Diversity

By Terry Storrar, Managing Director, Leaseweb UK

IT has a diversity problem.

Take a look at some of the industry’s biggest and most well-known companies: 70% of Apple’s senior management are white males, less than 40% of Facebook’s workforce are female and Google also has low employment rates for women and ethnic minorities.

The acute shortage of talent in the technology industry makes the slow pace of recruitment among women and ethnic minorities even more intolerable. With a pressing need to expand the talent pool to help address the shortage of IT professionals, women and ethnic minorities remain a largely untapped resource.

It’s not all the IT industry’s responsibility. After all, businesses can only recruit women into IT if they have the necessary skills and qualifications. Helping girls and women to develop an interest in science and technology and enrol in the relevant courses in educational institutions is the first step.

There is an assumed bias in favour of males when it comes to STEM courses. It starts in school with the belief that boys have a better aptitude for science than girls. This is often reinforced by how it is taught and who teaches it. The majority of STEM teachers are likely to be male. As a consequence there is a shortage of female role models in STEM for girls, making it harder for them to become enthused and inspired by the subject.

It is important to make STEM subjects more attractive to girls. Young women should be introduced to the basics of programming in school and encouraged to explore science. If they have skills and interests in STEM, they should be nurtured and supported.

It helps if the people nurturing and supporting them are women because it reinforces the belief there is a realistic path for them in STEM. It is also important girls are able to see and read success stories of women in the technology sector. Unfortunately, there are still very few high profile women in the IT industry.

Sadly, this is not a glitch but a feature. IT companies have been very slow to provide a work environment that is inviting for women. The perception of the technology industry is still very male-dominated. In its defence, the IT industry is still very young compared to many others. Science and technology are also “young” subjects in the curriculum. Nevertheless, as an industry that frequently labels itself as agile and fast-moving, the IT industry needs to prove those credentials by correcting the inherent male bias as rapidly as possible.

Providing evidence of gender diversity can help to attract more women into the industry. According to a survey by Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers believe workforce diversity has a significant role in their decision to apply for a job opening. Diversity also promotes innovation. Research by Josh Bersin shows inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be seen as innovation leaders in their market.

There’s also a strong economic case because diversity contributes to business success and profitability. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group found turnover at companies with a more diverse management team was an average of 19% higher. Clearly, it’s in the best interests of IT companies to do everything they can to ensure a more diverse workforce and create an attractive work environment for women.

Given the benefits of diversity, it is important to enthuse young people, women in particular, for a career in the IT world. The longstanding talent shortages afflicting the IT industry make it even more incumbent on companies to provide an environment that attracts, nurtures, sustains and promotes women.

Diversity works but it’s up to the IT industry to make work more diverse.