7 strategies for bridging the gender gap in technology

The technology sector continues to suffer from a lack of gender diversity, according to an expert in the area, who said companies can employ several strategies to bridge the gender gap and improve representation of female workers in technology.

Only 28 per cent of ICT workers are women, according to the Australian computer society and Deloitte research.

There is a lack of career advancement opportunities available for women in technology, and leadership positions are also dominated by males in the technology sector.

“It’s really important for companies to actively mentor and promote shining star employees, and allow advancement into executive roles, “ said Shara Evans, CEO of telecommunications analyst firm Market Clarity.

1. Encourage women

“Many times companies have a myopic view of someone’s capabilities: if a person is viewed as an outstanding technologist, they may not be encouraged to take on complementary roles in sales and marketing, or general management roles.

“This type of experience is another important stepping-stone into executive ICT ranks.”

There are several approaches that can help to bridge the gender gap in technology and enhance career advancements for women.

2. Role models and mentors

“Role models and mentors are an important factor. Knowing that people believe in you is so empowering,” said Evans.

“I started in the technology field at a time when there were very few women. When I was studying computer science in grad school I was the only woman in all but one of my classes.

“I also think that role models should reflect women of all ages – across the wide array of jobs in the tech industry: from teenagers who’ve come up with a cool new gadget, to successful young entrepreneurs who’ve obtained crowd sourced funding for their ideas, to women scientists, top sales achievers, and journalists who get to go to tech events all around the world.”

3. Exposure to technology

Another factor that may explain the gender gap and low representation of women in the technology sector is exposure to technology from a young age.

“Young women, as far back as when they’re little girls, need to be exposed to a variety of female role models doing cool things in technical and scientific fields that they can relate to: everything from biology (for example, helping animals), to writing computer programs that solve real-world problems”

4. Not all technology roles are technical

“There are also lots of roles in technology that don’t require programming skills. Here, I’m thinking of sales and marketing, or writing, where you need to know a lot about technology, but you don’t actually have to design products; what you need is a vision of how these products can be used to benefit people or organisations.”

“Having a background in the ‘harder’ side of technology is really useful, but not essential.

“As a futurist, I use my background in technology, combined with a visionary outlook to imagine what the world will be like in 5, 10, 20 years and beyond.”

Evans said she spends a lot of her time talking to researchers about the things they’re working on in robotics labs, helping companies with innovation strategies, speaking to audiences and talking on live TV.

“I regularly have CTOs, heads of research labs, and people in general (male and female of all ages) tell me that I have the coolest job they’ve ever heard of.

“These ideas need to be reflected in what kids learn from an early age, what they watch on TV, and what their parents, family and community encourage them to learn about, and explore.”

5. Pay equity

The gender imbalance in this sector is also reflected in the wages paid to ICT workers, with women earning up to 20 per cent less than their male counterparts, said Evans.

“The pay gap is real, and frankly, there’s no reason why a person’s pay level for a given job role should be in any way tied to their gender.

“HR departments really need to monitor this, and take corrective action.”

6. Recognition

Evans said she had also seen many examples of women doing a role that’s above their current job title, but not getting a promotion and accompanying pay raise.

“When I was in the corporate world in the USA, I was a senior manager for program management and sales engineering with Alcatel, but all of my male colleagues had director titles.

“When I was promoted to a sales and marketing role, the same happened again.

“It’s one of the reasons that I decided to launch my first company, Telsyte, in 1997. As the owner of a company, I got to set company direction, and at that time, I took on the title of managing director.”

ABS statistics reveal that women are dramatically under-represented in leadership positions across business and public life, despite high levels of education.

7. Volunteering and training

“I do think there’s a lot more that companies can do to develop the skill sets necessary for women to take on a leadership roles,” said Evans.

“One of the best ways that anyone can advance their career is to volunteer their time with external organisations, and in particular, industry associations.

“It’s a great way to position yourself as an industry leader, learn new skills, and to network with high-ranking people in your industry on an ongoing basis. There are also many benefits that you bring back to your company.”

Evans also noted that it’s up to individuals to take control of their destiny.

“If you aspire to a leadership position, then join groups like FITT (Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications), Women on Boards or the Australian Businesswomen’s Network – and become an active member.

“Many of these groups have formal mentorship programs, as well as providing skills training in many different areas,” she said.