The shortage of women in IT: Why we need diversity to thrive
By the end of this year, only 25% of IT workers in developed countries will be women, according to Deloitte. The current figures in the UK are even worse.
As CEO at Fujitsu in the UK & Ireland, this is one of my biggest concerns. This is not only because, as a woman, I have an interest in the topic but because in technology, and indeed in any business, diversity enables businesses to thrive. I strongly believe gender balance isn’t a nice to have; it’s a must have.
Tech companies like ours can only continue to innovate by having a diverse workforce. Businesses can become stilted and stifled if everyone comes from the same background. A mixture of complementary skills is needed to produce interesting results. In addition, women make up a large proportion of our customers both professionally and personally – so neglecting the value of women in the workforce will be a costly mistake.
However, there is still a stigma in some quarters about careers in IT and the type of women who might pursue them. Jobs in IT can be seen as extremely technical, ‘nerdy’ or even plain dull – but as we know this simply isn’t true. Technology touches every aspect of human life, and is in fact becoming increasingly human-centric. Careers in tech require multiple skills to develop new approaches to tackle the world’s most pressing issues. We absolutely must combat these prejudices and stereotypes.
Tackling the image of the IT industry in the media is vital. It’s significant that there are currently no positive role models for female scientists and engineers in well-known TV shows. Amy Farrah-Fowler in the Big Bang Theory is arguably the most prominent female scientist, but she isn’t exactly an inspiring role model for girls considering a career in science. Think of what the Good Wife has done for law; a show featuring a technology company with a strong female lead would be a fantastic way to showcase how interesting tech jobs can be.
I believe it’s the responsibility of all stakeholders in the IT industry, from businesses to government, to address the shortage of women. We must increase the skills pipeline of women in IT by encouraging the uptake of STEM subjects by girls at school and university. We need to find, encourage and give a voice to female role models at every level of tech organisations, to provide inspiration for younger (and older) women. For example, as part of my work for Engineers Ireland, I recently completed a tour of the country speaking with young school girls about the exciting opportunities that a career in engineering can bring.
But we must also support women already in this sector throughout their career life-cycle. Women’s networks have a large role to play here. At Fujitsu, we have a fantastic women’s network, which I am proud to have led as executive representative. Women from across our organisation have the opportunity to speak with each other and discuss the challenges we face. Ongoing support is vital for increasing the number of women in IT.
I myself have been fortunate throughout my career to have been encouraged and well-supported by various people. We need to make sure that that is the norm in technology companies, if we are to tackle the gender divide in our sector in the future. It is very disappointing that during my career we haven’t made more progress in encouraging women in IT. Technology is incredibly exciting and important for the UK economy – and we must increase the numbers of women in this sector to protect it for the future.
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