I recently met a young woman in Ireland who was working toward a technology-oriented degree, and she recalled being among three women in her course at the beginning of the semester. By the end of the semester, she was the last woman standing.
My new acquaintance suspected that her female classmates wavered on continuing their course of study because their classes were so male-dominated. And who can blame them? While some women are more comfortable than others being vastly outnumbered, the shortage of female mentors and role models in the technology sector poses a major concern, further illuminated by ISACA’s The Future Tech Workforce: Breaking Gender Barriers report.
The scarcity of mentors and female role models were the main barriers to career advancement cited by the survey’s respondents, with workplace gender bias and unequal growth opportunities also rating among the main factors.
I can empathize with the respondents, having experienced more than my share of conferences and board meetings lacking friendly female faces. I recall attending one conference where I was one of two women among about 200 delegates.
While there has been occasional progress during my 25-plus years working in IT and information security, the gender disparity in the technology field remains pronounced – a source of major concern from both societal and workforce perspectives. A Deloitte Global projection indicated less than 25 percent of IT jobs in developed countries would be held by women at the close of 2016, and nearly 9 in 10 respondents to ISACA’s study indicated they are concerned with the number of women in the technology sector.
Addressing this gender gulf is everyone’s responsibility – men, women, employers, educators and industry associations such as ISACA, which last year launched its Connecting Women Leaders in Technology program. Promoting networking and mentorship is a key piece of the program. Women should be encouraged to be confident and persistent in pursuit of their technology careers, and a mentor in the field – whether male or female – can be the most effective person to make that case.
There also is much that enterprises can do, such as ensuring they are offering equitable pay for men and women and providing flexible working arrangements. Having ‘Keep in touch’ days when women are on maternity leave, in addition to encouraging professional development opportunities such as webinars and online courses, are other worthwhile ways to ensure that women remain connected to the organization while on leave.
In addition to promoting a more just society, enterprises have bottom-line motivation to hire and promote women. Research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY shows that an organization with at least 30 percent female leaders could add up to 6 percentage points to its profit margin.
This does not surprise me. The women I have worked with are highly motivated, focused and encouraging of their colleagues. They are as knowledgeable – if not moreso – than their male counterparts.
Yet even at a time when more women are urgently needed, given the global shortage of skilled technology professionals, women still deal with too few career opportunities and too many barriers to advancement. Even as technology transforms the global economy at a staggering pace, we are still dealing with gender bias that hampered our mothers and grandmothers.
A challenge this large and this persistent can feel overwhelming, but there are steps each of us can take to make meaningful progress. If we are resolute, the day will come when our classrooms, offices and board rooms are filled with empowered women ready to make their mark on the technology workforce.