Q&A: IT companies warned to mind the gender gap

Summary

A study by researchers in Flanders has come up with results that the IT industry would do well to take note of

Listen to female employees

A new study puts local perspective to a staffing problem that dogs IT companies from Silicon Valley to Finland: a lack of diversity.

Michèle Mees from the Centre for Balanced Leadership in Merchtem, Flemish Brabant, one of three organisations that conducted the Gender Gap analysis, explains what IT companies stand to gain from improving diversity.

What is the situation like in Belgium?
There is far from a gender balance in this sector, so we see an overrepresentation of men, while women are underrepresented. This is a big problem because most IT companies are constantly understaffed and looking for new workers.

Why is this gender imbalance a problem?
Academic studies have consistently shown that gender-balanced teams perform better. ICT and IT are now so integrated into other sectors, into all aspects of our lives, that you can’t afford to work with underperforming teams. You need that talent; you need those different angles that men and women provide.

How does the study you conducted help address this problem?
In the discussion about the underrepresentation of women in ICT, the first thing you often hear is that there are too few girls in IT programmes, in maths and in other STEM subjects [sciences, technology, engineering]. With this survey, we wanted to examine if there was a danger of exit in addition to the entry problem. What are women’s experiences of working in this sector?

And what did you find?
If you look at the general results, people are satisfied in this sector because it offers flexibility and opportunities. On the other hand, 25% of women compared to 16% of men say they are considering leaving the sector. Moreover, 80% of women feel they have to prove themselves more than their male colleagues, while only 22% of men agree with that statement. So this is a blind spot; there is the illusion of equal opportunities, of a level playing field for them.

So the message of this study is: Be aware of this. Listen to what women’s experiences are of working in the company. Don’t dismiss it with “Oh, I’m sure it’s not that bad”, and “You shouldn't exaggerate”. Because only by listening can you address this problem.

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