Day care is another worthwhile consideration for any company committed to retaining talented women in the long term -- especially those keeping the company’s systems humming. For staff, the work/life balance can be more of an issue in IT than in other fields, as maintaining operability around the clock often translates to erratic hours. On-premises day care or flexible spending accounts can help prevent having to replace those who might otherwise be compelled to bow out.
“At an executive level, [paying for] day care tends not to be as big of an issue, but it’s different for the average-Joe technician,” says Patricia Stewart, a former help desk specialist who left IT shortly after having her second child. “Being a mother of two, having to come into the office in the middle of the night, and having to work weekends just became too difficult.”
Stewart, who now works at a day-care center and is trying to figure out whether she can return to IT, is representative of another problem for women weighing the balance between career and family: keeping up with the pace of technology after taking time off.
In an industry in which any given month can herald sweeping changes to how one’s job is done, re-entering the workforce can be challenging. Given the skills shortage most enterprises are facing, this problem has a double edge. By backing off rigid skills requirements, assessing previous work experience wisely, and instilling an effective training policy, companies could position themselves to leverage a hidden source of tech talent -- women interested in returning to IT.
Changing the face of IT
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“People are more comfortable with people who are like them, so it’s hard in a male-dominated field for people to accommodate difference,” Fiorina says. “While I was at HP, we instituted metrics for improving diversity. If you don’t measure something, people don’t think it’s important.”
But metrics, or quotas for that matter, don’t always guarantee the kind of organizational ethos that benefits all parties involved -- most notably, the company.
“Because most companies are based on a male model and have been for many decades, the men don’t get the kinds of business contribution women can give,” WITI’s Leighton says. “They often do this just to meet requirement codes.”
But, Leighton adds, the current nature of IT actually calls for what are considered stereotypical female characteristics. No longer an island within the company, IT is integral to other departments and requires employees who communicate well. “Now IT goes across all departments globally,” she says. “And women by nature are collaborative consensus builders.”