Woman's Work

Woman's Work

According to my wife I rank towards the back of the sensitive new-age guy queue. It was probably because of this that she gave me the John Gray's best seller Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus as a present. For the very few that don't know, this book is really the first time that the many innate characteristics and differences between the sexes have been pinpointed.

I bring this up because of a discussion I had last month with an InTEP member in Melbourne. Over the years I have found this person one of the most thought-provoking IT executives in Australia. This lunch did not disappoint; he made the observation that the skill sets required in the IT department of the future are going to be found increasingly on the feminine side of the ledger.

The catalyst for this comment was his view of how the IT department of the future would be structured. Both of us were lamenting the "Pontius Pilate" attitude to IT evidenced by the spate of recent major outsourcing contracts. He argued that outsourcing should be conducted selectively. The IT department he envisaged was one where most IT services, (for example, systems development, help desk, data centre operations, network services and so on), were outsourced. However, each of these outsourced services was managed by an internal IT staff member.

As such, he saw the qualities required in this IT environment of the future centred largely around people management skills. As Gray's book points out, these are skill sets where women usually out-perform men. On the other hand, Gray recognises that men can be better at the intricate technical tasks.

However, in many IT departments these seem the very functions that are candidates for outsourcing.

Nor did my InTEP contact restrict this to outsourcing. He saw that the bane of many CIOs seems to be the challenge of managing multiple vendors. Hardly any IT department can escape the challenge of dealing with multiple vendors from the desktop, through to the software suppliers and the communications equipment as well as the servers and mainframes. If these separate components are to dovetail successfully together as a complete solution, there is a strong need for people management skills to ensure all these multiple vendors are "singing in harmony".

Still, all is not doom and gloom for men. According to my friend's scenario it will likely be men working in outsourcing companies, contracting back their technical services to the IT departments. And outsourcing definitely appears to be growth business.

All this may require a change in mindset for many males. Those anticipating a traditional single company career path may well find their working life is instead made up of a series of short-term assignments. Perhaps the real irony is that, with the demise of the secretarial role in many companies, the temp of the future may well turn out to be a male IT technician.

While clearly much of this is pure speculation, there is perhaps some significance in my friend's observation. IDC's CIO database reveals that just under 11 per cent of senior contacts in IT departments are women. This indicates that the female representation at the higher levels of the IT department should be much stronger. As such, the IT industry has an obligation to better harness the talents of the female members of our profession. It may well turn out to be that the current cloud of outsourcing could have some unexpected silver linings for women in the IT industry.

Peter Hind is the manager of User Programs, which includes InTEP, at IDC Australia

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