Retaining professionals in all industries can be a challenge. Jane Whitgift, CISM, MBCS, provides her insight on how to retain technology professionals, especially women, in the workforce. Jane Whitgift is a cybersecurity professional with more than 30 years of experience in IT and 15 years specializing in IT security. She is the owner and principal consultant with Whitgift Security, which she founded in 2013. Her previous experience includes work as a chief information security officer (CISO) with global accountabilities for IT security risk and implementing programs to improve security roles at FTSE 100 companies. She has remained part of the technology industry as she’s adapted to life changes, such as motherhood, and shares experiences in attaining the elusive work-life balance.
Q: What is one of the biggest obstacles you have faced being a woman in the technology industry?
A: The lack of female compatriots makes it more difficult to build relationships. That is, as I walk into a meeting or room, I am often the only woman. The small talk tends toward subjects I am not really interested in—I have learned about football, the rules and teams, just to be able participate in conversations. When I was young and single, I could join in with drinks after work, but after having children, I needed to leave promptly to pick them up, manage homework and bedtime.
Q: What challenges do you see women face when considering staying in the tech industry?
A: Expectations are the biggest challenge women face.
First, the expectation of work-life balance. With the availability of mobile working, many organizations now expect that we will be available almost 24/7 just to “finish something off.” Women end up feeling guilty when we spend time with our children when work is always at the back of the mind.
Second, being the primary caregiver. Many still believe that it is the woman’s responsibility to be the primary caregiver and cover the cost of childcare with her earnings. Women end up taking a forced extended career break (well into children’s school years—it is simpler than juggling the very short school days and extended school holidays). During this time many women lose confidence in themselves and both technology and the workplace move forward.
Third, the lack of flexibility of employment. In offices, very few opportunities still exist for part-time work. Management often is skeptical of the ability of individuals to carry out roles on a part-time basis, even when most roles can be carried out part-time if the activity is sized appropriately. I successfully carried out a part-time chief information security officer (CISO) role for 3 years.
Q: What is one of the most important internal (of your own effort) factors that led you to remain in the industry?
A: I had the courage to ask my employer if I could move to a flexible part-time contract to manage my work-life balance. I had been working with the organization for 15 years and was on that specific team for 2 years. We agreed I could work short days during the school year and then compress hours into 3 or 4 long days during holidays. As my children got older and spent more time in school, my contracted hours increased. This approach enabled me to both maintain a career path within the organization and maintain my role as primary caregiver.
Q: What is the most important external (not of your own effort) factor that led you to remain in the tech industry?
A: The fact that my employer agreed to my request for a flexible, part-time contract. When the organization changed, the new management team was skeptical about roles that could be carried out in a part-time capacity. Initially, I was only offered an administration-type role, but having demonstrated commitment, flexibility, capability and knowledge, I moved into a consultancy role (some might think this was an obvious role for a part-time person to take on fewer projects) and then into a CISO role for part of the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 organization.
Q: What challenges do you see organizations face as they look to retain more women in tech?
A: Being able to offer opportunities to meet the needs of individuals outside the workplace including:
Q: What do you think organizations can and should do to address retention issues for technology professionals, especially women?A:
- Aspiration and priority changes—sometimes women want a career, sometimes women want a job.
- Individuals have partners who are also employed and, therefore, organizations need to consider how to support an individual who needs to move when their partner moves to another location or country of residence. Additionally, if the individual is to move, how can their partner be supported in employment?
- Encourage individuals, especially women, to return after childcare breaks and encourage them to remain current in technology during their break.
I suspect that the key is educating management that part-time workers can be very effective at all levels of the organization. They must recognize that most roles can be carried out on a part-time basis. They just need to scope the role and activities that can be done in an agreed available time to avoid trying to complete a full-time role in 3 days’ time. Once they have accepted that roles can be done part-time, they must start advertising part-time roles externally.
Further, utilizing part-time work could be something that could also be used as a way of retaining individuals’ expertise at the end of their career as they start to wind down into retirement.
Additionally, when recruiting women, two things must be considered:
Q: Have you seen progress in retaining women in the technology field over the course of your career?A:
- Getting more women onto the candidate lists—Women within the organization should be encouraged to apply. Hiring managers should ask colleagues which women could be eligible for the role, they should ask them to have a conversation with qualified women and encourage them to apply accordingly.
- During the selection process, looking at both organizational requirements and role requirements—The support that can be provided to make a candidate successful should be considered and could ensure a stronger candidate for the position.
Yes. Overall, there are more women in technology roles. There has been an increase in the number of women coming into technology roles at lower levels and then staying on and rising through the ranks to senior positions.