Did you know women represent only 25% of IT professionals in Canada? I was shocked to learn this and, as a woman recruiting in IT, it left me with many unanswered questions.
As I found more information, I realized that women face more obstacles, particularly in terms of salary equity and career opportunities, despite the thriving IT industry in Quebec. What’s more surprising is that this industry isn’t a traditionally manly one. Neither the physical condition of women nor their sensibility can be used as arguments to legitimate such a disparity! Even with all our legal efforts deployed to improve family-work balance or any other program aimed at attracting more young women in this predominantly masculine field, I doubt it will be enough. Employers still have a lot of work ahead of them to attract and keep women long enough to have a career in IT.
In 2015, the Chaire Claire-Bonenfant-Femmes (at Université Laval) joined their efforts with TECHNOCompétences in a project financed by Status of Women Canada. One of their goals was to document and understand the reality of women in IT in Quebec. To collect data, they launche an e-voting platform to pinpoint the challenges slowing women down in the industry. Three main issues were raised significantly. I believe employers need to pay attention to these issues and the many proposals made by the researchers. My goal here is to explain some of the initiatives employers can take.
1. The lack of feminine networks, mentors, and success models
The lack of support discourages a lot of women in IT. While the ambience is generally positive (significant collaboration, engagement, and respect), other challenges exist. Coaching and mentorship are key in addressing the negatives sides of IT that are often linked with customer service and a culture of performance. Businesses must not only encourage following some courses, but make them mandatory for all employees. This would allow women and men alike to feel supported in their career progression, while also putting the spotlight on inspiring feminine models.
2. The challenges of work-life balance
Flexible schedules help maintain a healthy work-life balance. However, this is often outweighed by a high-performance culture. The role of women at home in our province is still largely traditional (despite the more progressive evolution of roles). Consequently, many women have to refuse taking part in migration projects, for example, because they often take place outside of regular business hours. This can make them anguished because they feel they can’t make themselves as valuable as their coworkers. Many measures can be implemented to alleviate this feeling. Here are some solutions:
- Formally offer more diversified career plans for employees and managers. The plans need to be detailed and followed throughout their annual evaluations. They also need to account for the character, constraints, and expectations of younger women and men, and recognize their long-term value. In fact, people who cannot offer unlimited time to the organization should not be put aside.
- Establish a work organization policy that account the needs of a healthy work-life balance and outlines flexible schedules, absences and making-up hours, remote work, progressive returns, and so on. The objective is to make sure everyone is treated fairly, while allowing for some flexibility to achieve the goals of the organization.
3. Girls’ lack of interest for IT
It’s true, girls rarely decide at a young age that they want to get a college diploma in networking. However, the IT industry is relatively young and offers great career opportunities. Initiative and innovation are two key factors to succeed in this field. To make these jobs more appealing, I think organizations should attend career fairs to explain the opportunities. The IT industry is more than just hardware and software. There are many other, various opportunities such as IT Project Manager for a health care organization, Team Supervisor at a help desk, Inventory and Budget Manager, etc. Young people need to learn about these endless possibilities. Offering scholarships is another great way to encourage positive models. In the end, we need to counter the perception that it is an industry stuck in a manly culture. Highlighting the social role of the IT industry will help stem its stereotypes.
I’d like to conclude on a positive note, because I really don’t mean to discourage anyone! I believe women are going to play a crucial role in IT. Many organizations in Quebec lead by example with their good practices. Not all of them walk the talk, however. I guess there is always room for improvement!