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Challenging lazy stereotypes was one of the key barriers to achieving greater diversity and gender equality in the technology industry according to a panel of leading CIOs, where Home Office CIO Denise McDonagh said she wanted to help more women achieve leadership roles.

McDonagh was speaking on a 'Women in Leadership' panel which included RSPCA head of IT Billie Laidlaw and CIO of LGC, Dr Frances Crummay, at last month's Salesforce World Tour in London.

Working in the public sector for a number of years, McDonagh said that she had worked her way up from a junior role.


"Confidence is very important but a lot of people don't have that," she said. "I grew up with a lack of female role models and now I see part of my role as visible leadership."

McDonagh told the packed audience that the Home Office technology department was 37% female - significantly above the industry average. McDonagh, who previously worked at Defra, said that in her role she was privileged in that she had time to mentor and find those who had all the right skills but were perhaps less vocal about their talents, and hoped to see more women in high managerial positions.

"It can sometimes be lonely near the top when you're just surrounded by a load of men," she quipped.

RSPCA's Laidlaw said that social stereotyping from a young age needed to be dealt with to remove an ingrained bias towards the sexes.

Challenging the status quo

She said: "Stereotyping is a big issue; it's a shortcut for those who can't be bothered to think critically and it starts super early with toys like Lego - which is engineering for boys and pink houses for girls.

"I'm trying to help girls understand technology careers are not boring. They are for interesting, fascinating people who want to use their brains in critical ways.

"So we need to challenge the stereotypes, assertively and with quiet confidence. As long as we challenge stereotypes, the world will move on.

"It's the change that those in leadership can make that can have a ripple effect," Laidlaw added.


Dr Crummay said that having confidence after a career break was crucial, but also that employers should not be put off, explicitly or otherwise, that a year away from work meant somebody had not kept up with the latest technology trends.

"We all need to show that it's not just young boys building apps," she said. "You can be female in a very male-dominated world.

"Women can reach a time when they may be thinking about having families. And after a career break it's important to give people confidence in their role; just because you've had a year out it doesn't mean you've lost track with technology.

"I only went into IT after having children, and had a boss who didn't think the fact that I had children meant I was some kind of alien being. In fact, they saw I had children and thought perhaps I might be quite good at management.

"And something like flexible hours is really good from my perspective; it means I now get a much larger span of hours and support from people who work for me."

The same week in May, CIO UK also caught up with CTO of ThoughtWorks Rebecca Parsons at the ThoughtWorks Live event at London's BAFTA building in Piccadilly.

Described recently as one of the 12 female CTOs you should know and a UNICEF technical fellow during a professional sabbatical, Parsons said that while the technology industry wasn't openly sexist, there exists an in ingrained and less obvious bias.


"The really egregious, openly hostile environment doesn't exist anymore," Parsons said.

"Team bonding exercises like going to the pub after work. They might not intentionally exclude women, but there can be a subtle message they they're not welcome."

For Parsons the recruitment process was one issue, while the industry trend towards collaboration and customer engagement was an opportunity for more women to enter the industry.

"People tend to hire people who look like themselves; women might not be promoted because they don't look like the stereotypical CTO," she said.

"Sometimes employers think they're giving people a fair go but often it's not the case. It's an implicit bias. Bias itself isn't necessarily wrong, it's only wrong when you're not conscious of it.

"And customer engagement is important. The IT industry has this stereotype of not being particularly outgoing. But you do have to talk to customers and you can't be that anti-social; it's a much more collaborative project."