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Creating more gender balance in IT

ThoughtWorks’ Lindy Stephens shares how hiring targets helped the IT consultancy create more gender balance.
Lindy Stephens, managing director at ThoughtWorks Australia

Lindy Stephens, managing director at ThoughtWorks Australia

There may a lack of women in the industry, but that doesn’t mean that organisations are out of luck in their chances in finding women for IT roles. According to Lindy Stephens, managing director at ThoughtWorks Australia, setting targets for hiring women staff has helped the IT consultancy overcome the gender balance issue.

“What we have done is we’ve actually set targets in our hiring at the more junior level – where people are just starting out in their career. We actually have a strict rule where we hire one man for every woman so we hire 50-50,” Stephens said.

“We’ve always had an intention to do that, but until we had set those rules we found that we had good intentions but we didn’t actually stick to it. What has changed since we’ve decided to be a bit more bullish on that is we’ve managed to find what we thought was not possible – we’ve found channels and ways of approaching and finding those women so that we are able to get the [right] numbers [of men and women].”

Stephens, who spoke at the Women in Technology International (WITI) Melbourne Regional Network Launch event this month, admitted that it can be challenging to source women in IT where there is a small pool to draw from, but it is not impossible. She said scouting for women at universities has been a worthwhile effort to encourage and obtain junior women employees.

“We find that we need to go to them, be present at universities and talk about who we are – really building a pipeline of people. There’s an overhead for us in finding those women but we think the overhead is well worth it and we’ve had great success with the program we’ve got.”

Stephens said she first had doubts about using hiring targets, that it would mean the company would have to lower its expectations in order to find enough women to fill IT roles, but the positive results from the hiring targets had changed her mind.

“I certainly use to have a great discomfort with the idea of targets, particularly in hiring. There is a sense that if you do set a target then the only way you’re going to be able to reach it is to lower the bar, reduce the quality of the people you’re hiring.

“Then there’s a fear for us already in the industry that there will be a perception that everybody in the industry was hired on a quota and none of us have got [enough] talent or whatever it might be. I certainly had those thoughts myself.

“In years that have gone by, I now have completely changed my mind on that mainly because I have seen the results of actually having targets and we’ve hired so many more women and they are fantastic. There has not been in any sense a need to change or reduce our hiring criteria in order to find women.”

For the industry to move forward on the gender balance issue, Stephens said more organisations need to go public and discuss the gender issues they face, as being honest and open about the issue allows them to be more practical and share their learnings.

“I know that a lot of organisations are not comfortable discussing how many women they have… but I just feel like we are doing ourselves a disservice by not talking about the problem and not being public,” Stephens said.

“I think we definitely need to do a lot more of that. Companies need to get out and talk about their successes and failures, both with finding women to hire and getting girls interested in technology careers but also keeping them in their company – what they are doing, the programs they are running.

“We need to be sharing as a community. Organisations need to be sharing what they are doing and learning from each other and I just don’t think that there is enough of that out there.”

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