Are we living in parallel universes? I was due at a meeting of the North East ICT Managers and was a little early so I did what I always do and looked for somewhere with free WiFi. It was at Newcastle Civic Centre and the city centre offers a lot of choice for the online junky. I could have parked myself on the benches in Eldon Square shopping mall outside of the 02 shop but it isn’t ideal tapping away while shoppers walk by. I could also have gone to McDonalds where for the price of a cup of tea there would have been somewhere to sit and work. I didn’t want to end up of smelling of fried food and be surrounded by kids though. In the end I chose the café at Marks and Spencer. It was open early enough and offered a more refined ambience than the others.
I got my refreshment, sat down, logged into the network and was up and running in no time. The restaurant was empty when I arrived but slowly and steadily it filled up. By the time I left there were about thirty people. Including myself only three of them were blokes. I had arrived in a world of women.
The NEICT meeting was in the Pandon Room above the banqueting suite. Graham had erected the pop-up banner which made it easy to find. It was well attended as were starting off with a demonstration of a cloud based messaging and collaboration suite from a leading technology provider (you can work it out for yourself).
Of the twenty attendees only one was female. I’ve known for a long time now that ICT is a male dominated industry but this perfectly highlighted the issue. I’d left a world of women and arrived in a world of men.
Perhaps it’s not just ICT then. Perhaps the world is gender biased. Where I work has a good balance between the sexes yet women tend to do ‘women’s’ jobs and men tend to do ‘men’s’ jobs if you know what I mean. In my own service about a third are women but once you take out the business support people the numbers are much more skewed. The numbers also get rarefied the higher up the pyramid you go. Twenty five percent of Senior Project Leads are women but not one of my Senior Leadership Team.
Is this a problem? We’ve managed to get this far set up the way that we are and so why do we need to change? Because we are not representing the society in which we live. We are not making the best use of the talent that we have at our disposal. Not only does our service lack representation from a significant part of our user community it is probably presenting solutions with a strong male bias.
We’re trying to do something about it, by trying to encourage more women to come and take up a career in technology, by working with apprentice organisations and by working with those who influence children to show that a job in ICT is a good choice.
It’s not just an ICT problem though.