"It is a massive business problem that we don't have a balanced workforce," says director of the technology practice at Deloitte, Liz Jones. A former IT leader at law firm Eversheds, Jones was debating the poor diversity in business technology roles with former Anglo-American CIO Mike Bowden and Judy Edwards of Gartner at a event organised by IT recruitment specialists Montash in association with CIO UK. The three business leaders discussed the risks of poor diversity; the skills range technology careers offer, the failings of targets and what change is required by organisations and culture.
"Technology is a core capability for all organisations, so if you are not attracting 50% of the population that is a problem," Jones said. Judy Edwards of analyst house Gartner added, "If you have diversity you get better business results." As technology becomes a customer facing issue for organisations, the three business technology leaders were united that poor diversity was a business risk as its technology teams would fail to understand the wide range of needs from customers and users.
Mike Bowden called on his fellow CIOs to be bolder in their hiring and to step outside of their comfort zone. "We tend to hire people that we feel comfortable with. You then build a culture around you that you feel comfortable with. That is simply a sub-optimal way to be a sustainable business."
"Most of us have unconscious bias," Edwards agreed. "So as leaders we have to expose this."
Any debate around diversity inevitably touches on the subject of whether organisations should have targets for the diversity in its structure. Interestingly, the panel was not convinced of their value.
"If the reason that you are improving diversity is wrong then you don't get the right buy in," Edwards said. "Ratios that managers have to satisfy are well meaning and altruistic, but if they start with the wrong reason you get the wrong outcomes." Jones added: "It can feel uncomfortable being a target."
The panel instead agreed that the range of roles and opportunities that business technology offered should and could attract a more diverse workforce.
"We have to explain the diversity of skills that we have to attract into our teams. There are empathetic skills, that we women bring to an organisation, so I spend my time with the board talking about how we use technology," Jones said of the subtle difference to how women technology leaders can lead board level change and understanding around technology.
"As an industry we should be able to attract people that want a flexible lifestyle," Jones said. Edwards observed that one barrier is that women apply for roles they are over-qualified for.
"Compared to Europe we are doing badly at recruiting women," Bowden said. "Women don't see technology as a good career. So there is something about the way we are bringing women up at home and at school that stops them seeing IT as a career."
The next Women in Technology Breakfast Briefing will be hosted by Montash in 2016.