Gender Diversity – Mentoring Women in IT

kathryn

 

Kathryn Howard  is the Deputy Chair of itSMF Australia, the Twitterchat facilitator and the Ignites wrangler.

 

In an era where innovation and differentiation of product and service are key to remaining viable and relevant, women can, and do, bring unique perspectives to the workplace. Developing the potential of women is imperative for our organisations, communities and society as a whole to grow. In short, we need to focus on gender diversification.

I have mentored for FITT (Females in Information Technology & Telecommunications) for several years. Initially I viewed it as a way to give back to the community at a time when I found a little space in my life. As my life got busy again I made sure I found time for FITT as I became profoundly aware of the benefits being realised by the program, plus the benefit to myself.

What does gender diversity look like and how do we blend women into the fabric of our corporate world? We need to pursue the removal of boundaries and continue to encourage by providing ongoing support and access to role models.

Boundaries

What are the boundaries of which I speak? It’s within living memory that women were required to resign from the public service when they married.  And what about women’s access to education?  My mother never went to high school. The only children in my family to go to university were boys. Due to limited education and gender bias my initial career options were few and could be best described as having been shaped by serendipity. I am, however, very fortunate due to a little thing called the “technology revolution”. I found myself in a field I liked and had some aptitude for.

But others were not so lucky and it is incumbent on every one of us, male or female, to remain vigilant to defend the continuance of boundary removal to gender diversity.  

In Australia, our fortunate country, no one can argue against the right of today’s girls and young women to an education. But we still have some way to go to enable those same girls and women to develop to their best potential. Why are rewards and recognition different for men on the journey to a fulfilling career?  Where is the affordable childcare and equal pay (the gender pay gap was 17.2% in 2015)?  Plus where is the flexibility in the workplace in working hours and parental leave? Some organisations get it and reap rewards – but not yet all.

Encouragement

Everyone needs encouragement but young people particularly need encouragement to optimise their educational opportunities.

IT roles have long been considered the domain of the geeky male.  Of course girls can achieve in technology just as well as their male counterparts. And we are finally seeing a generation of strong young women identifying with these roles – pioneers if you like.  They now have a landing position, but where is their career map to achieve their potential?  Where are the female role models?

Support

It’s very difficult to shape a career in a vacuum.  Mentoring is a proven mechanism to aid people in their professional development journey.  The FITT Mentoring program focuses on young women in IT to nurture self-worth, personal development, and supports the non-acceptance of boundaries based on gender.

I’m not a young person anymore and never had a formal mentor.  Such programs never used to exist.  Being a mentor for FITT, however, has helped me to hone my skills in communication and leadership.  It has also provided me with a mechanism to remain connected to young people and to engage with them in a world of ever-evolving attitudes and culture.

Different careers will continue to disappear and appear over the coming years in increasing velocity.  The new emergent careers are in fields we can only dream of and many will be in technology.   Empowering women to be ready when the opportunity presents itself is key and I’m proud to say I’ve helped some young women on this journey.

My mother would be proud to see me speaking on behalf of gender diversity.  It is a term she would not recognise, although she would recognise the impact of its absence.  

My late mother rejected the role she was allotted over 70 years ago – the role of “stay at home daughter-housekeeper”.  She demanded of her father: “I want a job”.  Her father held control of her destiny so there was no alternate avenue for such a request.

The future workforce of blended diversity will enable us all to fulfil our individual and collective potential.  The good work of organisations such as FITT empowers our young women to the next step of self development and to demand of our working communities ……“I want a career”.  

Come along to Service Management 2016 to see Kathryn Howard’s ‘Ignites’ session.