Industry effort aims to advance women in computing

Eight of Australia's leading CIOs and technology leaders have come together to initiate the second phase of the Women in IT Executive Mentoring (WITEM) program. The program aims to address a number of issues which women face in the technology sector.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005 Labour Force Survey found that women make up only 20.5 percent of the IT workforce. According to Joe Kremer, vice president and managing director of Dell Australia and New Zealand, the percentage of women in the IT workforce further diminishes in senior positions.

Because there are so few female IT executives, Kremer suggests that women in the industry may lack role models on whom to base their career development. To this end, WITEM puts volunteer mentors together with high-potential female executives. The mentoring program is expected to accelerate the development of leadership competencies, such as general management expertise and confidence, of mentees.

"We're trying to create more balance in the organization," he said, "because I think if an organization under-represents women at senior levels, then they are at a disadvantage because they lose a certain point of view."

The first phase of WITEM was initiated by Dell in December 2005. It involved managing directors from eight technology companies, including Cisco, EMC, Ingram Micro, Intel, Lexmark, Altiris and LAN Systems, each mentoring a female executive from across marketing, sales, legal counsel and channel management functions of another company.

Phase II, launched in July this year, takes a different approach, as it targets women working in IT departments of companies that are not necessarily in the IT industry. The eight phase II mentors come from seven companies in the public and private sector, including Centrelink, Deloitte, Department of Finance and Administration, Ernst Young, NSW Department of Education and Training, Westpac and Woolworths.

The phase II view of IT careers gives the program a wider spread in the Australian labour force, which reflects the pervasiveness of technology in businesses, Kremer said.

"When they [the public] think about IT, they think of someone writing code in a dark basement somewhere. But I think the potential for CIOs is amazing now," he said. As businesses become increasingly dependent on technology to succeed, Kremer expects there to be greater potential for IT professionals to advance their careers. "I think that 15 years from now, CEOs will be chosen from CIOs," he said.

Even in early stages of the mentoring program, Kremer has already noticed changes, for the better, in the dynamics of his own organization. Employees are more communicative and more readily raise concerns such as the conflict arising between early morning meetings and childcare, which led to renegotiated timing.

"This program has opened doors," he said. "We have found more of a voice for women in the company. I think that if people are talking, then it's a very good thing for the company"

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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