How Women in IT Are Championing Change

March 04, 2022

Contributor: Katie Costello

Consider the implications of the gender gap in IT and what smart organizations are doing to make progress.

Often surrounded by primarily male C-level executives and teams, women in IT face unique challenges, among them marginalizing behaviors from peers, biases from others, and self-limiting beliefs. IT is second to last in terms of representation of women across corporate functions. They make up only 26% of IT employees, and that number decreases across the ranks of senior leadership.

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With International Women’s Day 2022 taking place on March 8, we spoke with Christie Struckman, Vice President Analyst at Gartner, to learn how women in IT are championing change and accelerating their personal and organizational success.

Why does the gender gap across leadership teams still exist today, particularly in IT?

Many organizational leaders recognize that there is an unbalanced representation of women and men on their leadership teams, but they view it as a social problem, rather than a business problem. This means they are not prioritizing it.

The irony is that IT organizations continue to face pressure to deliver solutions quickly and with limited resources, and the answer is staring them right in the face: recruit and retain diverse talent. The benefits diverse teams bring to an organization, like increased innovation and the ability to resolve issues more quickly, allow IT to work smarter. 

To complicate matters further, hiring requirements for IT roles are antiquated. When presenting at IT conferences, I like to ask the crowd who has a technical degree. Every time, less than half the audience raises their hand, revealing that many of the senior-most technical leaders at any given organization come from non-technical backgrounds. This, combined with research that shows women tend to shy away from jobs they don’t believe they are 100% qualified for, suggests IT teams are artificially limiting their talent pool by recruiting against those outdated job descriptions.

Based on your conversations with women IT leaders, what are some of the unique challenges they face?

First and foremost, women face marginalizing behaviors like ageism and the “my idea syndrome” — when a male colleague repeats an idea that a woman has just offered, and a robust discussion ensues with no acknowledgement that the woman had said it first.  Marginalizing behaviors like that progressively and successively teach women they are not valued. This contributes to them leaving.

Turnover is only exacerbated when you bring pay equity into the conversation. Women are paid less than their male counterparts, on average. When organizations do not deal with these issues, it is difficult to retain women. Women in technical roles, who tend to leave at the mid-manager level and more often overall, quit their jobs at more than twice the rate of their male peers. 

Learn more: The 2022 Workplace Trends That Business Leaders Must Address

What are women in IT doing to champion change?

A group of passionate women at a leading global healthcare company started a program to attract and retain women in technology programs. Their efforts paid off within just one year, with representation in the IT workforce rising 4% overall and 10% on the information security team. In addition, women who took part in the program reported an increase in their confidence, optimism and resilience, some of which resulted in them taking the next step in their careers.

To all women in IT: Capitalize on your inherent strengths. We know how important it is for younger women to see that progression is possible. Let them see you and feel your impact by being a vocal champion of making change happen in your organization.

How are smart organizations supporting this?

Those that are making progress in improving female representation at all levels in IT have a structured program for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Gartner has seen an uptick of women in tech employee resource groups (ERGs), which serve as a forum for women to focus and share their experiences and ideas, learn from mentors, hear from guest speakers and develop strategies to navigate their careers. Smart organizations also bring in senior male co-sponsors to reinforce support for such programs.

Organizations will make significant progress on female representation by creating a pipeline view of the life cycle of female employees in their workplace, prioritizing: 

  • Recruiting women so that there is a robust talent pool
  • Retaining women through development, promotion and an inclusive work environment
  • Reporting progress with an ability to troubleshoot problems and perform predictive forecasting

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