At a time when Australia is facing a serious shortage of skilled ICT professionals, women represent only 28 per cent of the ICT workforce as compared to 43 per cent in the wider professional workforce, according to a study by the ACS.
The professional association for Australia’s ICT sector recently released a new report, titled The Promise of Diversity - Gender Equality in the ICT Profession, which outlined a series of recommendations to increase the participation of women in the ICT profession.
It highlighted that this underutilisation of human capital in ICT looms as a major constraint on Australia’s national growth.
The report indicated that addressing the barriers will require a mix of short and long-term initiatives, as well as genuine commitment by employers, educators and governments to tackling the issues.
ACS president, Brenda Aynsley, said there needs to be a fundamental and urgent change to the cultural mindset and attitudes to women in the workforce. She claimed this requires genuine, committed, outcome-focused leadership.
According to Aynsley, changes are also required in our education system.
The ACS recommended initiatives aimed at improving the self-confidence of girls in their own abilities in maths and science, creating a school environment which actively encourages girls to pursue a digital career, introducing a mandatory Digital Technologies Curriculum, and developing a marketing program aimed at changing perceptions of what a digital career can offer.
Aynsley added that Australia must completely rethink the way our current workforce, school education sector, and vocational and higher education systems operate in relation to boosting female participation in ICT.
“It’s clear that, in Australia, women are significantly underrepresented in the critical ICT profession. We must urgently address the ongoing gender imbalance in the workforce. If we get it right there will be a substantial economic dividend for our nation,” she said.
She attributed a research by the Grattan Institute, which found that if Australia was to lift its female labour participation rate by six per cent to be roughly comparable to Canada, the country’s GDP would be $25 billion higher.
She also said analysis by Goldman Sachs suggests that closing the equity gap could boost the level of Australian GDP by 11 per cent.
“We must also address and repair elements of the education supply chain to encourage more female students to pursue a career in the digital space. The clear message from our research is that by the time girls reach 15, a large proportion have either already dismissed or not even considered the option of a career in ICT.
“We need to market far better to young female students. This must include providing them with accurate and contemporary advice on the jobs of the future and the importance of digital skills in that future,” she said.
She also highlighted the need for the ICT profession to work closely with teachers, parents and career advisors, the key influencers of student career choices.
“And we need to encourage passionate, successful ICT female role models to be ambassadors for our profession and to inspire our next generation of ICT female professionals,” Aynsley mentioned.