Fiona Woods, Head of Human Resources, Europe, Cognizant writes a guest post for BCS on the organisation's experience in creating a gender-diverse workforce.

When it comes to gender differences, it is often discussed how men rely easily and more profoundly on their left brain to solve one problem one step at a time. Women, on the other hand, have more efficient access to both sides of their brain and therefore greater use of their right brain, meaning that they can focus on more than one problem at a time and frequently prefer to solve problems through multiple activities at a time.

What this means for IT businesses is that gender differences encourage various perspectives and ideas from individuals that foster innovation. Different voices and views lead to new ideas, the creation of new services and provide valuable insight into customers.

Because of this, diversity is not just vital in an IT organisation; it is a crucial competitive advantage. You cannot be successful if you do not have an inclusive workforce that represents both forms of problem solving. However, many organisations face the same challenges in attracting and retaining female talent. For example, only 27 per cent of all computer science jobs are held by women.

Cognizant offers an initiative called Women Empowered to keep its employees engaged and excited about a career in IT. The following are the components we have discovered are necessary to make sure an organisation can run better by sharing knowledge more efficiently and run differently to innovate and remain competitive.

A structure that encourages diversity

Company leaders need to manage change from the top by deciding on and building an organisational structure and value proposition that supports and encourages diversity. Once established, it needs to be communicated clearly through the company’s HR department. This involves providing diversity training through mentoring programmes and in inductions for new starters, so all employees understand the importance and benefits of having a mixed workforce.

Flexible working

While most of the issues women encounter in their daily lives are universal, Cognizant has found that in some of the markets where the company operates, flexible working can be especially important. For example, in countries where there is greater pressure on women to maintain traditional roles at home while maintaining their responsibilities in the workplace. Women can find it particularly difficult to strike a balance between work in technology organisations, which are male dominated, and responsibilities at home, such as childcare.

What’s more, for global organisations, offering the chance for employees to work in different offices around the world encourages individuals from different backgrounds and cultures (as well as gender) to share knowledge and insights to make the workforce stronger.

Other flexible working arrangements include part time work, flexible start and end times, shared roles and working from home or remotely some or all of the time. The use of cloud-based technology enables this.

An inclusive employment brand

It is vital for businesses to broaden the pool of talent, while also helping to build an employment brand that is seen as fully inclusive. Therefore, companies need to have plans and programmes in place to recruit, develop, and retain a diverse workforce, building recruitment channels which reach diverse groups of candidates. Cognizant, for example, recently attended the UK Target Job event ‘It’s Not Just for the Boys’, which resulted in a large number of well qualified female IT and business graduates applying for our graduate programme.

Direction from the top

For diversity and inclusion to have real meaning, there needs to be accountability, and the buck should stop with the CEO and the board. With a diverse workforce, businesses must embrace better ways to organise teams, cultivate innovation, allocate resources, and reinvent knowledge processes.

Use of technology

Using the right technology to enable this type of workforce can be very attractive to current and prospective employees and set you apart from other businesses that are more rigid in their approach. This means organisations should consider full integration of social networks and tools such as Google Docs to improve collaboration, as well as mobility, analytics and cloud computing technology. Putting this SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technology into practice is where the challenge currently lies.

When a holistic programme is put in place to make sure gender diversity is encouraged throughout an entire organisation, it becomes easier to recruit women and make them feel that they are part of a strong and important community. Their needs and concerns must be heard and addressed by the C-suite as with any other employee. This is an approach that ensures women are engaged and excited to be part of an IT community of employees who face similar challenges at work and who have similar professional interests.