Get with the Programme: The Need for Diversity in IT

An opinion piece on the need for diversity in the IT industry.

A recent IDG Report Women in IT: Does the Shortage Matter? found that 91% of IT departments surveyed were made up of less than 50% women, with 36% of IT departments reporting less than 10% of their staff were female. Working in a business with an IT team of over 200 staff and an overall female to male ratio of 60:40, I find this disappointing news. Even more so, was the statistic from a straw poll by IDG, which found that 56% of respondents believe the IT industry can survive without women. Perhaps an unsurprising statistic given IT has been male-dominated from its start.

Despite this imbalance, there’s no denying the demand for fresh talent in the industry and it’s not just the IT department that needs IT skills. A quick look at the job descriptions for non-IT roles will yield phrases like “basic HTML required”, “IT skills beneficial” and “coding knowledge a plus”. 

Given the growth of the sector and the accompanying skills shortage, it’s important for the industry and the UK’s economy to dispel the industry stereotypes and encourage both sexes to learn IT skills. In fact, the report found that 70% of women and 54% of men felt that gender imbalance impacted creativity negatively. 

At The Net-a-Porter Group we develop and build almost all our technology in-house, and are less concerned with gender balance than we are with true talent and the quest for the right individuals to fit our business culture. Experience of leading a mixed team of highly talented IT experts has shown me that some of the most innovative solutions arise when people come at problems from different angles and share solutions in a collaborative, diverse environment. It’s this mix of skills, experience and personalities in the room, which leads to the most exciting ideas and projects, ultimately benefiting the customer and the business. 

This means we’re passionate about encouraging a diverse mix of young people to learn and develop their IT skills but I know it can be harder for those who don’t fit the mould or don’t feel inspired by traditional in-house IT roles to excel in the industry. So here’s my advice to anyone looking to make their mark in the tech sector:

  • Keep your ear to the ground: The great thing about the industry is that it is constantly changing and evolving. You can easily create opportunities for yourself by staying on top of what’s going on in tech, making yourself an invaluable asset to those who are less tech savvy in the business
  • Set your sights on leadership roles: There’s no reason why anyone with the vision and drive can’t be at the cutting edge of the technology industry. Incredible role models such as Natalie Massenet, Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg show us there’s more than one way of getting to the top
  • Look to inspire others: With the current tech talent shortage, we all have a responsibility for ensuring that the future generation looks at IT as a good option for their career. Look for opportunities to act as a role model to others in the industry through getting in touch with education establishments and local tech initiatives and help get the message out that understanding technology will make young people more desirable to all kinds of employers

Rather than focusing on gender as a barrier to success, we need to boost industry talent by embracing diversity. First-hand experience of working in a mixed tech team has shown me the value of different perspectives and the strength of ideas, creativity and innovations that will come from driving the industry in this direction will be their own reward.


By Sarah Watson, Group Mobile Manager, The Net-a-Porter Group