How do we attract more women in to IT?

Our CIO, Alan Ramsay, tells us why more women should consider careers in IT and why the industry needs them ...

As we begin recruitment for our 2021 management trainee scheme, I find myself faced, once again, with the exciting prospect of trying to attract the best and most diverse talent to our business. A great way to help us achieve this is through our Management Trainee Scheme, which introduces new people to the business over a two-year programme. The scheme operates throughout our business but in our IT team it helps the successful candidates develop into the next digital leaders within Willmott Dixon.

Our industry is experiencing an incredibly exciting time where new tech is constantly emerging and transforming the way we work, innovation is rife and the opportunities endless – it’s a brilliant time to embark on a career in both IT and construction. Yet, I still find myself wondering “why don’t more women want to work in IT?”

Although our trainee scheme is hugely popular, we are still not attracting as many female candidates as male; the majority are also from quite traditional IT backgrounds. It is something we want to address as we know diverse teams, made up of people with different experiences and perspectives make better decisions. We can see that a part of the challenge is that engineering/science subjects in education still struggle to attract as many females as males ( and so it feels like the odds are stacked against us.

Falling into the trap of positive-discrimination is clearly not a solution, so we simply need to make our industry, our teams and our workplaces the most attractive proposition – especially to those who may not traditionally see themselves in IT. To achieve a diverse workforce, it seems inevitable that we need to attract more people from diverse industries and non-IT education routes.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not doing badly, our IT senior management team has a 50/50 gender split and overall 33% of our people are women (average workforce in women in tech in the UK is 19% -, but we still have a way to go and it is made all the harder when the pool of talent applying for roles is so skewed to male candidates.

Breaking down barriers

I think the issue starts in our schools where construction and IT are both still under promoted and not seen as aspirational, rewarding careers for women. Therefore, there is a generally smaller pool of talent with IT qualifications emerging to meet our recruitment needs. The traditional recruitment approach is therefore counterproductive to producing a diverse group of candidates and we need a different approach to produce a different outcome.

So, I’m encouraging people to consider IT who may not have previously considered it. We don’t need you to have an IT qualification on joining us or even degree level qualifications necessarily. Skills and experience can be taught and gained, what is much more important is having qualities such as intelligence, creativity, great communication skills and a passion to succeed!

We’ve already had people with backgrounds in music, restaurant and retail, property and more join our team, and each has their own unique insight and contribution to add to our industry. It is amazing the positive impact a different perspective can have in a problem-solving meeting!

Challenging the norm

Another part of the puzzle is retaining people and to do so we need ways of working that are complimentary to the diversity of people’s lives, whether that be culturally or that our people have hugely varying demands from their home lives. To this end, I’m conscious that often the traditional office working day can be a blocker to attracting many people, especially anyone who has children or other responsibilities that mean a strict 9-5 is a stressful experience. I’m a great believer in letting people work in the way that suits them best, as long as it gets the job done and satisfies our customers. As I’ve written in previous blogs, I believe we are now in a post-presenteeism era for office-based roles. Even more so after Covid has proved how working remotely and flexibly can be just as productive.

Here at Willmott Dixon, we are adapting the way we operate to attract and retain the best people. I really believe it's a bad idea to take on talented people and then expect them to make unnecessary personal compromises to conform to traditional 9-5 working practices where it is not necessary . Flexibility and work-life balance make people happier, healthier and ultimately more productive.

Our management approach encourages a culture of giving autonomy, empowerment and ultimately trusting people to get their job done well on their own terms. Culturally we are focussed on the idea that the basis for any form of success needs to be built on people’s wellbeing, happiness and health. These principles together mean that the old-fashioned, negative cultural stereotypes often associated with engineering/technology focussed teams doesn’t exist here.

So, what I really want to say in this blog is this: if you are looking for your next career move, don’t be held back by misconceptions of IT, a fear of not being technical enough, it being too male-dominated or traditional and only for IT geeks. The IT and digital world is an exciting area to work for both men and women from all backgrounds and we need a mix of people and skills if we want to have the most successful teams.

If you think you can help us take our service to the next level, bringing innovation, customer focus and a whole lot of fun - whatever your background - then please get in touch!