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Battling gender bias in IT

Sharon Florentine | Nov. 4, 2016
You can’t aspire to be what you can’t see. To get more women into IT careers, girls and young women will need role models, mentors and public examples of success.

there’s a societal perception that technology is a “lifestyle” and not just a job. And that mindset extends all the way into the corporate world and even the C-suite, says Flathers, who argues that the stereotype isn’t accurate and cites herself as proof. While she has a broad and diverse background in STEM fields, she doesn’t write code in her free time and she isn’t into gaming or other aspects of “programming culture.”

Nonetheless, the stereotype persists, and it can hurt women pursuing IT careers. “There’s a competitiveness about whether or not you have the chops, and if you’re not meeting all the criteria of the stereotype, then it’s perceived that you can’t make it,” Flathers says. “I’ve worked in software my entire career, and I have a lot of different experiences and knowledge, but I’m not going toe-to-toe with you on some miniscule aspect of a design pattern. But that’s what happens when you get into the corporate world, and women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves.”

Enabling women to succeed in IT means combating those innate beliefs and breaking the stereotype of what an IT pro looks like. While it’s important to start working on that as early as possible in the education system, Bonnie Crater, CEO of marketing analytics firm Full Circle Insights, says implementing workplace requirements like the Rooney Rule can help to make an immediate difference.

The Rooney Rule is a National Football League directive to increase the number of black coaches; it requires teams to interview minority candidates for every open head coaching position and senior operations job.

“This actually worked,” Crater says. “The NFL went from something like six percent to 22 percent representation over a few short years. These coaches were quite talented; they are quite successful. The problem wasn’t that there weren’t any talented black coaches, the problem was access.

Diversity at the top level breeds diversity all the way down. Having women in leadership roles and in senior positions means they’ll hire even more talented women.”

Hiring strategies

employers can also try to discard the notion that IT professionals need bachelor’s degrees in computer science in order to succeed. Instead, they can reach out to talented women coming out of coding boot camps, recruit self-taught programmers who might be working in another field, or set up internship programs to show girls and women what it’s like to work in the field, says Stephanie Weagle, senior director of marketing at Corero Network Security.

“There’s a huge opportunity right now, especially in the cybersecurity area, for women. Boot camps, coding challenges, hackathons and professional networking groups all need to get involved in helping tackle this problem,” Weagle says. “Companies should try working with high schools and universities to make girls and women aware of the incredible opportunities in security.”


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