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Gender parity

Using data to boost gender diversity in IT

Christine Ashton  

Christine Ashton  

Like most technologists, I’m a fan of data. Data empowers us to set baselines, track trends and chart the next best step. That’s precisely why data should be part of any conversation around how to increase gender diversity in IT.

Forcing an honest look at gender diversity

It’s all too easy for “diversity” to become another buzzword that obscures the actual state of diversity within teams and companies. For example, according to the Anita Borg Institute, many of the most well-known tech companies in the U.S. have less than 20 per cent women in tech jobs.

Until the issue is illuminated with data, it can be difficult for companies and their leaders to acknowledge gender diversity issues exist.

That’s why facts (and the ability to prove where they come from) usually have the effect of bringing people up short. Managers often don’t realise how dire the situation is until confronted with statistics.

Better data, better alignment

At Thomson Reuters, we approached our diversity goals through the lens of data. Doing so has created better alignment at all levels of our organisation.

We began by collecting gender diversity data according to definitions gleaned from our partnership with the Anita Borg Institute. The data revealed that we were a leader in the industry, with 26 percent women in tech roles compared to an average representation of 21 percent in the U.S. (with many top companies ranking below that level).

The data also showed, however, that our biggest challenge wasn’t in recruiting diverse candidates, as we had assumed; but rather in retaining diverse IT professionals mid-career. This awareness allowed us to focus more on efforts such as our Leadhership1 and Growing Diverse Architects programmes, designed to build community and cultivate diverse candidates for leadership roles.

The implementation of a global HR system was also key in gaining visibility into the true percentage of women in particular roles, allowing us to track whether various approaches are creating real change across our employee population.

A woman uses her computer to test a new high speed inflight Internet service named Fli-Fi while on a special JetBlue media flight on December 11, 2013.
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Today, our goal is not to simply meet quotas, but to develop world-class standards and programs that drive diversity. We’re also passionate about broadcasting to our workforce internally, as well as to our peers in the technology marketplace, about the power of building diverse teams and cultivating diverse leadership.

Start small and allow data to gather converts

Bringing data to bear on gender diversity in IT needn’t require a Big Data-style collection of statistics. While having more data certainly provides more evidence for diversity improvement agendas, there are also small steps companies and individuals can take toward leveraging data to improve gender diversity.

For example, in building a roster of speakers for an IT conference, evaluate whether the presenters reflect the audience of attendees. Are nine out of 10 speakers men, while the audience comprises 60 percent women? This simple data survey may prompt increased efforts to ensure panelists who better represent the attendee population have been considered for the event.

When it comes to hiring or awarding promotions, companies can strive to ensure that candidate lists are diverse. (And to hiring managers who say they can’t ‘find’ any qualified women candidates, I say: Simply ask a woman.) Some organisations even remove the names of candidates in the running for roles, allowing individuals to be evaluated on qualifications alone.

Talking about diversity can raise concerns that certain groups will get preferential treatment. However, that isn’t what diversity is about. It’s about ensuring that diverse candidates are simply up for consideration, so they can speak for themselves.

Driving diversity with data makes sense

Data can be used at any scale to bring the issue of diversity into sharp relief as well as show the way toward simple, practical solutions. As technologists, data is our stock in trade. Bringing it to bear on the issue of gender diversity simply makes sense.

View the original post as it appeared on Computing.

Learn more

Read results of a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on the top five issues facing women at work.

Trust Women Conference: Find out how the Thomson Reuters Foundation is working to empower women worldwide, and fight modern-day slavery.

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