What a wonderful day International Women’s Day is! A day when the world unites to reflect on women’s achievements and strengthen their resolve in progressing gender equality.
This year’s campaign theme, ‘Balance for Better’, is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world – in government, in sports, in the workplace and, I must say, in the ICT world! But, how are we tracking along? How is the ICT world, an industry where women have been historically underrepresented, doing these days? How does Australia compare to the rest of the world?
Bad and ‘good’ news
Sadly, the participation of women in the ICT industry remains significantly low in Australia. According to the latest data provided by Professionals Australia, ‘only 28% of the Australian ICT workforce is female, only 1 in 4 ICT graduates are female and there’s a persistent gender pay gap of 19% in the ICT industry’.
The ‘good’ news is that Australia is doing better than other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU). At 28%, Australia has the second highest percentage of women working in ICT, according to Honeypot’s 2018 Women in Tech Index. Bulgaria is at the top with 30%, while Romania places third with 26%.
Given the role of ICT in our digital world, I still wonder – is our current pace enough to meet future demand for ICT skills?
According to the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Australia’s Digital Pulse , Australia’s ICT workforce is forecast to grow by almost 100,000 workers or 15% over the coming years, increasing from 663,100 workers in 2017 to around 758,700 workers in 2023. This ACS report also predicts that 33% of this employment growth is forecast to be in ICT management and operations roles, while a further 27% will be in ICT technical and professional roles.
How can we accelerate gender balance?
The Westpac Banking Corporation has estimated that having equal representation of women in leadership roles could lift labour force participation and add up to $10.8 billion to the Australian economy every year.
Improving female participation in ICT requires addressing critical issues, including Australia’s low percentage of young girls studying Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in schools. Lack of encouragement, lack of role models and hostile environments are other factors contributing to women’s underrepresentation in ICT.
A recent study on the future of girls in STEM has found that ‘addressing unconscious bias and teacher competence in STEM in primary education – along with better career advice on STEM‑based possibilities and partnerships with local communities and industries – could encourage more girls to study STEM at school’.
As well as engaging and maintaining girl’s interests in STEM from a young age, there are some actions we can take as an industry, as organisations and as individuals.
As an industry, we can:
- collect data and set measures on diversity
- advocate for better working policies, including parental leave and flexible working
- provide safe networking spaces
- promote inspiring role models
- establish alliances between industry and academia.
As organisations, I’m very proud to showcase GWI’s efforts for gender equality which have resulted in a 50% female representation. At GWI we keep a gender-balanced workforce by:
- encouraging female leadership
- providing flexible work arrangements
- staying involved in higher education
- supporting organisations encouraging girls’ participation in STEM via sponsorship of the Tech Girls Movement.
Finally, as individuals, I invite you to help in any way you can, whether it be fighting stereotypes and unconscious bias, mentoring a girl or a woman interested in ICT or advocating within your organisation for change. All of these steps, both small and large, contribute to improving women’s standing in the world and creating the equality we deserve.