It’s fair to say that as women, we probably have some entrenched views about what working in the tech industry is like – a boys’ club, geeky, full of engineers.
This isn’t surprising. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women make up 46.2 per cent of all employees across the workforce, but in technology the number of women drops to between 28-31 per cent. A closer look at the breakdown of females in leadership shows significantly fewer women in positions to influence their company’s’ product development or strategic direction – only 14 per cent of executive positions in Australian tech are held by women, according to LinkedIn data. It paints a bleak picture and certainly doesn’t do much to encourage the next generation of females to forge a career in technology.
But I want to set the record straight and explain why women with all sorts of skills can benefit from the great workplace initiatives being led by the technology sector. While I’m not going to say there isn’t progress to be made; my experiences working in technology have been positive. I have a rewarding career in an industry I feel passionate about, that allows me to balance my work life with my demanding responsibilities as a mum of two small children.
Here are five reasons I believe women should consider a career in technology.
1. Working to live
Having realised the value of more women in the tech sector and to address these key imbalance issues, many companies are now putting significant investment behind initiatives that improve diversity. By developing best practice policies in areas such as flexible work hours and working from home for mothers as well as fathers, technology companies are proving themselves leaders in establishing true work-life balance. My organisation Zendesk recently became a registered employer with Diverse City Careers, Australia’s only job board that promotes companies based on their commitment to support women’s careers. It pre-screens employers based on their policies and initiatives around supporting women, including strict equal opportunity criteria. And we’re not alone – Zendesk is in the company of numerous other technology businesses approved by DCC.
2. Paid parental leave
If you consider what’s offered to employees in more female-dominated industries such as the healthcare or not-for-profit sectors, the technology sector is absolutely leading the way in terms of leave benefits for parents. Zendesk, for example, allows both mums and dads to take up to 16 fully-paid weeks for the birth of their child. We want to value parents equally and that means giving families a choice of who works when, and how, rather than the forced career hiatus faced by many – women especially. In the US, it’s also tech companies that have been most vocal about the need for change in terms of parental leave schemes, and this is having a flow-on effect in Australia. Last year tech giants including Netflix, Google, Facebook, PayPal, Adobe and Microsoft were all recognised for their progressive leave schemes.
3. Tackling the issues
It’s one thing to put policies in place, but diversity and a better future for women at work requires cultural change. And I’m heartened the tech industry is addressing its problems, not shying away from them or paying lip service. Organisations like Code Like a Girl and FIIT (Females in Information Technology) have become great advocates for change. The industry is also great at hosting events designed to push our thinking on diversity; Zendesk recently hosted a ‘Women in Leadership’ panel – one of many happening in Melbourne all the time – as well as hosting a Superhero Daughter Day with Diverse City Careers to show young girls what a technology career could offer.
It’s also the tech industry that is leading the way in promoting and developing women into leadership positions. Look at Sheryl Sandberg, or the CEOs of YouTube, HP and Yahoo, or the likes Envato’s Cyan Ta’eed. Personally, I can’t imagine my career path being this good had I stayed in the traditional accounting industry.
4. Values-driven workplaces
An important part of creating a diverse workforce comes through empathy. We all have different lives, ambitions, values and beliefs. The more we can bring employees together and unite them for a larger community purpose, the stronger and more equitable our workplace values become. The tech sector is great at overall meaningful community engagement. Look at Bill Gates! Zendesk ANZ staff have volunteered more than 1000 hours to date with organisations like Purple Lion, St Kilda Mums and STREAT, giving them a renewed energy and attitude towards their work. Contributing to a more diverse and equitable community has an instant flow-on effect in the workplace.
5. It’s more than just coding!
“But I can’t code!”, I hear you say. Working for a tech company doesn’t just mean coding; there are so many important roles running tech companies, such as operations, finance, sales, legal, marketing, and so on. In fact, you may be working in one of these areas already and a move into a technology company could be incredibly straight-forward with the great training offered. If you asked me in my early 20s, I never imagined I’d be working at a company like Zendesk.
It’s time to change the narrative around ‘Women in Tech’. In Australia, technology companies have started to do their part to close the gender gap and there is real action afoot. Importantly, innovation is part of a tech company’s DNA – we need it to drive success, in every corner of a business. And we can’t achieve that if we’re behind the times. The tech sector is best place to drive change for women at work, and is putting its money where its mouth is.