The IT industry and the rise of women in politics

Sarah Burnett, Vice President at Everest Group, and BCSWomen Deputy Chair, looks at what the IT industry could learn from the rise of women in UK politics.

The fact that Theresa May has been able to appoint seven women to the cabinet owes much to initiatives that encouraged women into politics supported at the highest executive level.

And of the 69 junior government and whips jobs announced this weekend, 15 went to women - at 22 per cent this is doing better than the number of senior tech jobs held by women (20 per cent), as found in the study by Mortimer Spinks with Computer Weekly, and lower than the near third of female appointments in the cabinet.

We are at a momentous turning point with Theresa May as a prime minister who is determined for this to be the start of women operating on a more even playing field and being role models to future generations.

We need the IT industry to learn from our leading politicians.

What has been our prime minister’s role in encouraging women to sit at the leadership table - and what can other industries learn from the changes we are seeing in politics? 

1. Positively encourage women

Theresa May, David Cameron and Tony Blair were able to create stronger female cabinets because they actively encouraged women into politics:

  • The Labour Party has had an all-women shortlist policy for some seats and others have encouraged women through different activities.
  • Theresa May co-founded Women2Win 11 years ago and made female political advancement one of her greatest priorities to date. She personally mentored and encouraged women - taking time to call and text support before interviews and meeting women. The number of Conservative women during this period has quadrupled from 17 female MPs to 68.

Driven at an executive level, these initiatives are achieving very positive outcomes. This is very important, given that you need a large pool of women in the ranks in order to have a number of strong candidates to select leaders from based on talent.

2. Schools programmes

To increase this pool of female talent, we need to start in schools, encouraging girls to think of IT as a career. All women in IT can play a part as role models in this.

3. All women should have mentors

The Mortimer Spinks study found that mentoring plays a huge role in people’s careers. Male IT professionals are more likely to have been mentored than women, with 56 per cent of men saying they had been mentored at some point, as opposed to only half of women.

Many advise women in the technology industry to find a mentor who can help them through their career choices and provide support.

4. Coordinate our activities

There are many women groups that are working hard to address these issues, mostly on a voluntary basis. Some companies are also pursuing strategic programmes of engaging with more women and girls in schools. But as with most activities, if we could coordinate all this effort under a national umbrella it would have many times more impact. We need an industry-wide initiative to tackle this problem.

The lesson here is that when senior executives in a sector initiate and support initiatives to get more women into the sector, success becomes much more likely and the rate of progress increases. Women have the ability and skills needed for politics, IT, construction and more. They just don’t see themselves working here or as leaders in these fields. They need to be encouraged, trained and mentored.

And this is not about ‘equality and diversity’. It’s plain business sense. Our IT industry has a major skills shortage - if we could only tap into female talent, maybe this shortage could be solved in just a few years?

June 2019
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