It’s very easy for guys to go for a drink after work but not all women like going to the pub.”
Davis also agrees that IT needs to be pushed more at school level. “Girls do not consider it or see it as serious career unless they are crazy about IT like me; I loved PCs as a kid and knew at 11 what I wanted to do,” she said. “Although I went to a girls grammar school I was lucky because I had a female IT teacher who pushed me.”
According to Eileen Brown, manager of the IT pro evangelist team at Microsoft, the questions and challenges that women face in IT are the same no matter what company they work for.
Brown explained: “In a survey into women’s careers in the technology industry conducted by Barkers for Microsoft in April, we found that 70 per cent of women loved flexible working. Women also wanted support networks, remote working and job share opportunities.”
Although Microsoft has a lot of women in technical roles, according to Brown the ratio of female applicants to men is still very low.
Asked what changes need to be made to encourage women to apply for roles in the IT industry, Brown said: “More needs to be done to encourage women to return after having a baby, especially IT engineers because they feel they lose their IT skills after dealing with baby issues for 12 months, particularly with the rate technology is upgraded these days.”
Channel marketing firm Xact IT Marketing has specifically targeted women who have had babies and are looking for part time work.
Damien Harold, managing director of Xact, told CRN: “I have 10 staff and seven of those are ladies. We do a lot of coldcalling for marketing campaigns and events, so typically most of the women work a half day concentrating on calling potential customers.
“If I employed full time staff to do the calls they would get bored and burn out quickly whereas these ladies welcome the break from their home lives and enjoy just doing half a day calling. I get more from them in that half a day than I would if they did a full day.
“We have Citrix links for everybody so they can work at home if they need to. Though most of them like to come into the office at least once a week as it builds team spirit. The ladies are very enthusiastic and I have found some great talent. I also think we have caught onto the best way of doing cold-calling.”
Rebecca Tipler, office manager at Xact, added: “Xact has a great understanding of how difficult it is for ladies to come back to work after having children. It’s very flexible here and because they are all working mums everyone understands the challenges and things that can crop up at the last minute. We have a buddy system so the ladies are paired up and if one of them cannot come in then they can call their buddy to do their shift, for example.”
Returning to IT
So while it appears evident that the industry is agreeable to having more women on board, advancements still need to be made in enticing women into the profession.
MacGregor said: “If you went back 10 years, there were no women in industries like accountancy, law and medicine, it was all men, but gradually a step-change happened. This is what is needed in IT. It needs to have people like us going out and evangelising the industry to school age people.”
Derrian Rushton, support manager at Chess, said: “I think we’ll still have a situation in two or three years where IT is still largely male dominated, but I have three children of school age and I find they are getting more of a push now at school about IT, so things will improve. It really does need to be pushed at education level - it is the only way we are going to see a change and have women coming up through the ranks.”
According to Hartnell, as well as getting the message through at school, there are other things that need to be addressed.
“The things companies such as Connect are doing are great, but we need to look at what can be done to change things at government level and industry level - getting strategy changes for example. It also has to start with re-training people from other careers. Encouraging women who have had a career break to consider IT as an option when they return to work, for example.”
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