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Do you struggle to recruit and retain women within your organisation?

6th May 2013


As an attendee of the recent IT18 conference held in Sydney, I was lucky enough to listen and engage with a number of thought provoking speakers, many of whom touched on the topical subject of the decline of local skilled workers, in particular technical roles held by females.

These discussions touched on many findings, some of which I was surprised to hear, particularly when it was highlighted that in the 12 months from February 2011 – February 2012, Women in ICT occupations dropped from 131,000 to 91,500. While this decline could be due to personal circumstances such as starting a family, when viewed alongside the stats that 60.9% of NSW public sector employees are women, it implies this could actually be industry specific. From experience, I can tell you that recruiting and finding the top talent is tough enough at the best of times, I do it on a daily basis, and it’s great to have a diverse workforce but what do you do when you find one sector outweighs the other?

Nationally, IT university enrolments were down 55%, which shows Australian university entrants don’t want to study technical subjects. This poor number seems alarmingly odd given technology jobs are predicted to grow faster than all others in the next decade!

It is clear there is a lack of female role models within the IT space, therefore it is important that we look at the recruitment strategies and retention programmes currently employed, and decide on the relevant investment to ensure we start to see women get into tech now and those already in the industry continue to stay and develop.

Recruiting women
When positions become vacant, a company will look to hire the best quality candidate they can find and this is usually within a tight deadline, although given the above mentioned points, should organisations make extra effort to find and recruit female employees? Over the past 12 months, I have taken an active interest in this and some strategies are noted below.

Do an internal audit on your company:
This may be a harsh wake up call; however it is important you understand how your company is perceived by candidates out in the market, and be sure to understand the current male to female ratio. One company who recently carried out such an audit realised that 22.2% of their workforce were female yet they had no female Principal Consultants to look up to. Regarding this as a long term strategy, this organisation were adamant that they were not going to take the ‘token hire’ approach and made a statement of agreeing to employ one female for every male that they hired. While at times this lead to a longer process and instances of them losing top talent, it did assist dramatically with the imbalance in numbers.

Re-assess your interview process:
This can be tied in with the internal audit – is it too intimidating? The panel interview can sometimes be regarded as very confrontational. If this person is going to be a part of your team, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to meet the team in a relaxed environment and let them ask their own questions?

Offer family friendly working conditions:
Is there a position that can be split part time between two return to work mothers? Offering the flexibility will promote a productive and loyal workforce especially if they see it implemented and supported by senior management.

Develop partnerships with Women in Technology Associations:
What better way to network and to find the best talent within the market! Women are very loyal to their companies so many will not be active within the market – turn to women you know and respect for referrals.

Change advert wording:

Do you write a list of all the required traits for a vacant position? Women are more self selective and if they don’t feel they tick everything required they’re less likely to apply for the role. Sell the story of the position and the company to get real buy in from candidates.

Dispel the myth that all ICT jobs have to be super technical:
Not everyone within IT is a programmer or developer! Members of ICT teams don’t all have to be from a technical background, teams can be made up of BAs, PMs and Administrators. The traditional Level 1 Helpdesk role is a great example; it is based on delivering a high level of customer service and understanding the end users’ issues. Women are inherently more empathic and therefore find it easier to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. If they come from a customer service background and get some training and guidance on technical problems they would be a good candidate for the Helpdesk position

Offer scholarships or bursaries:
Nationwide, the ABC offers 8 scholarships every year for women studying TAFE or equivalent level courses, in electrical engineering, computer systems/shared technology, electronics technology and communications engineering. It results in a 4 week paid work experience providing invaluable hands-on experience in a fast paced broadcast media environment. It is mutually beneficial as ABC Technology staff get to work with some of the smartest, up and coming graduates.

Recently, I also attended EWAs (Executive Women in Australia) lunch hosted by the Hon Joe Hockey. He spoke of the need to ensure candidate pools were diverse as to guarantee the best selection. If he is recruiting and gets applicants of 10 men for each woman he suggests that they re-advertise and cast a wider net to ensure they’re getting a true representation of the current market. Having a diverse workforce is all about profitability and not ‘community service’.
A Goldman Sachs report stated that bridging the gender gap would increase Australia’s GDP by $195 billion. Why? This would see living standards rise, productivity would increase and pension liabilities would fall if certain policies were introduced to help close the gap.

Women are leaving the IT industry, many to raise families, and this doesn’t assist with the lack of role models and mentors available for those coming up through the ranks, therefore retention is key. To address this, I’ve outlined some ways below taken from companies that seem to be doing it well.
• Succession planning is key – Encourage people to move up within the ranks by offering mentoring (both men and women have an important role to play in this!)
• Offer flexible working conditions – The ability to work remotely is a large motivation and also promotes loyalty, the majority of responsibilities can all be fulfilled remotely thanks to modern technology and if this is implemented at a senior level too then seeing it filter down will encourage more women into the industry.
• Provide constant training and up-skilling. Invest in your current staff by sending them on training courses and asking them what they would like to learn.
• Empower women to be event speakers or panellists and to attend these events to network.
• Implement bespoke, inexpensive initiatives – I’m aware of a Global company that has employees whom work really long hours and they have implemented a computer with Skype enabling their staff to still say goodnight to their kids at home albeit virtually.
• And remember, one size doesn’t fit all – Understand the different requirements amongst your workforce. Not all who have a laptop want a bulky rucksack, it doesn’t look the chicest in the pub on a Friday – what about a fashionable tote for the women so that they don’t have to carry a handbag around as well?

Retention efforts should be made constantly, ask your current employees what they think – do they help embed the policies in the company culture? Do they feel they are valued enough within the company? The added talent and increased diversity will have positive effects on all companies, economy and society overall.