How the IT industry can overcome gender disparity in the workplace

The global IT industry faces a skills shortage that if not addressed, will hinder its growth and development. Recruiters are increasingly challenged to find the top IT talent demanded by their clients. While many argue that schools and universities are not adequately preparing people for the 21st century workplace, there is another more pressing problem making the headlines.

Simply put, there are not enough women working in the IT sector. Given that they represent one half of the world’s total population, a simple, yet sensible solution to the sector’s skills shortage is this: Hire more females.

At this point, a recruiter may claim that women are not necessarily overlooked for jobs in IT – they just aren’t applying. A possible reason for this is that the IT workplace is primarily marketed to men. We may live in a progressive world (for the most part), but traditional beliefs persist – however unconsciously. These old-fashioned ideas are reinforced by reality: IT, for all its youth, energy and innovation, is still led predominantly by men.

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So, how can recruiters and employers attract female talent to the IT industry? Here are three approaches that could help the IT sector maintain its growth trajectory – and create a more equal, positive workplace.

1. Support educational initiatives. Both recruiters and employers need to identify and support educational initiatives that help women develop a passion for IT early on in life. The industry as a whole stands to benefit if it makes itself more appealing to women at a young age. Many crucial study and career decisions are made during school years. Technology needs to be a compelling option from the get-go. Not enough schools make the effort to present IT – as well as other STEM subjects–as attractive fields of study.

There are initiatives such as ‘Women Who Code’ as well as numerous ‘IT-is-not-just-for-the-boys’ events that are well-respected. They focus on facilitating meetings between women in university and potential employers in the IT sector. They provide real insight into the industry, it’s challenges and developments, and offer both individuals and businesses a chance to redefine the status quo.

2. Promote diverse leadership.  It’s critical that recruiters and employers alike communicate that the same career prospects exist for male and female recruits looking to get into IT. Female coders are still considered an anomaly, but why? Society is not accustomed to seeing women in ‘techy’ positions, especially senior ones.

In fact, a lot of the misconceptions about women in IT are perpetuated by women themselves. Comparatively, there are very few industry role models to aspire to. If every single chief technology officer is a man, it’s hard (but not impossible!) for a young girl to see herself doing that job one day. Building a cohort of diverse leaders helps a business appeal to a wider collection of men and women.

3. Encourage mentorship. To help women in the workplace progress to more senior roles, employers need to offer coaching and development. Women who have ‘made it’ in the IT and technology industries have a responsibility to help other women succeed. This is where mentorship programs are particularly beneficial. And, of course, for any of these three recommendations to work, there needs to be direction and support from the very top.

 We do not need to glamorize IT. We need to portray it as the fulfilling, challenging and respected career that it can offer both men and women equally. If this gender imbalance is not resolved, the industry will sacrifice future growth and innovation, and never reach its full potential.

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