Women in IT fight their corner

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To help address this, McGregor Boyall Associates and Techcentria are sponsoring a new web site, www.womenintechnology.co.uk, with a City of London launch March 8, International Women's Day. Speakers will include Deborah Howard, partner, IBM Business Consulting Services, and Carolyn Edwards, executive director of BritWIT, WorldWIT's UK chapter for networking women in business and technology.

Recruitment firm McGregor Boyall has been tracking statistics for women in technology for three years. The conclusions are not promising: fewer women are entering the technology field than in the past, once in they are not rising as far or as fast as their male colleagues, and more are leaving the profession than entering it.

Will a new web site do anything to curb these trends? The challenges begin well before women enter the workforce, says Maggie Berry, a recruiter at McGregor Boyall. "I think the key is how you attract more women into information technology-related degree courses and I am not sure anyone has an answer to that at the moment. From a recruiter's point of view, I always find that if female candidates are a good fit, clients move quickly to hire them." McGregor Boyall finds that it takes somewhat fewer contacts - CVs and interviews - for a woman to get hired than a man.

Numbers not adding up

Currently less that one fifth of the IT workforce is female, says Laurie Boyall, managing director of McGregor Boyall. Research done at Cambridge University shows the number of women working in IT in the UK dropped from 100,000 in 1999 to 53,000 in 2003. Fewer women than men enter technology courses, and then they leave the field at a higher rate. Most departures comes in two different stages - some leave around childbirth, and then a second group leaves several years further into their careers, often to start their own businesses.

A 2003 report by the Women in IT Champions Group with representatives from IT companies including Accenture, IBM, Dell, EDS, and Oracle, said that the lack of balance between men and women in the workforce threatens the UK's competitiveness. It called for further research.

The reasons for women's disproportionately low rate of participation in IT are still unclear. Berry says that women who are pursuing IT jobs through McGregor Boyall rarely ask whether a potential employer is female friendly, and she suspects that many of the men interviewing potential hires wouldn't address the point either.

"If firms are hoping to recruit more women, we feel they should push the benefits and support services they offer to women during the first interview," Berry says. "However, typically women are interviewed by a technical person, normally a man, who isn't necessarily thinking about what the firm offers to its female employees as it is most likely not at the forefront of his mind."

What's on offer

The benefits on offer to women, if they do get explained to potential candidates, are not normally covered until the HR interview stage when human resources break down the company's package and benefits.

Amy Cooper, a recruiter at Techcentria, finds that women are more apt to work as business analysts, project managers, or in networking than in programming. One major problem for women is that they are not seen as strong enough for a commercial environment. "You have to fight your corner in IT," Cooper says. "A lot of money is at stake."

The womenintechnology.co.uk site will provide information for female technologists and point them to positions at firms with open employment policies. Plans are to publish 10 to 15 articles a week and add more features as users request them. Those could include forums and links to other sites.

"We realise that womenintechnology.co.uk won't necessarily increase the number of female candidates available to employers," Berry says. "Its aim is to be a topical information portal for female technologists and we hope it will bring the issue of women working in technology to a wider audience and encourage more dialogue."

IT women on where they work

Freud famously asked, "What do women want?" One web site modestly addresses a part of that question - what they want from work.

"Where women want to work" at www.www2wk.com is about work opportunities for women and provides a place for companies to post their policies and outline opportunities they offer women. It also provides a posting site where women can offer their own assessments. Here are a few recent samples of commentary about financial firms:

Barclays:

"I used to work for the Bank of America, but I am now with Barclays. And I have to say what a difference. Although Barclays still needs to do some work in promoting women to the top, they are however supportive of the work life balance concept for both sexes."

Lloyds TSB:

"Although the senior management may be committed to the development of staff, I feel that the immediate management are not. I feel that they are not committed to their employees but to their purse strings."

Merrill Lynch:

"I am a mother of a little two-year old and have been working at Merrill Lynch London for over four years. I returned to the same job after nine months' maternity leave on a flexible arrangement and was promoted within eight months of return. Trying to keep objective, but I think the facts speak for themselves."

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