Four leaders talk about the key barriers to more women working in IT


As you are probably aware, rhetoric around the number of women working in the Australian technology industry has heightened in recent months.


Despite a recent survey revealing that Australia has hired 65 percent more women across IT roles over the past five years compared to other established countries including France, Germany, UK, Hong Kong and Japan, recent ABS figures reveal that women still only represent 24 percent of the total technology industry workforce in Australia.


But rather than dwell on the problems, four thought leaders in the space are coming together for an upcoming panel session ‘Zero Gender Divide’ to discuss what they see as the key barriers to having more women working in IT and what can be done to overcome them:


Dr Leslie Cannold, an award winning columnist and regular on ABC’s Moral Compass

“In our society, leadership capabilities can still be understood in a gendered way. While these thoughts occur below the levels of people’s consciousness, gendered views are triggered when people consider male or female areas of work and play. This can be communicated to young women who are mapping out their career choices in their teens. Once the only options young women had were either nurse or a teacher. Fortunately in 2015, young women have more career opportunities, but there’s still some sectors like technology where women can be discouraged from pursuing their talents.


The only way to ensure a full range of opportunities for future generations is for women to lead. Real female leaders displace stereotypes about the unnaturalness of ambition in women. Each woman who fronts for the challenge makes it easier for the next one to make her way.


Our first female Prime Minister Julia Gilliard said in her last speech to the public as the nation’s leader, “Gender doesn’t explain everything. It explains some things. What I am absolutely confident of is that it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that.”


Renée McGowan, Chief Customer Officer at Mercer

“Gender diversity in technology companies is a fascinating paradox. Despite being the industry renowned as ‘agile’, providing creative and flexible workplaces – the technology sector is struggling in the same way as large corporations to achieve more equal representation of women in their workplaces.


In technology firms in the US and Australia, women are underrepresented at every employment stage. The pace of change in terms of educating and attracting women to technology fields and offering lucrative employment practices is inadequate. In fact, unacceptable. Employers need to explore different approaches focused around health, financial wellbeing and talent management.


Talent management – gender diversity is not a about ‘fixing’ issues for women. Rather, women will thrive in workplaces where all key talent (male and female) is nurtured, supported, promoted and actively managed. Active management of talent drives more favourable outcomes than passive policies.


Manage actively, not passively – Simply implementing leave and flexibility programs to support women’s needs in the absence of pro-active management of their careers may actually slow the trajectory of women in the organisation. Also, getting women out of the staff roles and having them get equal access to P&L roles lead to better gender diversity outcomes.


Think and act differently – Certain non-traditional, innovative programs that target women’s unique health and financial needs are helping organizations better attract, develop and retain female talent.


Realise unique value. Some skills are plentiful across men and women, but some stark differences are apparent. Realising the unique value that women bring to the workplace requires us to recognise the stark differences. It’s not a skills gap, it’s a recognition gap that women have unique competencies that are critical to business success.”


Tim Fawcett, Executive General Manager Corporate Affairs,

“For me, there’s three key solutions.


Show me the money – Equal pay is an issue that affects all industries and technology is not exempt.  More women would go into technology roles if the industry took a leadership role in ensuring equal pay.  Overcoming this requires more accurate and transparent reporting of gender pay differences and continuing research and promotion of industry leading equal pay initiatives.


Flexible policies –Providing flexible workplaces is key to attracting female talent. If any industry had the opportunity to provide flexible working practices it is the technology sector.  The networked, secure and mobile workplace tools that are available right now provide the perfect opportunity for employers to unlock productivity advantages through flexible work places.


Role models – Having both male and female role models is very important in demonstrating the diversity of careers that are available to students that study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.  The technology industry is full of stereotypes that are difficult to overcome and may be seen as a deterrent, especially to younger girls and women contemplating a career choice.”


Gina O’Reilly, COO of Nitro

“I sort of fell into tech – I oversaw sales and marketing functions at two tech firms before joining Nitro. My own career progression has mirrored that of my male counterparts, but for the past 15 years, I’ve been in the minority – and I think it’s time that changed.


Nitro is dedicated to promoting gender balance among our team and encouraging both men and women to work across all functions and levels. We talk a lot about “complementary collaboration” – respecting and embracing the fact that we bring different but often hugely complementary skills to the table that if nurtured, can be a highly successful combination.


Here’s what we advocate:

Be authentic – Women and men often feel they have to have a tough-as-nails attitude to get ahead in a male-dominated industry, but a lack of sincerity can be felt a mile away and just perpetuates the problem, so it’s best to choose the authentic route and just be yourself.


Support and play to female strengths – Rather than worrying about the skills they don’t have, women should recognise their unique talents such as perceptiveness and strong emotional intelligence, while men can help ensure more women are part of the mix from the onset for optimal business success.


Rise above the BS – At Nitro we do our best to quash that stereotype by having a zero tolerance policy for what is unnecessary, unhealthy, and unproductive behaviour like gossip among both men and women.


Support one another – It’s important for women to have each other’s backs, and avoid contributing to a competitive environment. Make an effort to connect with other women in your company and industry by attending networking events, organising your own casual meet-ups, or simply stopping to say hi.


Introduce and lead change – Complaining about something you could absolutely play a hand in changing, or at least improving, isn’t helpful. Instead, take the bull by the horns and pave the way for that change.”


This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda.