Advancing Women In IT Isn’t Just A Women’s Issue

Last month I attended CompTIA’s ChannelCon event in Florida. This is an annual event where 1,500 vendors, solution providers/MSPs and distributors come together to network, learn, and discuss issues affecting the industry. It’s also where attendees can sit in on various CompTIA Communities Meetings.

One of my favourite sessions over the three days was the AWIT (Advancing Women in IT) Community Meeting. There was so much energy, collaboration and belief in a common pursuit that it was hard to walk out without wanting to get involved. But the most interesting thing was that, when I mentioned it to some men over dinner, their reaction was surprise that I, a man, attended a “women’s meeting”. And it highlighted a popular misconception in our industry.

A Flawed Perception

For the last few years I have been lucky enough to be invited to attend the ARN Women in ICT Awards

And it’s been fantastic to see the percentage of men attending the event has been steadily increasing to where it’s now around 30%. I do however remember the first time I saw photos of the inaugural event. There was a handful of men in the audience, and my initial reaction was “what are those men doing there”?

I have since had a complete reversal of that opinion.
However, my initial reaction of “but it’s a women’s event” is unfortunately still a perception that many men (and in some cases, women) have today. And I’m not necessarily referring to sexist individuals. I know men who absolutely believe in equality for women, and want the AWIT movement to be successful, but haven’t stopped to think that they themselves are part of the solution.

In this month’s CRN, Nicki Page (CEO at MOQdigital) talks about her father’s influence on her choice of a career in IT. A career that today has culminated in her becoming CEO of Microsoft’s Partner of the Year. I wonder what our industry would look like today of every parent had given their daughter a Commodore 64 instead of a Barbie doll.

Why We All Need A Push

In our training, we explain that an effective channel model needs a “Pull” strategy and a “Push” strategy. That is, you need to educate customers to want your product (the Pull) but you also need to educate your partners to be able to recognise when a customer has an issue, and to then recommend your solution (the Push).

When I compare that strategy to this issue, I can’t help but think that the Women in IT movement has been so focussed on the Pull strategy (ie. getting women to want a career in IT) that maybe it has not put enough focus on the Push strategy (getting men to encourage women to want a career in IT, and considering them for roles that typically would have been seen as the domain of men).

The result may not just lead to greater diversity in the workforce, but possibly better productivity from the workforce.

In last month’s Sun-Herald, Maria Lally investigated whether women are better decision-makers than men, and discovered some startling facts. She references Therese Huston’s book “How Women Decide” where studies investigate how long women take to decide what to wear, but not how long men take to (say) choose a new car. These are stereotypes that reinforce our beliefs that men are better decision-makers than women. Yet, some of the studies referenced have found that women may actually be the better thinkers under pressure (something our industry thrives on).

Taking Action

So what does this all mean?

Well if you agree that this is an issue, we need to stop thinking of it as a women’s issue – it’s an industry issue (it actually goes beyond the IT industry, but I’m going to focus on what I know).

And that means encouraging women to put themselves forward for more senior roles, or roles that are traditionally male dominated. It also means taking off the blinkers when interviewing women for roles where women are a minority.

It’s also important to remember that women are far less likely to promote themselves than men. So if you work with an outstanding female colleague, encourage her to nominate herself for the ARN Women in ICT Awards. Nominations open on 28th September, so start thinking of the women you believe should be recognised at these awards. I know of a number of exceptional women who wouldn’t have entered had they not been given a little push, but went on to take out the top prize in their category.

Finally, join the CompTIA Advancing Women In IT Community. If you’re already a CompTIA member, it’s just one click, and you’ll be acknowledging the fact that advancing women in IT is not just the responsibility of women; it’s the responsibility of our entire industry.