What we can learn about gender balance from the IT industry

Author: Milena Pervanje
January 2018

Numerous research confirms that gender-balanced teams are more successful and that the synergy of male and female energies brings a plethora of positive effects to a company. The IT industry, traditionally considered to be a male-dominated field, is well aware of that and it has developed interesting new approaches to this issue which can benefit other industries as well. 

Decision-making positions are still mostly held by men despite significant changes in the past few years. We still see, and in some fields even more than ever before, typically female and typically male positions and occupations. Perhaps there are some to whom this seems straightforward and right but the fact remains that an organisation or a company looses out on a number of positive effects of employing a gender-balanced population. 

Quotas don't cut it

An established political approach to bring more women to decision-making positions are prescribed quotas which are a solution, but only a partial one. Quotas make the path to top positions a little smoother for women but until we make a shift in the mindset and cut the prejudice cords which hold women back we can not expect major changes. 

The only thing quotas address is the percent of women holding top positions while leaving the wider problem untouched and thus traditionally one-gender occupations remain without the benefits of mixed gender teams and gender variety.

Research among more than 100 teams in 17 countries has shown that gender-balanced teams are more innovative, share their knowledge more efficiently and perform tasks better than mainly male or mainly female teams. 

This is how the IT does it 

Human resource managers in business companies are faced with a problem how to ensure gender variety and not fall into the trap of discrimination in the selection process. High-tech IT companies present a great field for solving this problem. They are traditionally male-dominated environments and are fully aware that by excluding half of the population they are loosing at least half of their business potential. They are also a highly innovative environment capable of approaching this problem in innovative ways and that is exactly what they are doing. So let's take a look at some good practice examples from the IT world which could be transferred to other “male” and “female” industries. 

IT corporations are taking a long-term approach to making sure they employ a gender-balanced work force. They identify potential and start building relationships with female experts in advance and when the need for a specific professional profile arises they include these already identified female candidates in the selection. The process has roughly three steps:  

Gender balance securing candidates' search has three steps:

  1. Talent mapping
  2. Relationship building
  3. Formal selection

1. Talent mapping 

Talent mapping is used by the largest IT companies which are aware of the gender asymmetry and are striving to eliminate it. In a selected state or region they identify successful women working in an IT related or compatible field who have competences, interesting to the company. 

This means they don't analyse only other computer and high-tech companies but also those with business models similar to their own, reaching to sectors such as pharmaceuticals industry, mass consumption industry, automotive industry, telecommunications and other sectors. 

This is how they map women, potentially suitable for typically male positions, and men, potentially suitable for typically female positions.

2. Relationship building

When an IT corporation has information about female potential, human resources and marketing or public relations departments work together to develop a programme to manage those potentials. They establish contacts with the ladies on the potentials list, engage them through informal, social networking, offer them events filled with content these women might find interesting (business events, breakfasts and lunches, social events) and offer them other small benefits (such as short personal growth seminars available as part of other events, inclusion in some internal events) - all of which bound these women to the company's values.  

Of course these activities must be executed discreetly and not aggressively as an inappropriate approach would ruin even the best of intentions. Potential candidates' relationship management must not seem as a cheap advertisement. Instead, the whole process must exude a sincere desire to ensure equal opportunities, encouragement and positivity in the long run, consistently and without a hidden agenda. 

3. Formal selection

When a need to fill a typically male position with a new employee arises, human resources department invites the already identified female experts and includes them in the candidate selection process. 

It needs to be underlined that the selection process is managed as usual and that these pre-identified female candidates are treated the same way as all other candidates. If the competences of a short-listed female candidate are the same as the competences of a male candidate, she will have an advantage, but gender alone does not and can not constitute a better starting point. 

In some IT and other high-tech companies including female candidates in the short-list is even considered one of the key performance indicators (KPI) of the human resources and hiring managers. However, the quality of the selection process and selecting the best candidate for the job still carries the most weight. 

Good practice examples

In Romania Microsoft is successfully leading activities to connect women in IT industry and, among other things, holds a yearly conference Leadership@Feminine.  

In Bulgaria more than half of Microsoft employees are women, a result of strategic activities and respect for the special characteristics of the female population. Read an interview with George Randelov, Microsoft's public sector director for Central & Eastern Europe. 

SAP corporation targets female students, invites them to meetings with their top management and presents career opportunities within its SAP Business Women's Network

You can find a number of LinkedIn groups which connect women holding top positions and which were formed by women themselves (such as IBM Women in CEE, Russia & CIS) or for them by corporations (such as Microsoft Women Building Careers).  

It doesn't happen overnight but it is worth the effort

These examples prove that things can change for the better. Of course these are long-term projects, nothing happens overnight. But with clear goals, with support from decision makers, with the patience of those in charge and with good ideas results are guaranteed.