Women in IT: Where to next?

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Elinor Swery, Technical Consultant, IBM New Zealand. 29/8/16

I recently showed a picture taken at an ordinary team meeting to a number of friends who also work in IT. There was one thing that really struck me about this picture and I wanted to see if my peers would notice it. The picture showed 10 men working on an agile project. Not a single woman was there, despite the fact that the end users of what they were delivering would be 50% women.

We are all aware of the fact that there is a shortage of women in the STEM industries. But when I showed this snapshot to my peers, no one took a double look at the fact that there weren’t any women in the team. This was normal to them. This is their every day working life.

Women make up less than a quarter of the IT workforce in New Zealand, and the conversation around the importance of diversity has been prominent over the last few years; A recent report by McKinsey Global showed how advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth and Sheryl Sandberg discussed how diverse teams are more innovative, perform better and bring more revenue and profits.

Even with this evidence from business leaders, we need to push harder for real change. Bridging the gender gap is an easy win and one that we should all strive to achieve.

As a young woman in IT, I have to say that my experience so far has been great. Most people I work with (young, old, experienced, new, male or female) are aware of the fact the workplace isn’t the same for men and women. They know that society hasn’t really encouraged women their whole lives to join this industry and that women often face a completely different set of challenges in the workplace.

I have had the privilege of receiving an incredible amount of support and guidance so far, from men and women in a range of levels of seniorities As our HR leader, Hayley Sullivan described in her blog there so many initiatives in place within IBM that advocate for diversity, including the excellent Shadowtech program (pictured below).

We have a Women in IT network at IBM and as part of that, I have attended a number of events, both educational and social. I’ve also met many influential and passionate women from the wider industry through networking events who have all shared their wisdom. Are my male counterparts a little jealous? Possibly, but until that gap is closed there is still a vital need for this in our industry.

Elinor Sweery presenting at Shadowtech

We all know that it is the right thing to do to support women, but I don’t think that this has penetrated everyday behavior. People still do not recognise what is wrong with an all-male team. No one means any harm when they accidentally hand over an empty glass to you at an event, because they think you are a waitress, or when they expect you to take the minutes in a meeting because “surely your handwriting is neat”.

Most people are now waving the diversity flag, but actions speak louder than words. I ask everyone working in IT to take a few seconds every day to make the IT industry better for everyone and especially for the young women considering future tech careers.

And for all the fellow women out there, as Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM said:

“Don’t let others define you. Define yourself!”

The views expressed the above blog entry are those of the author, and not necessarily those held by IBM Australia Limited, IBM Corporation or its affiliates.

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