Four ways to get women into tech and finally transform this 'bloke-y sector'

Four ways to get women into tech and finally transform this ‘bloke-y sector’

We know we need more women working in tech. Now it’s time to make it happen, writes Kathleen Delaney, the CMO of Kofax.

You don’t have to look far to find a statistic underscoring the work that’s still needed to promote women in the workforce, particularly the tech sector.

As of November 2020, Australia’s national gender pay gap was 13.4 per cent, and the number of women in STEM-qualified occupations fell slightly – sitting at 13 per cent. To compare, women made up half of the non-STEM roles for more than a decade.

So, I completely understand the frustration of one of the virtual audience members at Kofax’s recent Women in Tech Roundtable, Crisis Fuels Innovation, who noted, “this is a conversation I’ve been hearing over the last 10 years, and while it is great that we are progressing, we’re still hearing things like ‘it’s a bloke-y sector’.”

We may have covered some distance, but sometimes the path still stretches out a long way and in other circumstances, this thought might be disheartening. But the passion and drive of the women in Australian IT who attended, along with local speakers Jacky Hodges, Chief Risk Officer at Australian Bureau of Statistics and Pritida Vinod, Head of Financial Crime Monitoring Platform at NAB, to make it happen is inspiring.

And it’s getting harder to ignore the reality that whenever there’s a crisis, such as COVID-19, women step up to find innovative solutions to problems and find ways to survive. So, in terms of how we encourage women to enter and thrive in tech, here are the takeaways from the roundtable.

It starts with leadership and policies

Change can’t just come from the ground up. Senior leadership needs to map the path to make it happen and develop policies and procedures creating more room. Because with the systems we have now, it can take more effort to achieve the diversity we want to see. If you’re looking to hire and the only candidates you’re seeing come from one demographic, that’s the cue to search harder among those who’ve been traditionally cut out of the conversation, not just accept the hand you’ve been dealt as inevitable.

By having systems supporting extra work, it’s more likely to happen. As the saying goes, what gets measured, gets done.

Speak up for ourselves, and for others

That said, while leadership needs to actively push for more diversity with policies/procedures, we also need to be vocal and showcase what others don’t see or has been normalized.  I’ve often been the only woman in a meeting and been tempted to start posting the hashtag #OnlyOne to highlight how common this occurs. Many of the panellists shared similar stories and commented about how it’s taken for granted or even worse you get the “well, at least there’s one.” When you notice no women in projects/programs, a red flag should go up. As a female leader, I feel compelled to make sure it is seen and not just internalise the situation. And yes, this can feel like a burden that men don’t have, but at the end of the day, I know it’s better for the business. Because not only is diversity important for the women at the top, we need the visibility to inspire those coming up the ranks.

And speaking of those coming up, providing the encouragement and mentorship to allow others to step forward is also vital. A study by LinkedIn on job search behaviour found while men and women look at roughly the same amount of job ads, women apply for fewer, meaning they often screen themselves out of contention. Having the support to show women they do possess the skills for a role can go a long way.

Technology plays a role

As someone who works in the tech sector at an organisation passionate about intelligent automation, you know I believe that AI has a role to play in dealing with bias. With the acknowledgement we need to ensure we build AI systems free of biases, it can also be used to overcome our own unconscious biases. In the LinkedIn study I mentioned, recruiters were 13 per cent less likely to click on a woman’s profile than her male counterpart. I was on another panel recently where a company was sharing that they used automation to root out unconscious bias in job postings. Systems leveling the playing field for women in tech are part of the solution.

We can cast a wider net

One of the most interesting components of the roundtable was just how many of the panellists with long careers in tech fell into it. I mean, I for one started out as a French Major. There has been a lot of focus in recent years about encouraging women to study STEM subjects, but that’s only part of the conversation. 

During my career we’ve seen the IT department undergo a rapid shift, moving from a cost centre supporting the staff to a driver of business innovation. It makes sense the skills required to succeed are changing along with it. While I passionately believe in the value of studying STEM, there are often many paths to the same destination and different studies and experience can bring fresh perspectives that can be supplemented with continuing training. With the rise of the citizen developer, in which departments use pre-existing platforms to build solutions, the way technology supports the business constantly changes and we can recruit skills with an eye to supporting that.

There are endless studies showing that when workplaces are more diversified you get greater teamwork, collaboration and ultimately, better results across the board. Add to that a looming skills shortage in tech, where predictions say that one in four jobs created between now and 2025 will require digital skills, and it’s clear encouraging more women into tech isn’t just about the optics, it’s about building the workforce of the future.

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