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24 Aug 2017

No Brain Left Behind

Cloud Expo Asia Singapore 2017 will include the 'Women In Tech' panel which includes CIO Connect's Barbara Dossetter. John Bensalhia speaks to Barbara about the current and future prospects for women in the world of technology.

Pullout quote: ?We have a measure of leadership skills and competencies that we use with our clients for coaching and leadership training. They are the softer skills that IT people need to work at the more senior level... The industry is taking these softer skills more seriously and that is the change that will even the playing field across the genders.?

What's next?

That's a key question addressed in the forthcoming 'Women In Tech' panel attended by CIO Connect's Barbara Dossetter at Cloud Expo Asia Singapore 2017.

Specifically, the theme of what's next relates to the state of play in global IT, with respect to what can be done to accelerate the number of women's roles in this area.

?We have a huge talent shortage in IT globally,? explains Barbara. ?And we do not encourage people of the right intellect to come and join us. That is devastatingly expensive for the industry and for individual organisations.?

?For women in IT, we've been talking about this for decades, so now it's down to what we as individuals, and what we as employers do to move this forward. And although this is focused on women, it is about the wider issue of diversity as well.?

Barbara stresses the importance of not leaving any brain behind. ?At last year's meeting I repeated the phrase ?No brain left behind' based on the ?No child left behind' mantra.?

?If women keep progressing at the current rate, it will be about 300 years before we get equality. So I will be asking the panellists, what are they doing now, and what do they want to do in the future to accelerate this.?

Having started out in IT soon after leaving high school, Barbara says that she is an ?IT person from the beginning.?

?17 year old programmers are not new. I started in Australia, and as our DP manager at the time said, ?I can get two women for the cost of one man'. There was not a lot of equality then on the pay side. My senior programmer was a woman, from the UK and there were about 50% women in IT at the time. It was not seen as a ?man's job' then. I had to explain to people what a programmer did.?

Barbara took the typical career to become Senior Programmer, Business Analyst, Systems Designer, Project Manager and Programme Manager, regarding these as ?jobs' until she met a woman called Judy Lightfoot, who became her mentor.

?Judy was the Managing Director of the first ERP software vendor in Australia, and an advocate for women,? explains Barbara. ?She was a tough boss, took no prisoners in either gender and opened up the idea of a career rather than a job.?

Barbara was at the top of her career in Australia with responsibilities across Asia Pacific: ?We were the first ERP vendor in the region and I started up the first ERP implementation practice in the region, and possibly in the world.?

?Since then, I have run ERP implementation practices in the UK and the USA, start-ups and spent time in research companies. I joined CIO Connect in the UK providing advisory services for CIOs and their senior leadership team. We started up Singapore about seven years ago and was the commuting advisor until about three years ago when I moved to Singapore.?

However, Barbara comments that in recent years, she has observed a slow decline in both women's numbers in IT and also for the amount of CV applications submitted for potential roles. ?It was pointed out at one of our London events by the CIO of Igloo and the CIO of Coca Cola, when we realised we were the only professional women there amongst more than 100 male CIOs,? she remembers. ?At CIO Connect we became so concerned with this, that we started Women in Information Technology lunches in London and Singapore. Women CIO's talked about the issues and barriers and what it's going to take to improve the situation. We talked about individual company initiatives and their lack of success. We talked about challenges of bringing through the younger generation. Since this was ?Chatham House Rules', I can't name names but you would recognise the organisations and the individuals. We really do know what the issues are, we really need to be very proactive to ensure that everyone regardless of gender is doing the best they can.?

As Barbara points out, women have been working in the scientific and mathematical sides of computing for some considerable time. ?Nasa's early pre-computer and early computer users were women. Women worked on the code breaking machines at Bletchley park and there were many early examples of women on the science and mathematical side of computing.?

However, Barbara adds that there is conditioning, and that's where many of the differences and perceptions of differences come from.

?What the industry needs is a number of things. These include logical, fact based thinking; lateral, creative problem solving; and customer-centric thinking ? recognising that customers come in all genders, cultures and religions.?

