What are the reasons for the shortage of skilled professionals in the Swiss ICT sector? An interview with Daniela Burkhard, Head of Human Resource Management at Bedag Informatik AG, provides some explanations.
Ms Burkhard, as an HR specialist, can you explain why previous campaigns to attract women to ICT professions have had little effect?
It already starts at primary school level, where STEM subjects – measured by their importance – are not promoted enough. The demand from young women to learn an IT profession remains low. This starts with the interest in trial apprenticeships, where the proportion of female students is a maximum of 5-10%. Apparently, both parents and schools still do far too little to draw attention to the exciting professions in the IT world. Some probably also think that gaming or eSports – still a hobby rather dominated by boys – are a perfect entry ticket into our professional world. I hope and wish that the digitalisation push triggered by the pandemic will increase the importance of computer science and the desire to learn an exciting profession in the IT world among the general population. Because the image of the super-smart “IT nerd” who only performs his tasks in a hoodie at night in a closed room with pizza and coke as a lone fighter and prefers not to have any interpersonal contact definitely does not match reality. That is why it is high time to present the profession of software developer or systems engineer as attractive as that of doctor, flight attendant or businesswoman through broad campaigns.
Are you (intrinsically) pursuing a women’s quota in the ICT sector at Bedag Informatik AG?
We have no quantitative targets, but we are doing a lot to attract more women. A whole package of measures has been put together for this purpose.
When filling a vacancy in the ICT sector, do you use different wording to motivate more women to apply?
Yes, we deliberately avoid “macho words” like dynamic, hungry for success, assertive etc.. Instead, we rely on authentic, unagitated information from first-hand experience or from the conversation: More and more of our job advertisements contain podcasts. I, too, take interested parties on an audio tour of Bedag Informatik AG. We are sure that the written and spoken language is a powerful tool. Of course, it can’t conjure up more women for us in the IT world in a hurry. But naturally, we want to win over the relatively few women who are interested in IT professions. So much so that we have even given our chatbot a female touch. Our Ada knows a lot about apprenticeships and trial apprenticeships. A modern, self-confident “chatbot”, so to speak.
How many women apply for ICT jobs in relation to men?
I guess around 10%.
What do you look for in the applications/CVs of women who apply for a job in the ICT sector?
We have abolished the motivation letter and thus also a source of possible discrimination. Women are sometimes simply too modest when it comes to selling their skills. But the abolition of the motivation letter, I have to be honest, has less to do with the gender issue than with personnel marketing and the candidate experience in general.
How important are good grades in STEM subjects in the CV of an application?
They are already a point of reference: of course you shouldn’t be unsatisfactory there. But it’s the overall picture that counts, and this also includes an assessment of potential. Curiosity, cleverness and diligence can always compensate for one or two academic deficiencies.
Do men in STEM professions automatically get a different employment position than women?
No, at least with us it’s not like that. What counts in the selection process are competencies and assessable performance.
Do women find it more difficult to demonstrate their own technical competence?
No, by no means. We experience the women as confident and sovereign in the professional job interviews: They know exactly what they are talking about and let their light shine!
What measures do you take to try to attract more women to Bedag Informatik AG?
If you want to attract more women, you have to “court” them. Some of our measures are aimed directly at women, some more indirectly or subtly. One important point is the job advertisements. We advertise all jobs on a part-time basis, some even on a job-sharing basis. Then we simply reversed the “generic masculine” in the job titles. We now only advertise the female form in German job titles, for example “Fachspezialistin”. And we are one of the few companies in Switzerland to publicise the salary range. You don’t have to play the unspeakable wage poker with us, where the men, who tend to be a bit more brash, have an advantage. Then we make sure that women also have their say in the imagery and stories on our career website. There are a disproportionate number of women in the careers section of our website. That is no coincidence. In this way, too, we try to counteract the current shortage of women in ICT gently and rather subtly. This also applies to our Instagram channel, which we dedicate entirely to the topic of “women and families”.
You offer a trial apprenticeship “Girls only”. What do you mean by that?
We believe that female students have certain inhibitions and reservations when it comes to an apprenticeship in IT. That’s why we reserved one of our seven trial apprenticeships, which we run with a maximum of four people at a time, for female students. It took some effort, but we were ultimately able to fill all four places with interested girls. Objectively, this is a small number, but in previous years only one female student had attended each time. Our training manager Jenny Dales is taken with the interest of the girls, as they have found their way around quickly and well. Compared to their male peers, they brought a little less prior knowledge and acted a little more cautiously here and there, but the girls asked good questions and were interested. Now we hope to meet up with the young female talents again soon in the selection process for the apprenticeships in 2022. You have to go step by step: We know that we are at the beginning of a long-distance race and we will keep at it.
Bedag Informatik AG is a practice partner of the Public Sector Transformation Institute at BFH Wirtschaft. Among other things, it is supporting the department in holding TRANSFORM 2021 on 3 November 2021. The online conference will focus on the tension between a digitalised everyday working life and a world of work that focuses more on people. Click here to register.