Mar 16, 2016

The looming crisis for women in Oz tech

One of the most important industries in Australia has few women -- and the situation is getting worse. Bernard Keane looks at the tech sector and its "female problem".

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

It’s the industry at the heart of the government’s economic agenda, the sector feted by Malcolm Turnbull as exemplifying the agility, entrepreneurship and innovation he wants to see spread throughout the economy, an important source of Australian jobs and growth of the future.

It’s also an industry that has a huge problem with women. And it’s getting worse.

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9 thoughts on “The looming crisis for women in Oz tech

  1. form1planet

    I wonder if there is a tendency for women to find their way into tech employment by non-standard paths, rather than as STEM graduates. That was certainly my experience – I never considered studying computer science, but via a meandering path that led from journalism through web design to programming, found myself a software developer. I love what I do, but I would never in a million years have imagined this as my career when I was at school (stereotypes are powerful!). It would be interesting to know if other women in tech had a similar sideways approach.

  2. Stuart Coyle

    There were speakers addressing this issue at the recent Ruby Australia conference at the Gold Coast. There are people in the industry attempting to address the imbalances in representation of women and other minorities. More assistance is needed from the education and other external agencies.

    If we don’t manage to include as many people as possible there will be a worse shortage of IT workers in this country and many more businesses will be forced to go offshore.

    We also need to highlight that many of the early pioneers of computing were women.

  3. Tinatoerat

    Not me. I’ve been in IT since 1980 and came straight through a degree in Computer Science.

    I love what I do, but have found it difficult to get work in recent years – despite have very up to date and in-demand skills. My age tells against me, as does my desire for part-time work.

    I am not looking for work now as I am caring for an elderly relative at home. I don’t know what she would have done, or we would have done if I had been employed at the time when her need for care became obvious.

  4. Adam K

    The best way to help address the issue (for tech, at least) would be to make computer programming a mandatory part of our high school education. The overwhelming majority of people I know who studied computer science had previously had some experience programming in high school, either as an optional subject or in their own time. Why would people choose to study something they’ve never tried before?

  5. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    I did computer science in the late 1980’s and found that I was pretty good at it. I agree with form1planet that quite a few women I have met came into tech via other routes. One via teaching, then Geographic Information Systems to programming. I also agree with Tinatoerat that it’s harder for part-time, older women but I suspect it is in a lot of industries. I do think teaching some programming at school would be a good idea – it’s a tool to be used in all sorts of contexts, from designing a website for your business to just getting repetitive office tasks done quickly. I would also note that I am actually not that great at maths without a calculator, never learnt my times tables at all, but I can write code to perform complex statistical analyses. If it wasn’t for the advent of calculators in school in the mid-eighties I would probably be tearing my hair out trying to earn a living in my other University subject – Psychology, shudder.

  6. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Oh and if anyone out there wants to have a go and see if you could learn programming (or learn something new) I recommend

  7. Charles Miller

    Lack of a degree has never been a huge issue in tech. I’ve been in the industry almost twenty years on the back of dropping out of Law school. My wife’s been in for longer than that as an English major. That said, we both had the privilege of parents who could afford computers, and the spare time to teach ourselves how they worked.

    The way society discourages girls from pursuing maths and science (what we refer to as “the pipeline problem”) _is_ a problem. A recent survey reported by the Smithsonian which I’m too lazy to look up the link for again demonstrated that even in a subject as supposedly objective as Maths, teachers would score girls on average lower than boys if the tests had names on them, but higher if the tests were anonymous.

    Tech companies love to focus on the pipeline because it’s (a) someone else’s problem, and (b) all they have to do about it is throw money and opinions at other people without having to look too closely at their own backyard.

    As one tech activist said a few years ago, though, Should we be encouraging women to get into the pipeline when we know the pipeline leads to a sewage treatment plant?”

    For women in tech, the price of remaining in the industry is enduring at best the constant low-level sexism of being often the only woman in a room full of men – being talked over, having to work twice as hard to prove your credentials, having people direct questions to your (male) juniors instead of you, and generally being required to be “one of the blokes” to get by – and at worst, outright discrimination and harassment. (And the Australian scene is pretty mild in comparison to some of the stuff I’ve seen since I moved to San Francisco)

  8. tomasso

    Would be good to see all 3 parts of this series unlocked by Crikey and given more exposure. Some IT workplaces are great, but many are not.

  9. Kevin Herbert

    The following quote in this article says it all:

    “A Sydney female tech sector managing director recalls a US investor telling her “it’s going to get harder and harder for women to raise money, they’re just not aggressive enough and they don’t succeed often enough”.

    Where’s the mystery in that statement?……..steroid shots for women?

    It’s a jungle in the global corporate world……and if you can’t hack it, don’t enter it.

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