Technology is a strong growth sector with an ever-increasing appetite for highly capable professionals. That’s especially true in a market like Australia where there are already significant skills shortages generally for technology jobs.

As such the industry has a strong vested interest in swimming in the deepest talent pool available. But that’s not what actually happens as the figures on gender diversity bare out. In Australia, women represent less than a third of the ICT workforce, where they are significantly underrepresented relative to other professions, according to Deloitte.

Simone Shugg, Chief People Officer, Nearmap, told Which-50, “Men continue to make up the overwhelming majority of the workforce in tech, especially the senior and executive levels. This naturally gives off the impression of a glass ceiling for females in technology,” she says.

Simone Shugg, chief people officer, Nearmap.

Shugg is being polite – since the impression is actually also the reality.

Either way, “Women are deterred from joining and staying in our industry for the long term, she says. “To effectively attract and retain female talent, we need to look at making systemic changes to how our working environments showcase, support, and empower women to thrive in technology.”

Conscious effort

Shugg says Nearmap makes a conscious effort to recognise and reward its female talent for their accomplishments and engage them in pursuing their passions and aspirations with the company.

“It is no accident that at Nearmap, we have a fairly healthy gender balance in our workforce.”

She says there is still a distance to travel when it comes to the number of women needed in the sector.

“We know that as a technology company, there is always more we can do – which is why we recently committed to undertaking an external review on our diversity and inclusion to help identify and solve some of the problems the industry faces in attracting more female talent.”

Alternative pathways

The company is also looking into alternative pathways to attract women into the tech sector. It is looking to match people with transferable skills from other industries, upskilling them and engaging more women at different levels of education to promote tech as a viable, successful, and rewarding pathway, she says.

So, how important will improving outcomes for women in tech be for growing the entire sector as we try to recover at the same time there is a skills shortage?

According to Rachel Gately, Co-Founder of Trellis Data, “It is incredibly important to improve outcomes for women if we want to grow the Australian tech sector, particularly as we try to overcome the skills shortage. Fortunately, workplace flexibility has accelerated over the last 12 months, which means there is a greater opportunity for women to not just enter the tech industry, but to reach senior positions.”

Rachel Gately, co-founder

The unconscious bias against those who work from home has reduced significantly through COVID-19, says Gately. “There is wide acceptability that work still gets done at home in flexible hours. This is a huge progression for society and specifically women, who often could benefit from working from home with flexible hours while their children are young.”

She told Which-50, “We’ve learned from the pandemic that working environments need policies in place, and a culture to match, that enables parents of both genders to have work-life balance. This could mean working from home more regularly, or flexible hours in the office.”

“The pitfall is less face-to-face time with management, but the adoption of Zoom and online meetings means the negative effects of this can be reduced. ”

Her hope is that this ‘new normal’ means career progression for women will be less challenging, and hopefully that we see more women in leadership in the future.

Ancient grudge, new mutiny

Anushka Wijendra, COO, MessageMedia however cautions that these new ways of working might also be creating new barriers for women.

Anushka Wijendra, COO, MessageMedia

“We know that through COVID, whilst there have been benefits for women in working remotely, it’s also bought its own stressors. In particular burnout by having to juggle more things at home whilst still succeeding at work,” she says.

To ensure women feel empowered when there is a skills shortage, companies need to signal, both through culture and policy, that they will give working parents of both genders the flexibility they need during COVID (and beyond).”

Vicky Skipp, Head of APAC, Workplace by Facebook, meanwhile notes that COVID-19 impacted people in different ways. “Amongst all sectors are women who are carers, parents, may be high-risk, or have mental health issues – and tech is no exception.”

“Providing flexibility, so women can work around their personal commitments, will be key to building an industry that works for all.”

She said, “As a result of the pandemic, full-time women in tech faced unique challenges, and we learned it is OK to be imperfect – you can’t have it all. At Workplace, we shifted to remote work, and employees can still choose where to do their best work, which we believe will help to build a more flexible and fair future for all, and help alleviate the pressure.”

Skipp says that having access to flexibility directly impacts employee wellbeing. It’s not only the right thing to do but as an industry we are also learning that happy employees lead to increased business performance.

“Tech companies and all businesses alike need to realise those heeding this lesson will gain a major leg up on competitors, in areas like employee loyalty, retention, and productivity, versus those that don’t.”

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