Without a radical shift in the way we are approaching the gender disparity in the IT sector in Australia, the problem will get significantly worse before it starts to get better.
A number of recent reports show that the need for IT workers in Australia will continue to increase at a rapid rate.
However, all reports suggest that we will not be able to meet the demand with domestic supply without making significant changes to key factors that influence IT participation rates in Australia. Growing the number of workers in this field has to occur and ensuring that more of them are women is essential.
So how do we tackle the skills shortage problem? A critical component involves increasing the participation of women in the IT workforce.
It’s for this very reason that Davidson Technology recently released the results of its DiversIT Report, where it looked at the population of women in specific IT job types in Australia.
The report revealed the stark reality of how few females there are working in IT in this country. Of the 435,000 people working in IT (registered with LinkedIn), only 31 per cent are females. In executive roles this number plummets to 14 per cent.
Radical steps are needed to make any kind of inroads and grow the numbers of females. But as is often stated, there needs to be a multi-pronged approach.
As someone who has been in this field for more than 11 years, I strongly believe different strategies are required at different points in the process.
Businesses need to address their immediate needs, while at the same time there needs to be significant pressure on the education sector to drive change in the pipeline of girls coming through.
Businesses need to take stock and ensure they have the right processes in place to attract more females in IT (and throughout their entire business).
From discussions with key clients who have strong success rates in attracting and retaining female IT workers, I have compiled the following activities that make a difference:
- Work with existing females staff members to provide support, leadership and assist in progressing them up the ranks to executive positions.
- Look to other parts of the business for females that can be given technical training and transition them into IT functions.
- Develop realistic gender targets based on data, not arbitrary figures.
- Develop robust recruitment strategies to attract, train and retain females.
While these steps will help to increase numbers they won’t impact the overall pipeline of girls studying IT and graduating into the IT workforce.
This needs to be addressed by the education sector and key industry bodies, and it needs some bold initiatives to shake it up.
At the secondary level, STEM subjects need to be fun and appealing to girls. Every effort needs to be made to entice girls to study STEM subjects. Here’s are a few ideas I think could help:
- Make STEM subjects fun and appealing to girls. Schools need to hire interactive teachers (no more dinosaurs!).
- Bring in guest teachers/ role models to take some classes to add to the overall appeal and interest in the subjects. Robogals is a great example of this.
- Create incentives for girls to study STEM subjects at school. Universities can consider giving bonus points towards entry scores, to girls who study STEM subjects. Similar to the 10 per cent bonus awarded in the High School Certificate for students in Victoria who studied maths or a language in the 1980s.
- At the tertiary level some different strategies can be employed:
- Subsidise IT degrees for females. Radical, but it could work. Government and industry bodies could contribute to the subsidy funding.
- Establish an ‘intern program’ to place first year students with businesses creating and developing exciting IT projects. This could help to motivate girls to complete their IT degrees and not drop out.
And finally, what can I do?
Well for me it’s about ensuring that in my role as a recruiter that I work with my clients to develop relevant gender targets based on the data. I need to continue to work with them to ensure they are doing everything they can to attract and retain exceptional females.
Furthermore, I need to work with my female candidates to coach and assist them to strive and secure IT roles with the best employers and to progress into well supported, influential executive roles.
Collectively, from myself as a recruiter, to employers, to industry bodies to even the existing female IT workers, it has to become a core responsibility for all to address the gender imbalance in the sector.
It’s a responsibility for us all.