GDS’ Stephen Foreshew-Cain: ‘there is a gender-diversity problem in the digital industry’

Government Digital Service executive director Stephen Foreshew-Cain has committed the organisation to a more pro-active stance on promoting gender diversity in the IT sector.

In an announcement marking International Women’s Day, Foreshew-Cain said that many more men than women were employed in the digital industry, and the problem was exacerbated by a lack of women speakers at industry events.

He said that as part of a strategy to address the way the industry was portrayed, GDS staff would boycott panel discussions that did not have an acceptable male-female balance and would base decisions on whether to speak at events on the efforts organisers were making to address gender-diversity issues.

“There is a gender diversity problem in the digital industry,” he said. “I’m committing, in public, to the first of several actions that GDS is going to take to help improve gender diversity.

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“In future, no-one from GDS will take part in a panel discussion of two or more people unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the chair. 

“In future, no-one from GDS will speak at an event unless the event’s organisers are clearly working hard to address gender diversity on stage. It’s hard to put a number on this sort of thing, so we will make that decision based on what we see on each event’s draft agenda.”

Foreshew-Cain, who is the Cabinet Office’s LGB&TI champion, said the GDS would hold itself to the same standards for events it organised.

“Ideally, when GDS is invited to supply a guest speaker for an event, we’d like to send women to speak just as often as we send men,” he said. 

“That means that sometimes, some of our male staff – especially those on our management team – will be encouraged to step aside and suggest a female colleague to speak instead of them. 

“There are plenty of women at GDS who are excellent speakers and experts in their field – but the opportunities to speak need to be present for them.”

Foreshew-Cain said that while GDS’ Sprint 16 event in February had some women as speakers and panel members on the main stage, as well as leaders of break-out sessions and discussions, there had not been enough. 

“For our next big event – whether it’s Sprint 17 or something else – we aim to have an even gender split, 50-50,” he said.

Jim Dunton

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