It will probably come as no surprise that there’s a big gender gap in tech.
There’s a gap in our universities where, as of 2014 only 16% of Australian IT graduates and 36% of Computer Science (CS)/IT students in New Zealand are women.
There’s an even bigger gender gap in tech in the workplace. Only 28% of IT workers in Australia are female, compared to 45% across all professional industries, while in NZ just 23% of ICT employees are women.
There’s also a significant gender pay gap. Various Australian sources put the pay gap at around 20%*. In NZ, 52% of small-to-medium businesses pay their male employees more than females in the same role.
Tech has a problem
The first step in fixing the gender gap in tech is actually establishing that it’s a problem.
Shockingly, a recent report showed that only 21% of NZ businesses believe gender diversity is important to their business, while a survey of IT workers in Australia revealed that one quarter of all employers didn’t have strategies in place to combat discrimination and ensure workplace diversity.
Auckland University of Technology senior lecturer Dr Mahsa Mohaghegh says that while awareness of the gender imbalance problem is increasing, “it can still feel like an uphill battle”.
Removing virtual barriers
“Technology changes so quickly and seeing the impact it has on multiple industries is fascinating,” says Mahsa. “It’s relevant to everybody’s future.”
That’s 100% true. By 2023, Australia is predicted to be home to over 750,000 IT professionals, but there’ll still be no shortage of work. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2021, 3.5 million job openings will appear in cybersecurity alone.
To make sure women don’t miss out on this IT revolution, we need to remove what Mahsa calls “virtual barriers to women”. Part of the problem is a lack of female role models.
Frances Valintine, founder of Auckland-based Tech Futures Lab and The Mind Lab, agrees that the lack of female representation and gender gap in tech is problematic. “‘You cannot be what you cannot see’ is very, very true,” says Frances.
Info is key!
It’s clear that girls aren’t getting all the info they need about tech careers. Check out these stats. We need to do better…
- Only 11% of Australian high school girls nominated ICT as their top career choice – although 34% were interested
- 61% of girls from a NZ high school survey said they wanted to know more about programming but didn’t know where to start
- Only 3% of 15-year-old girls in NZ are thinking about a career in the tech sector
Mahsa believes that negative stereotypes about computer science are a key problem. “[This] is putting a lot of girls off even considering this field – and we’re missing out on a lot of great talent as a result,” she says.
This was one of the reasons Mahsa founded She# (She Sharp), a non-profit networking and learning group for women in technology. The group aims to get as many girls, women and non-binary people coding as possible and their online and NZ-based workshops run every May to celebrate tech week. It’s all part of the plan to reach the potential female tech leaders in-the-making.
Spotlight on diversity
Making tech and computer science a more inclusive sector is about so much more than just achieving equal male/ female staff numbers. Gender isn’t binary and there are many more elements to diversity, including ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, nationality and neurodiversity.
Mahsa cites the considerable research on diversity in the workplace and explains: “No one can ignore the evidence of the benefits that a balanced, diverse workplace brings, such as increased productivity and enhanced innovation.” And she’s right! Companies which have greater gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry averages, according to recent findings by economics and business consultancy McKinsey & Company.
But the most important aspect is making the tech sector more inclusive and welcoming for everybody. Sadly, 25.9% of IT workers have experienced bias or discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, religion and sexual identity. Discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be damaging – there’s been a lot of research into unconscious bias in the workplace, which involves unconsciously attributing qualities to members of particular social groups.
“Our business leaders really need to get on board with advocating diversity and equality – initiating diversity programmes and making a conscious effort to change employee mindsets will have a big positive impact,” says Mahsa.
FIND MORE ROLE MODELS
Find your job passion and more female role models in STEM on our Profiles page.
Top 3 apps for women, by women
In an industry where women are a minority, these female-driven apps are addressing women’s needs through the first-hand experience of the founders.
- Shebah is an Australian ridesharing app that’s like a female-friendly Uber. CEO and founder George McEncroe was concerned about the dangerous situations female drivers (and passengers) can be placed in, so she founded Shebah, which connects female drivers with female passengers.
- Menstrual cycle tracking apps have grown in popularity, but many have been criticised for poor design and not meeting women’s needs. Clue is one of the few apps with a female co-founder (Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin). It aims to empower women with menstrual health information that’s empathetic, positive and scientifically accurate.
- Spitfire Athlete is one of the few fitness apps designed by women and aims to tap into a market where gym sexism is prevalent: strength training. It was designed by two female engineers Nidhi Kulkarni and Erin Parker (Erin competes at Olympic-level weightlifting so she knows her stuff!), and allows women to design their own workout plans inspired by female athletes.
This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Code 2019.
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.