Australia currently ranks second globally for gender diversity in the technology industry, according to the 2018 Women in Tech Index. Yet, women still only comprise less than a third of the workforce.
With technology continually expanding and cementing its presence in our lives at an unprecedented rate, this means that how – and by whom – it is developed will have a considerable effect on our everyday lives.
If the national rate of women in tech grows by 5 per cent per year, that doesn’t even come close to making any significant impact in a market where new technologies are being developed every three months. If the industry continues to expand as rapidly as it is, we’re going to need a whole lot more women in STEM to be able to sustain its growth.
Nevertheless, like any societal shift, transformation of this scale takes time.
This International Women’s Day, let’s looks at three ways organisations can proactively push the accelerator pedal on gender diversity within the tech industry.
Invest in inspiring future female tech leaders
Although females account for approximately 58 per cent of all undergraduate domestic students enrolled in university, only 14 per cent are enrolled in IT, and the same for engineering. This is largely due to low participation among girls in science and maths at school.
The Government has acknowledged this as a matter of priority, through the development of its 10-year plan to boost the female STEM workforce. However, organisations can also contribute towards accelerating its progress through CSR initiatives, training, and community outreach programs.
This could come in the form of a ‘Women in STEM’ program, or by hosting open days for female students who might be considering – or reconsidering – a degree in STEM. At Arq Group, for example, we have run a program encouraging women in technology degrees, showing them what their future in the industry could look like, though real-life inspirational stories, insights into current tech projects and coaching.
Give women an offer they can’t refuse
The tech world has often been referred to as a “boys’ club”, but this isn’t just because of numbers – it’s also at a cultural and policy level.
Many organisations still haven’t caught up to progressive workplace policies that allow flexibility for women balancing career and family. This makes it difficult for many women to see tech as a viable, long-term career path.
Adopting a strong maternity and paternity leave policy is a non-negotiable. With technology enabling greater flexibility than ever, there’s no reason why forward-thinking companies shouldn’t be taking this step to level the playing field.
That being said, there are also more subtle ways we could be isolating great female talent, particularly through the recruitment process.
For instance, the tech industry is among the most guilty when it comes to using male-skewed terms in job descriptions. Phrasings like “competitive” and “assertive” tend to attract more male candidates, while alternatives like “motivated” and “driven” are more gender-neutral.
Ultimately, if you want more women joining your ranks, you need to make your job offer as inclusive, and enticing, as possible.
Give your team a diverse development target
As we know, recruitment and turnover are slow, iterative processes that take time.
Gender quotas can be controversial, but let’s remember that diversity is much deeper than a numbers game – it’s also a mindset that is reflected in our ways of working. As we strive towards 50/50 targets, we must start integrating diversity into the fabric of who are and what we do as tech organisations.
One of the biggest issues in recent times is how the lack of diversity among developers has contributed to biases in some tech. There was of course that famous incident of the voice-activated car that could only register male voices, but more recently we’ve seen recruitment AI tools with bias against women, and facial recognition apps struggling to distinguish different ethnicities.
Algorithms and interfaces are being designed for practicality and function, but not with diversity front-of-mind.
So the next time you set out to do a proof of concept or design a user experience, set your team a challenge of meeting the needs of both genders – even if that means investing in research to fill the gaps of personal team experience.
This will help to foster a diverse mindset within your organisation at a core cultural level, and will also mean your designs and products will ultimately be more user-friendly and appeal to a much broader audience.
And that is good for women, good for the industry, and good for the bottom line.
Image: The image is thanks to Benefit Cosmetics who partnered with Australian illustrator, Ailie Banks, a self-described mental health advocate and feminist. She’s most inspired by “women and their resilience” and loves to illustrate the “realities of womanhood.”
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, Benefit Cosmetics are working to balance the scales by shutting down all 42 of their BenefitCosmetics.com websites around the world. In its place they have provided resources women can use to brush up on their skills and empower themselves to fight for equality in the workplace.