In the US, there are more chief executives named John than there are female CEOs in total. In fact, the number of men called David in the country's top jobs outweighs top-ranking women too. And, in the technology sector, of the 1.4 million jobs in IT which will be available by 2020, only a staggeringly low 0.4 per cent of those will be filled by women if current trends continue.
That is according to the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP)'s new UK Women In Technology (WIT) community, which has been launched in a bid to close the gender gap in the IT channel and encourage the next generation of young women and beyond to smash stereotypes and join the technology industry.
The IAMCP WIT group gathered for its inaugural event at Microsoft's Reading campus earlier this month to get the ball rolling, hosting a number of speakers - both female and male - who addressed gender in the workplace and the issue of diversity in business as a whole.
The UK WIT charge is being led by Julie Simpson, managing director of ResourceiT Consulting, who began her campaign after hearing the 2020 IT jobs forecast figure at last year's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).
"I was astounded at some of the information I heard there," she said. "[I thought] come on - we can do something about this. We can work together to change the gender imbalance that exists and encourage each other to feel like we can succeed and make a difference together. At some point, someone has got to stand up and, yes, I have chosen to stand up.
"I am not a political activist, nor a campaigner for women's rights. I would certainly not burn my bra - let's face it, that would be a big fire! - but what I do believe is that we must remember the history of those who have gone before us to drive change."
Long time coming
Simpson admitted that the WIT cause can be a difficult one to promote, to women as well as men, due to perceptions that backing the cause is too political for them. She conceded that she too was initially reluctant to get on board.
"It irritated me that there was even a group called Women In Technology," she said. "You wouldn't have a group called Men In Technology, so why would you even have that? I really felt like that and I really resisted it for quite some time because it seemed like ‘oh look at her - she's successful and she is a woman. Isn't that amazing!' I just found that really difficult."
She said a turning point came when a LinkedIn blog she wrote about her initial meetings with the WIT movement attracted some unwanted attention from a male peer.
"This guy left a comment along the lines of ‘they are everywhere!'," she said. "So, do men - and women - feel a bit sniffy about WIT? Yes. Can we change that? Yes. Are there enough of us here willing to carry that message? Yes. We are going to change that."
Simpson added that in order to further the cause across the industry, men were invited to WIT's inaugural event too, but hardly any showed up. Some men registered for the gathering, which overall attracted more than 100 delegates, she said, but only about six - including sound and video technicians - went along.
Microsoft's UK partner boss Linda Rendleman (pictured), who spoke at the event, agreed that she too was not initially keen to back the WIT cause until she came across some statistics which shocked her.
"I want to have a bit of an honest moment," she said. "I've kind of had this [reluctant] feeling in my gut [about WIT] which is a terrible thing to say as a woman. It is about leaning out and thinking ‘I have so much going on already, what am I going to look like? Are people going to think I am trying to fight a cause just for the good of it? What am I doing to have to do?'"
But she said that once she had seen figures showing the sharp decline in women graduating from computer science degrees over the past few decades, she changed her mind.
"With women in computer science degrees, we were on track in the 80s to have a nice mix of men and women and then all of a sudden it trailed off," she said. "The number of women getting computer science degrees has halved in the past 20 to 30 years. This is when I said ‘it is good I have done some mentoring in my career, but now I feel it is imperative to champion the cause of diversity in the workplace'."
While ethics is a strong driving factor behind many women's personal ambitions to promote women in the technology industry, the WIT group is keen to stress that promoting diversity can have some tangible financial benefits too.
"Diversity is good for business," the WIT group claims in its mission statement. "Gender diversity introduces innovation which fuels better business, builds stronger relationships and increases profitability. We will attract a strong membership by example - by acting ethically, honestly and courageously and through an ongoing commitment to community outreach activities."
Doing IT for themselves
Microsoft's senior partner sales manager Richard Watson, who is a diversity champion at the firm, said the company has recognised this and has made changes to the way it recruits in order to attract a wider variety of applicants.
"We've actually changed how we word our job advertisements," he said. "There was a piece of research which is quite widely recognised and known that shows that the typical job description has a list of bullet points - about 10 or 15 - which say ‘these are what you need to do this job'. If you're a man, you look at that list and say ‘yeah, I can do 80 per cent of that, great, I'm going to apply'. Now, based on the research and not necessarily my personal opinion, if you're a woman you look at it and think ‘I can't do 20 per cent of that, I'm not going to apply'. There is a difference in perception. As a result, we have changed the way we word our job descriptions to be much more about the outcomes we are seeking."
He described the move as "one small example" of what the company has done to attract a more diverse workforce.
He talked up the company's DigiGirlz scheme which gives high school girls the chance to learn about careers in technology, talk to Microsoft staff members and participate in hands-on technology labs and workshops.
"They get a sense of what it is like to work for a technology company," he said, "And then they get to do a task - typically to build an app. They have to have a team, a project leader, do the coding and promotion activity. It is a really great opportunity to get young girls to understand what a career in technology can offer them and hopefully to build on their interest. Worldwide we've taken 26,000 children through this programme.
"I think that early on when people think about their careers - or careers for their children - we need to think about how we capture them at this point. It is fundamental."
Women in Technology - what's the point?
The IAMCP's Women In Technology movement claims to be based on the following values as it pursues its mission for equality:
To connect the creative, innovative and hardworking women in the Microsoft ecosystem for the purpose of:
■ Providing mutual support in achieving professional and personal goals
■ Attracting and retaining women in careers in information technology
■ Understand that each of us has the power to change the lives of others - we will use every interaction as an opportunity to affect others in a positive way
■ Fostering a culture of community involvement and volunteerism - finding ways to give back to charities that reflect our commitment to improving the lives of others
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