Is it ok to wait another 117 years for gender parity to be achieved?
This was the question Avanade Australia MD Sarah Adam-Gedge asked of 609 people gathered for the Females in IT and Telecommunications (FITT) International Women’s Day (IWD) event on Wednesday.
Adam-Gedge shared the findings from the World Economic Forum 2015 report that, “It will take until 2133 to achieve gender parity”.
This shocked many in the audience, and made me stop and reflect on the question in the context of FITT’s IWD ambition to empower and educate women for future ICT roles.
The FITT goal is especially important in a week when the Australian Computer Society released its findings that just 28% of the ICT sector is made up of women, and Australia will need to tap the female workforce if it wants to keep up with the digital economy.
I work in technology, in areas that are still often male-dominated. I have been lucky enough to have, and have had, inspiring leadership from men and women throughout my career. I can sometimes struggle with the suggestion of quotas, or leadership that excludes men: I’m about equality, opportunities and – exactly as this event suggested – parity in the ICT workplace.
This can be achieved, as long as we have the will.
Below are some simple things we can do to empower and encourage women to study ICT, join the ICT industry and grow their careers. The panel at the FIIT event also shared a number of ideas for empowering our own careers – which will ultimately be one of the greatest things we can do for inspiring the next generation
Start with ambassadors
It is in our power, today, to help bridge the gender parity gap. Empowerment and education for women is not only a top priority for the ICT industry but one that’s necessary across all industries.
Sarah Adam-Gedge offered many examples of what can help, including how Taylor Swift celebrated IWD by sharing the importance of helping women and girls achieve their ambitions and encouraging her 72.5 Million Twitter followers to ‘Pledge for Parity’.
We need ambassadors from all walks of life – from Taylor Swift to people like Adam-Gedge who is leading a major tech organisation – to educate and inspire the opportunities available to young women.
These ambassadors need to start inspiring women from a young age (primary school) and we should make it everyone’s responsibility to share inspirational ‘women in ICT’ stories with our children to help motivate, inspire and paint a world full of opportunities and possibilities.
Offer small acts of empowerment
FITT chair Jacqui McNamara challenged the audience to consider, “What was the most empowering thing that has happened to you at work?”
It’s an important question to think about when determining how we can better encourage and inspire the next generation
For me, the answer didn’t come from a big career milestones but rather from a simple comment one of my old bosses said to me at the end of a performance review six years ago. He said, “One day we will be working for you so it’s my job to help you reach your potential and showcase it”.
This comment had a profound and empowering impact on me personally and on my career in the ICT industry.
That being said, empowerment doesn’t need to wait until ‘Review time’. It is something we can do daily – a theme that Lynwen Connick, First Assistant Secretary, Cyber Policy & Intelligence Division, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, continued to expand on during her keynote speech.
She flagged that it is the national agenda to help women join the ICT industry as well as help women stay and reach their potential – with government funding of $13 Million over 5 years now offered for specific programs like the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE).
Take four actions daily
To reduce the parity gap, Connick asked the audience to take four actions daily to help mentor and encourage women and girls to believe in their own abilities and to promote the exciting career paths available for them.
This is something that everyone can do, no matter what industry you are in.
It surprised me that it took a keynote speaker to remind us all to do these simple things, but it also highlighted the unconscious bias we can often face that needs to be countered with positive messaging.
Keep empowering yourself
The FITT event also featured a great panel of industry leaders who shared insights into their personal lives and their own career stories on empowerment and education.
The panellists answered audience questions on a range of topics on the STEM industry, as well as mentoring, careers advice and dealing with unconscious bias in the workplace.
Pip Marlow, Managing Director of Microsoft Australia, summarised the importance of women studying and being a part of the STEAM industry (Science, Technology, and Engineering, Arts & Mathematics industry) — not only to help better meet customer business requirements by bringing together science and art, but also to drive creativity through diversity.
Marlow passionately shared that an interest in science and technology needs to be better encouraged at a young age for girls, and that it’s our responsibility to remove any barriers and help paint exciting ICT career paths for our future generations.
Kate Burleigh, Managing Director of Intel Australia, shared some ideas on how to combat unconscious bias when it comes to career progression. She told the audience to be “vocal” about what you want in your career, and ensure it’s absolutely clear to your stakeholders who can support you.
Tara Commerford, Managing Director of GoDaddy, shared how different mentors have helped shaped her career and encouraged her to ‘lean into’ the right job roles that matched her strengths.
Sharryn Napier, Vice President & Regional Director Australia & NZ of Qlik, talked about Qlik’s open and straightforward values, as well as the importance of leaders shaping the organisational diversity culture from the top.
Lastly, Dr Susan Pond, who is the Steering Committee Co-Chair for SAGE, offered some insights into the education system, where only 17% of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes are women. She said a current SAGE pilot program is focused on improving gender equity and gender diversity at 32 education institutions across Australia.
So, why does it take events like this to make us all stop and think about how can we do things differently to empower and educate women for the ICT jobs of the future?
Let’s actively prevent another year like 1984 where women in ICT dropped significantly and had a huge impact on the industry.
Let’s see the rate of women in the sector rise dramatically from its current 28%.
Let’s start taking some of the steps above to help empower more women and girls into this industry, while also empowering our own personal careers.