Other important requirements pointed out by Barbara include an increasingly speedy willingness to learn and embrace change; the courage to speak out (and to keep speaking until your voice is heard); a willingness to take risks; excellent staff management that brings out the best in others; and also the ability to multi-task. ?Perhaps with the exclusion of last one, none of these attributes are gender based.?

So where can women in the industry look for support?

?The first area to look for support is within ourselves. Confidence in our ability to deliver, to take risks, to understand that we don't have to be that ?pretty princess' of our conditioning, and be willing to be ?not liked' by others. Setting our own standards and exceeding them.?

An important source of support is that of a mentor. Barbara says that every woman should find a mentor they admire (having discovered her own mentor by accident), and work with them.

?Women are usually better at sharing with their friends than men. Find someone (woman or man) who understands being a working woman within your organisation and spend some quality time with them. We recommend that it should be a business person to our clients, so they know how the business works. They can share IT knowledge and that makes it a win/win relationship.?

Another supporting person is a direct manager. ?If your manager is not supportive of your ambitions, then it's time to go find another one who is.?

Barbara says that there are three key challenges that women in the field of tech need to overcome. The first of these is that they must believe that they have the right to be there. ?Women don't have to be twice as good as men to get an even break. They don't have to be ?nice' to get there. They will get there because of their individual skills and behaviours.?

?To quote Judy Lightfoot ? 'Women will have equality when they have an equal right to fail'.?

The next challenge is that of achieving the right balance between work and family life. ?Women are still the managers of the family in most households. In Singapore we often have helpers, so there is far less to do in this area. We need to take time off for childbirth and that is as it should be. Coming back to work may take some organising, but companies do need good talent so this should be possible. CIO's that I know, manage to be home for dinner with the family, and then sign on when the children go to bed as a final check for the evening. We can balance this and give adequate time to ourselves and our families.?

The final challenge is to 'Play the game'. Barbara explains that ultimately, women work for organisations that require the best performances, and with a need to network actively amongst peers and colleagues. ?Most hiring and promotion decisions at the senior level are made on trust ? who do we know that we trust? We need to step up, take the promotion, even if we don't have all of the skills, we can learn. Men will go after a role or a promotion if they have about 60%, Women only if they have 100%.?

?We need to push ourselves forward at meetings, support each other at meetings and learn how to play the game. Be willing to move countries for the right role in a big organisation or at least discuss it. Take the calculated risk.?

?We don't have a gender issue, we have a perception of gender issue.?

Male colleagues can, however, play their part in supporting the development of their female counterparts. Barbara says that there are a number of essential ways that men can accomplish this.

?Firstly, don't assume we are all the same, listen to what we want, and discuss how we are going to get there as equals.?

Three important consideration revolve around family. Barbara explains that one of these is that men should never regard the fact that women have children as a barrier. ?Don't assume we will take more time off than the men.?

Men should also be supportive in women returning to work after maternity leave. ?This will benefit you and the company in loyalty going forward. Many women start up businesses at this point, because that is likely to be more successful and better balanced than returning to corporate life.?

Any organisation's working practices should also be family friendly, as this is the best way to keep loyal, and engaged employees of both genders.

?Remember, that research shows that countries and businesses where women play an important role show significantly better financial results.?

While women are taken seriously in lead positions, Barbara says that a problem in many countries is that there are too few of them.

?We have a measure of leadership skills and competencies that we use with our clients for coaching and leadership training. They are the softer skills that IT people need to work at the more senior level. None of these have a gender bias. The industry is taking these softer skills more seriously and that is the change that will even the playing field across the genders.?

Barbara explains that what's needed is to have more women candidates at intake, and to provide a career path that does not end in a glass ceiling. ?We need to be better at explaining the broad range of very interesting roles within our industry.?

?Women actually have an option, and many of them take it at a critical point in their career. The loss is to the company, the cause of the loss is often the company.

We need to stop making assumptions about what women can or can't do, when we are looking at who should be promoted, or who should be given that project.?

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