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Wed 3 Jan 2007 04:00 AM

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Workplace e-quality

‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen not in the corporate data centre’ — not our view, but one that still prevails in some pockets of the Middle East IT industry. It is difficult to comprehend that throughout the world, even in these modern times, this outdated perspective can still rear its ugly head.

|~|200-Katie-Spurgeon-Channel-.jpg|~|Spurgeon: Women bring different skills to the table.|~|In the world of information technology, the lack of women working in the industry remains evident, particularly in the Middle East. The problem is not just down to sexist attitudes though. In this region it seems there are many stumbling blocks on the road to a successful career in information technology for the fairer sex.

In her time dealing with IT recruitment for BAC Middle East, recruitment consultant Anjali Jayanth has not been able to help but notice how much easier it is for men to land IT jobs than women.

“I come from Bangalore in India which is very well-known for IT skills,” Jayanth explains. “But even there in terms of representation of women in companies or IT colleges the men to women ratio is something like 60/40 or 65/35. I think the main reason is cultural differences. The way men and women actually fit quite differently in an industry as a whole and I feel the scenario here is kind of similar.

“Since I’ve been working here we’ve been able to get much more men into IT jobs than women.

“Also, the salaries definitely differ quite a lot and men tend to get paid more for the same job a woman does. This is possibly because a lot of men perhaps understand the industry better and are more assertive when it comes to negotiating salaries,” she adds.

Jayanth believes that in countries such as the UK and USA women are much more independent, and are therefore going to find it easier to get whatever type of work they want and achieve their career goals.

“In Asia and the Middle East women aren’t that independent and they’re not so assertive – again it’s just a cultural thing,” she claims.

There are plenty of other factors involved though, according to Jayanth. In more conservative countries, women are not always encouraged to study with men or attend co-ed colleges, and most of the universities have a fairly large number of men, she says.

“Often employers prefer to recruit males as they feel that there is less of a conflict between home and career responsibilities. Therefore men, whom employers believe can devote more time and energy towards work, fill the senior roles.

“As an IT recruiter, out of every 25 jobs on an average, around 20 or more are filled by male candidates. Female candidates occupy more of the junior roles, such as software developer, software programmer or IT assistant where the responsibilities compared to senior roles like project leader are much less.

“I think there should be many more women working across all sectors. I think the most important thing that we need to see in the Middle East is a change of attitudes towards women and the role they can actually play in the workforce.”

This outlook paints a rather gloomy picture for young women aspiring to get into IT, but there are some women who have made their way into the industry with a great deal of success, showing that progress towards equality is possible. However, even these women find it hard to put their fingers on exactly why there are so few women working alongside them in the IT industry though.

Sushma Kajaria, Online Distribution’s security business unit manager says: “It’s difficult to say why there are so few. Maybe right from the beginning IT is seen as something for men because it’s technical. There are a lot of men in this field and even the women who are there are not at the forefront – not going out in the territory. Women are there in IT but they’re in the back office in operations and logistics, handling accounting and stuff like that. They’re not really handling IT.”||**|||~|200-kanbar.jpg|~|Kanbar: Long hours can pose a big problem for some.|~|As Kajaria points out, there are many restrictions on women travelling in and around GCC, which remains a major issue. “Usually I have some problems,” she explains. “If I have to do a territory visit I always have to apply for a visa. There are a few countries, and I wouldn’t want to name them, but they’ve rejected my visa when I wanted to visit those countries for business purposes. They’ve rejected my visa a couple of times and there are countries that I can’t visit even now for business purposes. A woman cannot really always travel with a husband or a brother.”

Kajaria is not alone in having to deal with stringent travel restrictions. Katie Spurgeon, channel and alliances manager at Symantec, who is based in UAE, is just one of many others to have faced these challenges at work.

“Obviously, if I was to live in Saudi Arabia it would be a little bit difficult for me to do the same job, but I was recently in the Kingdom about three weeks back and we held an end user event there, which I attended,” says Spurgeon. “I also helped the partners get involved in it and we had a meeting with our key partners at our offices in Saudi Arabia, so where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Charissa Kanbar, IT manager at Wild Wadi, a waterpark located in Dubai, feels that difficult hours can be another hurdle, especially in an operational role.

“For instance, with some projects there will be times when I’m stuck at work for three days and I don’t go home until it works,” she explains. “Now, if you’re married and you’ve got kids it becomes difficult. I think that there can be some conflict.”

Despite IT remaining a male dominated industry, she is sure that a woman working in IT can command equal respect and can be equally if not more competent than males.

“I think if you’re good and you know what you’re doing then you can be treated equally and you can earn as much as men,” she says.

One thing that all women working in IT agree on is that there should be far more women in the industry in the Middle East.
Spurgeon for one says she would love to see more women working in IT in the region.

“I think, interestingly, in the end user field you tend to see even less women working than in the channel or vendor field. But this isn’t just an issue for the Middle East. It’s a global issue,” she says.

“I think the opportunities are there. I don’t think that a man can do an IT job better than any woman at all. We all come with different skills to the table,” Spurgeon adds.

Eman El Demairy, senior marketing manager MENA, SAP Arabia, is keen for people to start focusing on the skills women can bring to the workforce, rather than have people scratching around for negative aspects.

“I really think women are much better communicators than men and that is something that can really help at work,” she says. “I find that women are better at dealing with people and they always seem to be that much more approachable than men.

“So that not only helps when communicating with colleagues at work, but when you go out and talk to the customers. I think women can get a better response in that respect,” El Demairy adds.

Kajaria believes that educating young women about their career options could go a long way to smashing down the technology barriers – a feeling reiterated by many others.

“Right from the education level there should be a lot more emphasis on IT within the countries,” she says.

“I think that is one thing that can help. I’m in touch with some of the students because I look to them when I want to hire people – graduates coming out of the college.

“When you look at the special candidates, the number of ladies who want to get into IT, the number is always lower than the number of guys who want to get into IT.

“At that ground level itself, if we are able to generate more awareness and get some more women into the information technology field at the university level then I think that is one thing that can help a great deal.

“Secondly, the block in the minds of people when they’re hiring women in IT and thinking they will not be able to travel so much needs to be addressed. Ladies can travel and ladies can take up the same time and responsibilities as men, and they can do a lot better in some cases. Women can excel in a lot of fields and they’ve proven that.”

Spurgeon builds on this point: “I would like to see more focus in schools. More workshops around colleges by women, allowing the students to see that it’s a normal path for men or women to go into IT and it’s not specifically just a career that men take.”

Kanbar concludes: “Women could be made more aware through fairs and events such as GITEX. I think a lot of women just see it as a man’s field – many women don’t even go and look at it and that is what really needs to change in the region.”||**||

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