I’ve never blogged on the topic of equality for women, in IT or otherwise, however as I watch my daughter grow up and wonder what her working life will be like, and see the industry I joined mature, as I mature, I realise I do have quite a lot of opinions on the subject. As a former IT leader at several organisations who happens to be female, I’ve had both advantages and disadvantages in being in a minority group. I won’t complain about the additional job opportunities that have come my way due to the privilege of my second X chromosome, and it’s always amusing to hear recruiters squirm as they clumsily dance around the topic; “…and well, I think the company would really like to have a women in this role” eventually they blurt it out, trying to entice me with their potential of increasing the likelihood of success for me.
So I’ve always maintained that the inequality has helped me as much as it may have hindered my career, and I honestly don’t have too many stories of personally being discriminated against - but perhaps I’m just as conditioned as the rest of the world not to notice that it’s happened (cue sinister music).
Hooray for Lindy Stephens of ThoughtWorks who today has published a rather wonderful article on equality in pay for women, and in usual ThoughtWorks style they are getting on with the job of sorting that problem out. Previously we’ve seen ThoughtWorks equal up the roles in their organisation in terms of gender balance, and extra bonus points for them - they didn’t go for the soft overall target of 50:50 across the company by hiring women solely into roles such as BA, UX or managers, they actually tackled the issue across all roles types. Given we know that technical roles are highly dominated by male populations, that takes a large measure of creativity and vision.
My story of discrimination is of the inequality in pay that I witnessed in one of the teams I led. What is still so disturbing to me was the degree of disparity, that it discriminated against gender and race, and worse - the level of powerlessness I had as the leader of the team to address the issue. In addition to the jaw dropping pattern in pay levels, was the lack of interest it had raised in anyone else in the organisation. Where we just all OK that this was the situation?
So what was the situation? Well here is an order of people, in gender and race ordered by pay from highest to lowest in my team at that organisation:
White males (highest paid)
Chinese females (lowest paid)
A simple excel spreadsheet and multiple sorts and filters kept turning up the same data. No single gender group or ethnic group crossed over the pay boundaries, regardless of role or experience, and I’m talking about a data set of 45 people. The only way I could upset the pattern was to put myself at the top of the list, as I was their manager and paid the most, making me, the white female, the outlier, I suppose that’s good news for ‘women in IT’ although I didn’t for a moment feel like celebrating.
How on earth was I going to even up the situation? Those of you who have held management positions probably know that pay increase cycles at companies are slow and deathly exercises, poisoned by stacked ranking, normalised distribution graphs and subjective round table colleague-bullying awfulness (games I’m glad not to play any more), it was hard enough to get your true high performers recognised and rewarded let alone equalise pay across a broad number of people. Did I go storming into the exec office with my excel spreadsheet demanding satisfaction? Did I donate my salary increase to the lowest paid people in my team? I did neither of these things - though you would probably be liking me much more in this article by now, if I had.
The truth is the exec team already had on their agenda, a goal to balance the gender in leadership roles across the organisation, and they were slowly and steadily achieving their goal in that area, so I had to applaud their efforts so far. Given every organisation has a long laundry list of troubles, gender equality doesn’t always seem like the first place to start - there I said it.
So what to do? Well I bought it to the attention of my boss at the time, (who had hired me amongst a gender balanced set of candidates, so hat’s off to him too!) and we did what we could, with the amounts we had to play with, to even up the score. I believe it would have taken several years to completely balance the books and sadly I left that company only part way into that task. I hope they have continued to address the imbalance.
So what should you do, if you’re faced with this similar situation, or if reading this has given you an uneasy feeling that maybe you’re in this situation? Well I think the first thing to do is actively notice. I like to actively notice these days, for example, how many women and men are in a room meeting on a particular topic, I like to notice how many different ethnicities are in the room and if it reflects the population of city we live in, I like to notice how many young people and older people are in the room. When I’m feeling particularly confident I like to notice ‘out loud’ and maybe even ‘mention’ the differences to the people to the left and right of me.
I believe inequalities can creep into an organisation if we haven’t arrived at the idea of noticing these things, and then measuring these things in the first place.
So this blog is my first little mention of the topic of equality for women in IT, I hope it inspires someone to have a look around and notice how things are at their place.