Transforming Technology: Is the Modern Leader Female?

As outlined in The Path to Professional Salvation for Modern IT Leaders, the modern CIO can no longer only be the domain expert of IT. Today’s leader must engage, facilitate, and win over the business to drive digital transformation, or that leader faces getting left behind. If women still only represent 16 percent of those working in IT would the role of the CIO benefit from greater diversity and stronger female representation?

In recognition of International Women’s Day 2019, North Highland hosted our first Women in Tech event, with an inspirational all-female panel discussing the intersection between Women in Technology and Women in Leadership, moderated by our very own Julia Beaumont. The panellists included women from a diverse range of backgrounds and industries, with a shared passion in advancing diversity and inclusion in the technology sector: Adah Parris (Futurist & Public Speaker), Catherine Luscombe (Dixons Carphone), Christina Scott (News UK), Gen Ashley (TECHKNOW Day), and Lina Kehlenbeck (Sainsbury’s). Here are some of the key topic points that emerged from the discussion.

What puts women off working in IT?

“Outward perception of the industry,” stated Adah. From the traditional ‘old boys’ club,’ to the start-ups with a culture of ping-pong tables and table football, a woman may struggle to be herself and become alienated.

“Lack of flexibility” is the main challenge in Catherine’s view. An advocate of flexible working, she questioned why many organisations still expect five days in the office. Naturally, the need for flexibility is key for many mothers, but often “more provisions are made for dogs than for babies," commented Gen.

Christina shared an amusing, yet poignant story of a previous childcare mix-up, resulting in bringing her eight-year-old son to the office for the day. As a leader, being open and honest about challenges inside and outside of work enables others to do the same. All of the panellists agreed that organisations need to build a culture whereby women feel they can bring their whole self to work.

Ultimately, not only do organisations risk alienating a vast, diverse pool of potential talent if women continue to be put off, but in an age where connecting with customers on a personal level is paramount, we need reflections of all customers designing and developing services inclusive to all. Research shows that shifting from an all-male or all-female team to one split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by nearly 41percent.

How can we break the mould?

Lina, passionate that a large part of the solution sits with education and challenging gender stereotypes at a young age, shared that she felt she broke the mould when asking for a pay-rise. Interestingly, evidence suggests that women ask for pay increases as often as men but get it 5% less of the time. Gen challenged the theory that women aren't asking when shared how she'd coached a young woman in negotiating confidently.

Breaking the mould often comes down to challenging preconceptions and the unconscious bias we all, inevitably, have. Prompted by a question from the audience, our panellists discussed various approaches to overcoming unconscious bias; Christina recommended attending training to improve self-awareness. Catherine advocated challenging day-to-day language.

Organisations focused on systems as well as people, for example by removing job bias from adverts and questioning recruitment processes, have been able to attract more diverse recruits.

What action can you take?

The event was incredibly action-orientated and focused on activities any person could implement in their professional and personal lives to drive the diversity agenda. Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Find a mentor: Mentoring shone through as a resounding positive for all of our panellists, with benefits for mentors and mentees alike. Learning from others’ styles and experiences can help with personal and professional development.
  • Celebrate your success: Identify and build up allies in your organisation. Find people who can amplify your voice in meetings and support your career goals. Be that ally if you see another being spoken over by a more dominant individual.
  • Be your authentic self: Take your whole self to work and encourage others to do the same. Take wellness and mental health seriously – mental health first aiders came up as a fantastic idea. Ask questions and be curious about your colleagues.
  • Negotiate confidently: Don’t be afraid to ask for the pay rise or promotion you feel you deserve. Build up your evidence to reduce the risk of being unfairly challenged.
  • Introduce a diversity target: Help establish the diversity level you want to achieve within your work teams. Start the dialog with HR and other colleagues to help propel the team or organisation in the right direction. Work with your recruiters to challenge job descriptions and recruitment processes. Attend unconscious bias training or introduce an awareness campaign at your organisation.
  • Forge partnerships: Work with organisations offering “back to work” assistance, or set-up your own, to help attract those women who have been on extended leave.

The bottom line? Don’t wait for someone else to take action. Don’t wait on society to change, or organisations to take charge. Lead from the front, be bold and be proud of the path you pave.