'Frightening' statistics call for urgent action to have more women in IT: VMware

VMware's Women in IT event highlights need for attracting more women to the sector

With several unflattering statistics showing significantly fewer women in the Australian ICT industry and continued gender-based pay disparity, it is critical that hiring managers and IT organisations in Australia take urgent action to address the gap, highlighted a recent panel on Women in IT hosted by VMware.

Speaking at the panel, VMware A/NZ channels manager, Rhody Burton, highlighted some sobering statistics: About 18 per cent of the ICT workforce in Australia is made up of women even though women make up about half of the population. The pay disparity is even more stark: the 2012 Remuneration Survey conducted by the Australian Computer Society found that men in ICT earn, on average, 9.8 per cent more than women, even though women entering the industry start on comparable or slightly higher salaries.

These dismal numbers are despite studies that show diverse teams help in achieving better business outcomes and more innovation, said Burton. Australia also faces a talent shortage. An ageing workforce means there is an imperative to have more women join the workforce, she said.

“We know the business case,” Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) director, Helen Conway, said. “We have talked to the agency to stop doing the research.”

According to Conway, businesses and hiring managers haven’t internalised the business case and doing research over research is just an “obfuscation” of the matter that requires urgent attention.

VMware managing director, Duncan Bennet, added, “Diversity needs to be a core operating principle. He said gender diversity is one of the metrics the VMWare Australian business is measured on a quarterly basis, along with other business drivers and indicators.

According to Conway, the three biggest problems that the IT industry needs to address are recruitment, the gender pay gap and the allocation of bonuses.

One way companies can address this problem is by attacking it at the grassroots level such as through high school programs. That is where at least part of the problem appears to be emerging and, indeed, numbers show this disparity: About 20 per cent of student enrollments for computer science came from women, Burton noted. In the coding field of the computer sciences, the disparity was even more stark with men outnumbering women at 19 to one.

Telstra transformation director, Grainne Kearns, emphasised some of the onus lies with women themselves.

“You have to figure out what you want,” said Kearns. “You have a plan for a divorce, a wedding. Why wouldn't you have a plan for your career? Then you have to execute that plan.”

Kearns believes government regulation and setting quotas can urge companies to take action.

“[With quotas], if you fail to do something, ideally, it gives them a consequence,” she said. “Sometimes good intent does not translate into results.”

In addition, high school girls needed to be exposed to the types of job and career opportunities in the male dominated industries, so they wouldn’t make subject choices which precludes them from interesting work in these industries, according to Conway.

‘’Australia has a very segregated occupational structure. Mining and ICT are not repelling women – far from it, many companies have active recruiting campaigns to find women. However, male dominated industries are off‐putting to women ‐ when women don’t see senior female role models and examples, they fall back on traditional jobs. Some of the mining companies are showcasing their women, in films, and storytelling is a powerful tool.’’

‘’To some extent you reap what you sow. Industries such as mining and ICT have seen the necessary talent pools of women are not there, and we see best practice among them where they are going to the high schools, which is where that pipeline starts,’’ Conway said.

According to Dell SME and consumer executive director, Deborah Harrigan, women should not hesitate to ask for opportunities.

“It is okay to ask,” she said, adding that a combination of networking and identifying a sponsor or a mentor who would support you in your career progression can go a long way.

The importance of networking came up several times during the discussion.

“Good work will get you noticed but other things will get you noticed sooner,” said Kearns.

To be sure, certain companies are already addressing some of these issues in part by becoming active in offering women flexible and remote work arrangements, she noted.

A snapshot of 12 companies in the ICT sector which report to EOWA reveals that Oracle, Atlassian, Honeywell, IBM and Google have initiatives in place in high schools. About a third of the 12 companies had high school programs, and programs targeting university level ICT students. They had set targets, used social media to target women for recruitment, and had industry networks for women to talk to female peers. About a quarter of the companies asked their recruitment agencies to ensure they included female candidates, and had CEO involvement in gender diversity.

Conway said the EOWA data shows job flexibility through remote work is the most common gender diversity initiative across the ICT companies, followed by mentoring females in non-management and lower management levels.

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