Women & the Tech Industry - An Event Recap

Yesterday, Girl Geek Dinners Oslo & Varnish Software got together to discuss issues related to women and Tech / IT. Such as, how do we get more women aboard, how do we make them stay on, what are the challenges we’re facing and what needs to be done?

Here is a recap of what went down:

Girls & Informatics – Never ending work
“It works, but needs to be worked with continuously”, Kristin Braa, leader of the “Girls & Informatics” project at the University of Oslo, has experienced firsthand that initiatives to increase the number of female Informatics students go up if the schools take the matter serious and work dedicated with it.

Some of the initiatives from the “Girls & Informatics” project:

  • Opening a “girls room” – a meeting place for female students
  • Recruiting more female group leaders
  • Communicate that you’ll learn everything you need at class – no programming skills needed in advance

Needs to start earlier
“If Informatics have ca 20 % girls, and IT-companies have 20% female employees, the numbers add up” one of the attendees noted in the group discussion.

“We need to start earlier, more focus on getting girls interested in IT at an early stage”, was the conclusion from the group. The attendees went on to discuss what could be done, here are some take away’s:

  • School counselors – Should be the most attractive job at the school – not part of the retirement plan! We need dedicated and up-to-date counselors to give the students the best starting point for their future education
  • Introduce programming and IT at school at an early stage.
  • Interdisciplinary focus – make IT an integrated part of all studies.
  • Go behind the technology – show how it works, and why it matters

    What can IT-companies do to attract more women?
    The average share of female employees in IT companies is 19 %. Evry has a share of 23 %, “and it is not enough” says Hilde Tank-Nielsen, a regional manager at the company and one of the initiators of the “Female@Evry” network.

    Some of Hilde’s advices:
  • Top-level management needs to be onboard – and communicate this both internally and outside the organization
  • Focus on increasing the number of female in management positions, they will be role models for others
  • Always bringing women “on stage”, make sure women participate in career days and company presentations
  • Change “exit survey” to catch up on why women leave, and uncover potential gender differences

Why do IT-companies say they want women, exactly?
Some feel that companies in their quest to increase their female share, (unintentionally) promote stereotypical gender based qualities ( e.g. “Women are nicer and less competitive = creates a friendlier work environment”), and as a result end up alienating female job seekers who would rather be hired for being the best candidate. What are “legitimate” reasons for wanting more women, and what’s not?

Nadia Tokerud, the communication manager at Smallworld Systems, raised this issue in her talk. Smallworld Systems, as so many other IT-companies, have an outspoken strategy about increasing their number of female employees, but they are also focusing on why they say they want women.

“We want the best person for the job and our female programmers have shown that they are just that”, Nadia says.

Recruiters have a way to go
“Men get a “potential quota”, women don’t. Even female recruiters give men this benefit”, Mailen T. Greve, head of Accenture Mobility, has substantial insight when it comes to IT-recruitment and she thinks we have a long way to go.

It is not enough to have a female employee present at the interview (which many companies are doing today as part of the strategy to increase the share of female employees). We need to go deeper and challenge the prejudices.

Job ads are part of the problem
“Change the job ads if you want to attract more women”, one of the attendees noted in the group discussion.

Feedback from the group discussion:

  • The ads often contains language that alginate women (“Code Rockstar” “Ninja”)
  • Kill the bullet point lists with qualifications (women only apply if they can check of all, men if they can check of half?)
  • Ship the standard “about the company” section – focus on what makes your company unique and why anyone should want to work there

Women has a job to do, too
“Women show, they don’t tell. And that’s holding them back”, says Mailen T.Greve, she has been involved in managing several women network and is confident networks are needed and work. She also thinks women has a job to do.

She advice women to:

  • Speak up about your ambitions – tell your manager what you hope to accomplish and when
  • Team up with a colleague and be a “Skrytekamerat” (“Boost-buddy”) for each other

Thanks to the host, Varnish Software, the speakers and all the attendees!

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