By Michael Allen of Brightred Resourcing Limited May 2015
In an article written for Forbes magazine in 2012, writer Mark Fidelman presented his findings regarding the issue of shortfall in the number of women employed in technology positions. He discussed the evidence with ten successful women who had, at the time, made it to the top of their professions in relevant fields. All held the view that there was a serious shortage in women holding positions in IT and technology related areas; all agreed this was certainly not because they were technologically illiterate or incapable; and that the issue of a need for change in perception in a mainly male-dominated profession is long overdue.
So three years since the article was published have things moved on?
In 2013, the UK coalition government announced a change in the way primary and secondary schools would deliver IT and computing skills. There was to be much more of a focus on programming and coding in order that all children would be exposed to the rigours of more technical skills, to be prepared for the complexities of the digital world and subsequent future employment.
How this will impact the future generation of school leavers in terms remains to be seen. What is clear is that it could mean an end to the male bias and redress the imbalance as more girls are encouraged to go on to study computing and engineering at college and university.
In the IT recruitment profession, it is incredibly rare to witness women in either leadership or grass-roots roles. When I started Brightred Resourcing over a decade ago, I knew that the business had a reputation of being essentially an old boys network. I saw that in order to cultivate business, there was a code of behaviour that went with it which included long lunches and late nights making it less inclusive of and appealing to women. I am pleased to say that in the main, the industry has moved on significantly from this into greater open-mindedness and inclusivity. The truth is that women are as needed in our profession as men and as managing director of a thriving company, I am 100% committed to employing more women into a variety of roles within it.
If you were to ask me what are the unique qualities female recruiters can bring to the table, I would say that they are generally very open to learning; tend to be less openly competitive than their male counterparts; they are not afraid to show empathy towards clients and candidates; and are not afraid to ask questions when they need to. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule as there is in every sphere of business, but for all these reasons and more, I can see clearly how the introduction of more women into my office will sharply increase productivity and efficiency.
Having said all that, I would hope one day that we can get to the place where the industry can judge an employee not primarily as male or female but as a member of a team, equal in every respect. My wife Faith is a Senior HR Business Partner at Heathrow Airport where every one of her counterparts is female and her boss is male meaning that she has essentially the opposite perspective of my own. When we compare our experiences, it’s clear there are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios but it is fair to say, both environments could benefit from the gender gap being perhaps a little less polarised.
Caron Matthews has been in the recruitment industry for 30 years. She started at 21 working in a large private firm consisting of nearly all women and quickly rose through the ranks so that by 23 she set up her own business with her younger sister. Paying back a 50k start up bank loan within 8 months, her company went from strength to strength until like so many others it fell victim to the recession in 1991. Undeterred, she went on to set up Career-minded people that dramatically changed the focus from general recruitment covering all manner of businesses, to specializing in the electrical sector. One of their many clients is a national electrical wholesaler and after 13 years, the business is going from strength to strength. I asked her for some perspectives:
“As a woman, I have not found it difficult to progress to the place I am in today at the helm of a thriving recruitment business in the field of electrical wholesaling. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and I have never doubted my ability to make a success of my life, always believing in myself and my abilities. I have worked extremely hard to get to where I am today, learning on the job and picking myself up after the severe economic recession.
Things have changed so much in the last 30 years and there has been a shift in expectation mainly due to the development of the Internet. With the pursuit of IT skills more traditionally favoured by men, the route into recruitment with its heavy reliance on such skills has seen women’s roles in the industry diminish. Although remote working is obviously much more efficient and productive, I do believe you learn best alongside your peers and I know I am where I am today in no small part because I chose to develop professionally alongside people in a bustling office environment.
If I think about why there are so few women in top positions in the boardroom, I believe it’s because women know they can’t have it all. To succeed in anything, you have to organise your life in such a way that someone else carries the load you can’t. There are a finite number of hours in the working day and there is a need to consider carefully the work-life balance. If couples want to start a family, for instance, something and someone has to give and although I don’t hold the view that it should automatically be a woman who goes part-time, a couple should be free to choose what they want and how they want it.
Although there are plenty of successful women in the recruitment industry, it would be good to see a new injection at every level from apprentice to boardroom. The ability to listen is a key skill in every aspect of the business and generally, its fair to say, women make very good listeners. Candidates need someone who will coach them in some way into the best position and clients want their requirements to be heard loud and clear so the best appointments can be made. I hope my story can be an inspiration to other women out there to start the journey into this rewarding occupation.”
I am fully on board with the need to offer flexible working conditions to accommodate lifestyle choices, but I do face the challenge of how to communicate this to many of my clients who prefer to have access to the same person at Brightred Resourcing each time they contact us. Leading through this shift in mind-set is a priority for me and my team as I can see the massive benefits for all of us once a new rhythm is established.
When it comes to leadership, the women leaders I admire most, from Margaret Thatcher to Anita Roddick embody qualities we desperately need in our industry and further afield: courage, tenacity, motivation, strength, intelligence….shall I go on?! I recently met with the group director of an IT company and I was interested to hear that only twice in the course of our meeting did we talk specifically about issues relating to IT. Instead, she wanted to discover more about me and my company and what I considered to be our strengths. As a result she is now sponsoring us to build with her own organisation. Great news all round.
Any woman (or man) who is ahead of me in business and inspires me to be the very best I can be, fully deserves my unswerving loyalty and commitment. I hope that others say the same of me as I look to build my own team with a holistic representation of all the gifts and qualities that are unique to both men and women alike.
If you are interested in a career in IT recruitment or want to talk to us about future opportunities contact us at www.brightred.com