Comment: More women in IT? Only with fundamental change management! (Author: Dirk Pothen*)

Dortmund | 18. August 2020

* Dirk Pothen is a Member of the Executive Board of the IT service provider adesso, which currently has approximately 4,200 employees. In his role as Member of the Executive Board with responsibility for human resources, Pothen heads the company’s “She for IT” initiative, which aims at attracting and recruiting more women to follow a career in IT. In Pothen’s view, increasing the proportion of women at IT companies requires a demanding but unavoidable process of change management. He aims to recruit 40 women into management roles by 2022. In this commentary, he examines this difficult situation and offers tips for male-dominated companies that want to start increasing their proportion of female employees, benefit from diversity and consistently achieve equality.

It is an old problem, and there is no other way of putting it: there are too few women in IT. The latest figures from eco, an industry association, reveal that the proportion of female IT specialists is just 16 %. That number is even lower for management roles. Which is why it is understandable that IT companies have long seen promoting women as a good way to improve their image. More women could also help alleviate the ongoing shortage of specialists. Companies try to outdo each other with grandiose announcements, with the aim of improving their employer brands. But, in many cases, they do not keep those promises – because the issue is not a lack concepts, but instead a failure to implement changes.

It is in every company’s interest to significantly increase the proportion of women in its ranks. Diverse teams – in this case in terms of gender – achieve better results and generate more sustainable innovations than monocultures, which usually means male dominated teams in the IT industry. Women often take a different approach to decision-making. In mixed gender teams that offers additional perspectives, which lead to better overall solutions. That means diversity has many positive effects: culturally, in terms of skills and, ultimately, commercially. Numerous studies and expert opinions leave no doubt about that. However, many companies struggle to value female intellect.

Why is that? There is one decisive reason. Efficiently and sustainably achieving diversity and equality in the workplace involves more than just changes to corporate guidelines. Instead it requires a process of fundamental change management that supports all of the company’s employees during the transition. In the end, that is essential to implementing changes. That process often meets with resistance, which can result in the failure of the project. Real change management can be strenuous, and there is no guarantee that it will succeed. Statistically speaking, nine out of ten projects in this area fail. That is understandable when companies are performing well, with constant sales growth, and do not see a good reason to change a winning formula. But can we be certain that we will continue to perform well? Can we afford to wait and watch? No, because the employment market, the competitive environment, employees’ expectations and conditions at work are constantly changing, especially in terms of transparency. Only those that can stay ahead of the competition will profit from women’s potential. Even when times are good, companies must prepare for the future – one that certainly includes female specialists and managers in the IT industry.

A true change management process is, of course, also driven by management: managers, from the CEO and supervisory board to team leaders, play a key role in successfully achieving diversity – when it comes to greater gender equality, they must be given a certain level of responsibility for achieving these goals. Progress must be measured and communicated, targets should be public and binding. For example, over the next two years adesso aims to recruit 40 additional female managers, and not in traditionally female areas such as marketing and HR, but as consultants, programmers etc.

There is a reason for that: I am convinced that the way to attract more women is by employing more women. Is that a paradox? No, because women must act as role models. Today, teams with female managers already have a higher proportion of women. That is why we need more women in management roles right from the outset, to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, the men that make up 83 percent of adesso’s workforce, and who hold 94 percent of management positions, also need to be on board. There is no way this process can be successful if they wait on the sidelines to see if the “experiment” works. But strong female role models are far more effective multipliers – starting from a young age in the family environment.

However, just attracting more women to a company is not enough. The employee journey makes an essential difference. The design of the application process is just as important as career planning, workplace and working time models, part-time opportunities and the option to take career breaks, along with equal pay. Old assessment criteria and unconscious bias need to be broken down and dismantled. Many of the factors that make such models attractive to women also appeal to today’s young male talent, and can affect their choice of employer.

Introducing and implementing diversity is definitely not a sprint. All-in-all, it is a long-term, sustainable process, including measures that will make a decisive contribution to the success of the company. And if you want to benefit from the potential that diverse teams offer, you have to do more than make empty promises.


Dirk Pothen, member of the adesso Executive Board, leads the adesso initiative "She for IT - For more women in IT". (Copyright: Martin Steffen Fotografie)

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