Women in ICT: Where the problem lies

FITT figures show the discrepancy between women and men in the ICT workforce

Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications (FITT) undertakes a group member survey to highlight key challenges and issues facing women in ICT. Its 2009/2010 report was based on responses from 300 members across Australia.

According to the findings, the top three challenges were career planning and advancement [20%], providing networking opportunities [16%], and helping with business-related issues, largely relating to negotiating and influencing people [13%].

The most significant issues preventing women from staying in the ICT industry workforce were work/life balance [42%], followed by gender and sexism [36%]. A number of smaller issues were also highlighted such as ageism, career progression and wage equality.

FITT representative, Maggie Alexander, said things the industry could do to help included providing more training and forums to share successes and experience, along with mentoring programs. She also highlighted the need to better promote the ICT industry to women at university and graduate level.

An overwhelming 42 per cent of those surveyed wanted companies to provide more training, development and remuneration opportunities, while 16 per cent called for more flexible working arrangements.

“If you listen to that as the voice of women in the industry from 20s to 40s, they’re saying give us more training and development opportunities, and give us more flexible arrangements. They’re not specifically saying deal with the sexism issue,” Alexander said.

3D Networks’ Kathryn Power said a significant stumbling block was the discrepancy between male and female salaries across the industry.

“I’ve always held roles where there have been male counterparts and one thing that has always interested me is knowing they have been paid that little bit more. In some ways as a woman, you’d be considered difficult for asking for parity in wages, and I have to say that has happened a lot,” she said. “It is still there and it frustrates me. I’d usually pull them up on it, but I’d have to fight.

“Women are also less likely to ask or push that envelope to get paid the same, or in different areas.”

ASI Solutions’ Maree Lowe agreed women were often not as skilled at negotiation, and argued most of the issues identified by FITT members came down to appropriate training. While women in sales-related roles had some skills in negotiation, many technically minded individuals did not.

“When you think about women not asking for the position, or the money, that connects to the idea of training -the bit of training that’s not there is around negotiating. You need training to be able to ask for these things,” she said. “Depending on what you want to rise to, that ability to negotiate is key. It’s not just money – it’s negotiating the position and the issues.”

Although Insight’s Andrea Della-Mattea agreed women were less likely to aggressively push for money or their position, 3D’s Power said women shouldn’t have to make the argument for equal pay in the first place. PacNet’s Deborah Homewood admitted encountering the pay issue shortly after joining the telecommunications company.

“When I came on-board, the women were being paid significantly less and I was quite shocked, “she said. “I put the extra bucket of money we had into bringing parity to our workforce. It cost me a couple of heads that couldn’t get pay rises, but I had to get that parity as I was embarrassed.”