Feb 09 2016

Why We Need More Women in Higher Ed IT

Changing mindsets is only the first step to ensuring IT teams improve diversity among their ranks.

Striving for diversity in IT stems from the imperative that we deliver the best services and solutions to our students, faculty and staff.

Diversity is not about quotas or resting with an easy conscience that we hired the best person for the job. Diversity must be reflected not only in the demographics of our staff, but also in our mindsets.

Diversifying the ranks of higher ed IT shops isn’t impossible, and you don’t have to go it alone. Organizations are already researching effective practices to diversify all types of IT teams and the pipelines that fill them.

While our work in diversifying higher education IT has an increasingly broad scope, it began with a focus on women in IT, on learning how to recruit, retain and advance them on all campuses. We established EDUCAUSE’s Women in IT group eight years ago, and that community continues to grow. We also work closely with the National Center for Women & IT, whose research has shown that gender diversity correlates positively with a larger workforce, better innovation and increased business performance.

We are all uncomfortably familiar with the outward manifestations of conscious biases, and most of us attempt to limit it within our workplace and in our own behaviors, but those biases are not the main cause of the lack of diversity.

Studies show that unconscious biases have a much greater impact in the workplace, unknowingly causing managers to look for and hire people like themselves. Even those with the best intentions are susceptible to unconscious biases, but we are more equipped to move beyond them once we acknowledge that they exist and understand their implications.

Pay close attention to job descriptions and ads, which can inadvertently discourage women from applying for jobs, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. Also, know that search committees frequently show preferences for candidates presumed to be white males.

It isn’t enough to simply recruit women into an IT organization. Leaders and managers alike must take steps to retain them, because midcareer women are more likely than men to leave the IT workforce. Retaining women does not have to be a daunting task, and methods for doing so often bring the added benefit of retaining good people as well as a diverse staff in general.

Recognize the diversity of communication styles, provide female employees with opportunities to demonstrate their technical abilities, treat employees as individuals (not as representatives of a group) and ensure performance evaluations are based on results.

Provide mentoring and sponsorship, visibility and projects with direct business impact, all of which have a positive effect on women’s careers.

Campuses that have developed strong mentoring programs recognize the value in women having more than one mentor, in not limiting themselves to only female mentors, and in reaping the benefits of being mentors themselves. Mentoring offers valuable opportunities to identify job or career goals and expand professional networks.

To engage in further discussion on all of these and other pertinent topics, consider joining EDUCAUSE’s Women in IT constituent group. We look forward to working with you to diversify IT throughout all levels of higher ed.