Getting serious about gender diversity in the workplace

by Fernando Ducoing

Kylie Mitchell is part of an extraordinarily successful IT team. This is not only proven by numerous awards, such as the Confare #CIOAward to Managing Director Andreas Kranabitl and even first place in the election for CIO OF THE DECADE last year. The market success also shows that the team and its management are on the right track. As Head of Digital Workplace Services Kylie is responsible for designing the digital employee experience. We are very happy that she told us more about what it means to have a career in IT as a woman, the advantages of gender diversity and what companies can do to make progress in this area.

Meet Kylie Mitchell and the SPAR ICS management team and more than 400 top-class IT decision-makers at Austria’s largest CIO and IT management meeting place, the Confare #CIOSUMMIT.

14. Confare #CIOSUMMIT 2021

Austria’s bigest IT forum
01/02 September 2021

With the Confare #CIOAward

#CIOSUMMIT 2021

What is the significance of gender diversity for a company? What are the advantages of a more balanced gender ratio?

We all know that gender diversity, as well as cultural diversity, has a positive effect on an organisation’s long term earnings, sustainability, and profitability. It has been proven with multiple studies from eminent organisations such as Harvard University, McKinsey etc. This is not news.  If it is not on your recruiting and management agenda, it should be.

Why? Gender diversity signals an attractive work environment, which is particularly important in the competitive field of hiring and maintaining top IT talent. Job seekers and top candidates care about the diversity and international aspect of a company’s culture. The most talented individuals go to companies that demonstrate diversity. Top female candidates are not interested in companies that show gender diversity at entry level only. Diversity also brings fresh approaches to problem solving and ideas. Homogeneous teams are yesterday. The markets in which we operate are changing and evolving at a faster pace and we need to be ahead of the curve.

Troubling for me is why we are so far away from gender diversity in upper management in Austrian companies? The recent “Frauen.Management.Report” released by the Arbeiterkammer Wien showed the average of female representation in upper management in companies within EU countries is just above 19%. In Austria the representation is just under 7%. Hooray! We have the honour to “win” 2nd last place of all countries within the EU. It’s frustrating and disappointing.

The IT industry is still male dominated. Is it particularly difficult here to make a career as a woman?

Kylie Mitchell, Head of Digital Workplace Services

 

I think the barriers for women entering IT begin already at school. There is still a strong cultural push for women to study more in the social sciences and men to take the science and technical path. However, I do believe female technical graduates have as good a chance as their male counterparts to get a job within the IT industry. The barriers start to come in again at management level. There are a couple of reasons in my opinion. The phenomenon of “unconscious bias” kicks in. It’s normal, as a manager, to want to build your team with “like” people. It’s a safe strategy and it’s what good managers do. Great managers however, proactively and consciously strive to build diverse teams.

Additionally, at senior leadership levels, women are expected to perform the same as their male counterparts – and this is how it should be. The problem is that often the behavior that is considered “performing” is “hero” style behavior, and this type of leadership is generally not the style of a female leader. Consequently, the perception is that female leaders don’t perform as well as their male counterparts, when in fact it is that their leadership behavior is different.

How are girls doing in technical education?

Clearly, the experience of women in a technical education, either positive or negative, is heavily influenced by the fact they are a minority in their chosen education path.  I believe the latest figures show around 20% of engineering and science graduates in Austria are women. Less than 10% of apprentices in information technology are women. Obviously, there is room for improvement and focus needs to be on getting more females to choose for a technical career path, and to do that, demonstrating positive role models in companies and organisations is key.

What is the significance of female role models and examples?

Role models and examples of female leaders are certainly important. Equally important are networks – peer networks, professional networks etc. that provide support, and bring into contact young aspiring professional females with role models.

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What are your 3 most important tips for young women who want to make a career in IT or in the IT industry?

Build your network – connections are important. This is your support and opportunity network. Actively seek out a mentor that represents where you want to get to. This is valid for men and for women.

Say yes – take that seat at the table. Trust yourself and have the confidence to put yourself in an uncomfortable position and know that you will master and make it through. Be prepared to fail and be prepared to learn from mistakes. Be prepared to put your opinion forward and argue it, even if it is different. Different can lead to wonderful ideas and innovations.

Never stop learning – competence is required for anyone to do their job, regardless of gender, nationality, or culture.

What role do mentoring and coaching play? Where can I get support?

As already mentioned, coaching and mentoring are incredibly important to support women (and men) in their IT career journey. Here I would like to specifically mention the good work done by the organization The Female Factor.

IDEE 2021

In your opinion, where are the greatest fields of action in companies and in society to improve this situation?

Companies that operate ahead of the curve are already proactively setting company KPI’s and business goals to increase diversity.  Microsoft, one of the world’s leading companies, publicly shares this information and we should challenge our companies to do this also. Let’s start being accountable.

Companies can also do many smaller things that, when added together, have a big impact. Initiatives such as ensuring a family friendly culture and work practices, proactively seeking out female representation in company management and career trainings, mentoring programs and targeted development for female executives, the list goes on. It just takes focus. As with any goal or target that is important for a company, it requires commitment and focus.

Since living in Austria, I have come to love the history, the landscape, the culture and the people and I consider Austria my home. I have learnt many things here in Austria, including some wonderful Austrian stories and sayings. One saying I came across recently from the Hapsburg times was “Kriege führen mögen andere, du, glückliches Österreich, heirate.” This literally means “Marriage before war” and reflects the former Hapsburg power strategy of creating politically advantageous alliances via marriage. Are we still all happily married? I am not so sure. Perhaps now is time for us all to step up and enter the fight. Let’s get serious about gender diversity in our workplaces.

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