The corporate culture of many high-tech companies is exclusionary and does not support women's advancements. This is the first primary barrier that women perceive when considering a career in IT.
This is according to David Ives, director: developer and platform strategy at Microsoft South Africa, speaking at a Women in IT breakfast, who identified four primary barriers to women wanting to work in IT.
"The second is the fact that technology companies do not strategically and objectively identify and develop talent. Thirdly, women feel isolated in technology companies because they lack role models, networks, and mentors. And lastly, the demands of work and career are at odds with having a commitment to family and personal responsibilities," he says.
However, there are solutions to these problems.
"Firstly, get a handle on the issues. We need a summary of where women are in the high tech industry, the barriers that hold them back, and how companies can take action."
Additionally, companies need to identify and manage their talent. They need to learn how to create effective leadership training and talent identification programs, and provide tools and resources to support career planning and development.
"Companies also need to address the work/life balance by discovering how to create a flexible environment, provide and support career path flexibility, and provide support for personal responsibilities," says Ives.
"Companies also need to use mentoring and networks to win. Women in IT need to find out about formal and informal opportunities that allow them to learn from mentors and network internally and externally."
The bottom line is that women are invaluable in the technology sector and research has backed this up. Quoting results from a survey performed by Evetech, Ives says that companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest women's representation. This is true for both ROE, which was 35% higher and TRS, which is 34% higher.
"Surveys show that companies with the highest women's representation on their top management teams experienced a higher ROE than groups of companies with the lowest women's representation.
"In four out of five industries analysed, the group of companies with the highest women's representation on their top management teams experienced a higher return than the group of companies with the lowest women's representation."
So how can women change a company's perceptions?
"Women need to network and support each other more. The more we keep at it, the more we will change the attitudes of our bosses and colleagues. The more we chat to to friends and family about our work, the more other women will consider IT as a career option.
"Remember, strategy is executed one discussion at a time," concludes Ives.