Why recruiting more women into tech makes good financial sense
Women in Tech The tech sector is crying out for more women to be recruited to its ranks, says Tara McGeehan, Senior Vice President, CGI UK.
Why has the tech sector failed to attract more women over the last 10 years?
"The sector is very new: we've only been around for 30 or 40 years. Unfortunately, during that time, we've given ourselves the image of only being of interest to geeky young guys — which isn't reflective of the kind of work we do. Also, until recently, the industry has been very 'back office': all mainframe computers and writing code. But that's changing because the advent of digital has shown it to be creative, innovative and more in tune with our everyday lives. Until now, I think girls at school and college haven't seen it as a particularly welcoming environment — or one they want to work in. We now have an opportunity to change their perceptions of our industry."
What will happen to the sector if this trend continues?
"Women are half the world: so if you reduce your available workforce, you'll reduce your ability to work successfully. A mixed workforce comes up with more creative ideas and brings a better balance of personalities. I don't think encouraging more women into tech is an altruistic idea. I think it's a common sense one. Here in the UK, CGI has been ranked as the number one Top Employer this year by the Top Employers Institute, and we are proud of our activities to recruit and support women."
What kind of challenges do women face in the tech workplace?
"Discrimination may be less of a problem in the tech industry because we're new and don't have quite so much 'baggage' as more established sectors. But anyone who is the only woman on the team will face challenges, simply because they're in the minority. It might be the challenge of getting their voice heard, for example. The way we solve that, of course, is having more than one woman on the team..."
What can employers do to increase gender diversity and get more women into leadership roles?
"By making sure you recruit a balanced team. So if you have graduates coming in, there's no reason why half of them can't be women — which then means you have a larger pool to pick from when it comes to promotion. Also, some employers lose women for family reasons: they have children and career breaks; and if they are not welcomed back, they will move on. Mechanisms such as mentoring and retraining are important for women who have been on maternity leave and CGI invests heavily in this area. We should also be more flexible when it comes to where people work and how they work."
What are the specific challenges of implementing these strategies?
"We can all be prone to wanting to work with people who look and act just like ourselves. Unconscious bias training is a useful counter to that. For example, ask your workforce to write down the 10 most trusted people in your organisation. Then you ask: how many are of the opposite gender to yourself? And how many are of a different race? Essentially that makes people question who they are surrounding themselves with, which can help when it comes to interviewing and recruiting. You have to be creative when it comes to making people realise that diversity is important to all of us."
How important are mentors and role models for women in the tech sector?
"They show younger women what can be achieved. And they can give them a little bit of advice too. I've increasingly seen myself in this role — I'm the most senior woman in CGI in the UK — and realise that it's my responsibility to provide a helping hand up to the next generation of women."
Are you hopeful that more women will see the value of a career in technology in future?
"I am. I think the digital age will help turn things around. Digital makes the sector seem a lot less 'techy', more relatable, and it offers more opportunities to women. It'll be the catalyst for bringing more females into the sector. I'd say to any young women thinking about a career in tech: don't be discouraged by preconceived ideas of what it's about and get involved. We're desperate for more women to be in our sector."