I spoke this past fall at a Women in IT summit, and it got me thinking about how I help both recruit and retain women, as well as develop their career paths, here at CDW. Gender balance in IT is a multifaceted, complex issue. In fact, according to a TechRepublic article citing Bureau of Labor Statistics and industry surveys, the number of female computer science majors in college has declined from 37 percent in the mid-1980s to just 18 percent in 2012. What’s more, the National Center for Women & Information Technology reports 56 percent of women in technology leave midcareer, with just 22 percent returning as self-employed in a tech field.

While these numbers can be seen as a detriment to the industry, the same report also offers hope: Women now outnumber men taking computer science at Berkeley and, furthermore, Code.org’s “Hour of Code” campaign includes equal numbers of girls and boys. So, what kinds of approaches can we employ at work that contribute to resolving the existing gender gap?

One issue I have tried to address is the concept of biases. We all have preconceived notions of what, who and where things should be; it is part of a norm that exists in every culture. For instance, if I were to say “mechanic,” “Wall Street trader,” “nurse” or “receptionist,” your mind may automatically assign a gender to these roles even though the work itself is not gender specific. These same biases are applied to the IT field. We need to do our part to make IT a field based on technological merit, not gender distinction.

It is already well known that businesses employing, retaining and promoting diversity within their corporate environment increase productivity, broaden perspectives and cultivate innovation (all of which are required to be competitive in IT). So, I will not repeat the obvious. Simply, I think that we all can play a role in reducing gender bias in the workplace and that sometimes even the smallest change in our biases can lead to bigger change, thereby becoming the proverbial snowball.

Here’s how I hope to make a difference and inspire you to create ideas that spark change.

Flexibility vs. Work/Life Balance

We’ve employed a policy of work flexibility within my team at CDW. Everyone uses the term “work/life balance” but, as you know, that balance isn’t always 50/50 nor does it have a specific time and place. Instead, our team leverages technology, which enables a coworker to go to his or her child’s soccer game while still being able to respond to priority work messages. It allows a mom or dad who is also the primary caregiver to work remotely because of familial obligations. In fact, people on my team have even attended parent-teacher conferences via Facetime. To us, work is about a business objective we need to meet and not necessarily the place we go or the desk at which we sit.

Technology has definitely enabled this change and we certainly encourage coworkers to leverage it while meeting their objectives. My personal caveat behind this is that along with great power comes the need for great common sense. We have all seen the parent who goes to the game and looks down at his or her phone the entire time. It is not just about being there. Being engaged is even more important.

Thinking Outside of the Tee Box

As for tackling the bias issue — especially gender-based bias — while we can all make a difference, I believe it is incumbent upon IT leaders to help shape the dialogue. Take team events, for example. The first team-building event I participated in at CDW was a car race at the Chicago Speedway. Often, golf is the go-to team activity. These sorts of events, while fun to many, don’t necessarily resonate with all team members.

To make sure we were providing a greater variety of options to the team, I turned to them for feedback on what kinds of events they are interested in. The result? We spent the next team outing at the spa. Nothing says team bonding more than getting pedicures together. Everyone had a great time, but, most important, it accomplished the main objective: team bonding through a relaxing and fun event. Compare this to chasing down a ball you hit into the water or screaming about that four-foot putt you missed.

This was my way of changing the experience and the environment to be more inclusive of different genders and perspectives on our team. Maybe you can initiate a team-building exercise like an outdoor obstacle course or maybe a cooking demonstration; whatever you choose, I challenge you to throw away the constraints of gender bias and think about the experience you want your team to take away from the event.

Whether you leverage technology to enable your team to achieve successful workplace flexibility or offer different types of team-building events, just start the conversation. I welcome a dialogue about what I do on my team and at CDW and how we leverage collaborative technology to give our talented coworkers the flexibility they need to be happy, productive people.

Learn what major technology companies are doing to ensure more women embark on careers in IT in this article by D. Frank Smith appearing in EdTech: Focus on Higher Education magazine.

As always, feel free to comment below or send me an email to keep this important discussion going.

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