By Marieke Eras
“You’ll be the first and only woman in our team.”
This was what I heard at an intake for a new assignment. Although it didn’t really surprise me, it was once again a confirmation of how few women work in IT. Especially when that statement was followed by “It might be a bit of a challenge,” it reminded me how much bias there still is. Luckily for me, the team (and any team before this one) was nothing but welcoming and supportive, but the fact that women are still so underrepresented in IT specialist roles is an absolute shame.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in more technical and logical things, rather than the ‘typical girl things’ like dolls. LEGO, Meccano, and mathematical puzzles, and later on computer games, were my go-to form of entertainment. So when I had to pick my specialization in high school, it was a no-brainer to go the science route. In university, I majored in chemistry, where roughly 75% of the students were male. This is also where I first got into contact with programming and what contributed to me getting a role as a business/IT consultant, eventually leading me to the IT traineeship that made me the Linux/DevOps consultant I am today.
Hire with inclusivity
Nowadays, only 18% of the IT specialists in the EU are women, and it seems difficult to attract more women into tech jobs. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of research showing that a more diverse workforce makes companies more profitable, more productive, and more innovative. However, inclusion and diversity can’t be fixed with a simple, one-time campaign but require continuous work.
Getting more women in IT starts with recruitment and selection. So many job ads still only mention he and him when describing what they’re looking for in a new colleague. While they don’t specifically say they’re looking for a male colleague, it’s not very inviting to anyone who doesn’t identify as he or him. Like this, there are numerous examples where the job description isn’t as inclusive as one might want or even need. Lastly, even a small paragraph expressing that a company values diversity and inclusion already helps make many people feel much more welcome.
The job interview itself is also where a relationship between the female interviewee and the company can be made or broken, and not just from the side of the hiring party. I’ve had more than one interview where, both directly and indirectly, I was asked about potential children and if I would maybe want to work less in the future because of that. Not only is it not allowed to ask this, it is also very insensible and somehow something that mainly women are asked.
Cherish your workforce
Of course, the work doesn’t stop at hiring more women; you’ll also need to keep them on board, something that seems to be very challenging as well. Female tech employees leave at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. The most common reasons mentioned include mismatching/poor management, a lack of career or salary growth, and a non-inclusive/’bro’ work culture.
Not only women might need a different management style; if you strive for a more diverse workforce, the management style needs to be just as diverse. This, of course, also goes for the work environment and culture. Although many women, including myself, will say that they can handle themselves within a male-oriented environment after hearing yet another sexual or degrading joke. But it gets old real, real quick. Good support and mentoring – without micromanaging – provide a much healthier and inviting work culture that not only supports women but everyone in the workforce.
One more important thing to get more women to work in IT, and to possibly help retain them, is to have more, and especially more visible, female role models, and also to champion them. Celebrate achievements publicly and show the world, especially young girls and women, that this can be them. That working in IT as a woman is a great opportunity and not solely reserved for their male counterparts.
In summary, despite the lack of female IT employees, the challenges that still remain, both in hiring and retaining them, and the long and uphill battle we still have to fight to change this; it is an amazing career to have as a woman. Therefore, we should celebrate and empower every female role model out there, as every single one of them is an opportunity to confront the current circumstances and bring about improvements!