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How can we stop pushing women out of IT?

The underrepresentation of women in the Information Technology (IT) sector is a pressing issue that warrants attention and action. 

In an era where technology plays an increasingly central role in our lives, the lack of gender diversity in IT roles not only hampers the industry’s potential for innovation but also perpetuates inequalities in the workforce. Therefore, it is imperative to explore strategies to address this disparity and create a more inclusive environment in IT. One significant factor contributing to the underrepresentation of women in IT is the pervasive gender stereotypes and biases that permeate the industry. From a young age, girls are often discouraged or steered away from pursuing careers in technology due to societal expectations and perceptions of gender roles. As a result, fewer women pursue education and training in IT-related fields, leading to a smaller pool of female talent entering the workforce.

The question arises: how can we halt the trend of pushing women out of IT?

Stephanie Aceves, Senior Director of Product Management at Tanium

How can we stop pushing women out of IT?

“Diversity without inclusion is careless. It’s a way to say we’ve “done our part” without focusing on the longer-term outcome, which is inclusion. One of the reasons we see poor retention for females is because we often limit the focus to diverse recruiting, and often forget to create environments within our companies that are attractive to female team members. Inclusion looks at the needs of a group of people and aims to meet those needs in a way that balances the playing field for all parties involved. 

“Often, women end up somewhat disillusioned in the IT space when they realise the space was really never made for them. Something as simple as team swag – ordering men’s slippers and shipping them to the team as a thank you. I can’t even imagine a world where a company shipped women’s slippers to a team and expected the men to feel excited. We need to act in a way that shows women on the team have a space and are thought of during each phase of their careers, and not overlook the little things, as they often communicate a company’s stance more effectively than the “grand gestures”

It’s really not about representation. Speaking from experience, being a female in the IT space comes with more expectations for the same role. Women who are often the first or only female on their team are often expected to own increasing the number of females on their team. We are often asked to participate in additional extracurricular activities as a result of being a female and while these can boost personal brand, they are often in addition to the full time roles we already hold. If we want to boost representation of females on our teams, we need to stop making it a problem for the women to solve. This is one of the key drivers for burnout in my personal experience.”

Melissa Bischoping, Director, Endpoint Security Research at Tanium 

How can we stop pushing women out of IT?

Diversity goes beyond just standard demographic details and must include representation from those with non-traditional paths into cybersecurity and career changers. The most high-performing teams I’ve worked with have been made up of those who may have started a tech career after a 5-10 (or more) years in another field such as retail, hospitality, finance, or healthcare. They bring insight as prior consumers of technology and security decisions, and tend to lend valuable empathy for how security planning will impact other parts of business, and how to increase adoption and compliance. Teams, where members come from different academic backgrounds or professional expertise, are also high-performing; having a group who’ve learned through different examples and curriculums how to solve problems means you’re maximising the opportunity for innovation to emerge.

“I love identifying new talent through community colleges and capture-the-flag events. These environments are full of some of the most passionate, eager individuals who may not be getting offers because they didn’t attend a top-tier school.  Hire your interns and junior analysts from this pool of talent, and you’ll find that they bring fresh perspective and passion.

“Diversity is essential to closing the ‘skills gap,’ because you do open the door for more individuals to join the industry, but it must be coupled with reasonable job descriptions and fair pay.  Instead of searching for ‘unicorns’ that can do and know everything, invest in hiring and training to nurture your employees into well-rounded, experienced professionals. Prioritise mentorship opportunities on the job to diversify the employee’s skillset and build more peer leadership among your teams.”

“It’s often said that the lack of women in tech is due to lack of support, lack of interest, or lack of women attending college programs in STEM.  That’s simply not the case.  Today, many women join the industry, but may choose to leave because the work-life balance does not support their family goals, or because there are toxic behaviours that are tolerated in an organisation. When an organisation is recruiting, they need to ensure that their leadership and hiring panels are as diverse as the candidates they are trying to attract. 

“So many women are pushed out of the industry because of systemic issues in the “tech bro culture” that may foster sexism and harassment. It doesn’t matter how great of an engineer someone is – if they create a perception that your team or organization is hostile to those from different backgrounds, that single engineer’s behaviour can cost you the talent of dozens who will quit or reject hiring offers in the first place. 

“Recruiting from non-traditional avenues and welcoming those back into the field who may have taken a break to start a family are other important components of increasing female representation.  Generous parental leave policies, childcare subsidies, healthy PTO and work-life balance also all contribute to attracting and retaining employees of any gender in the industry. Childcare costs are astronomical, so anything an organisation can do to support employees who want to have a family will result in better recruiting and retention.”

Alicia Valderrama, Chief of Staff at Sekuro

How can we stop pushing women out of IT?

“Firstly, it effectively bridges skills gaps by tapping into a broader talent pool—especially noteworthy given that women constitute at least 50% of the workforce in Australia. Secondly, diverse teams bring innovative ideas and fresh perspectives to the table, resulting in more effective problem-solving and creative solutions. Lastly, fostering diversity isn’t merely about achieving numerical targets; it’s about creating an inclusive and thriving tech sector that benefits everyone involved.

“In the present day, the tech and engineering fields are still often perceived as male-dominated. This perception arises from the underrepresentation of women in these industries and a lack of female role models. However, as more women enter the tech sector, a positive snowball effect occurs. Increased visibility of successful women in tech inspires others, gradually shifting the narrative and encouraging more women to consider tech as a viable career option.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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