Improving Gender Diversity in Tech
There are many unhelpful stereotypes that surround the technology sector. When you think of a technology company, is the image of tech bros in t-shirts? When you imagine a typical coder, is it a guy in a hoodie hunched over his computer?
Why is it always a man? Why do these stereotypes persist? Unfortunately, it’s because there’s a lot of truth behind them.
The Problem with the Lack of Gender Diversity in Tech
Every year the Australian Computer Society (ACS) produces a report titled, Australia’s Digital Pulse. The 2021 report, produced in partnership with Deloitte Access Economics, found that, “gender diversity in the technology sector continues to lag behind comparable industries. Women make up 29 per cent of employment in technology in Australia, compared to 48 per cent in similar occupations in the professional, scientific and technical services (PST) industry.”
Despite knowledge of the lack of gender diversity in tech, progress amongst technology firms has been slow. Tracking the findings of ACS reports since 2015 shows that the rate of female participation is only growing by an average of 0.75 per cent each year.
There is evidence that this lack of gender diversity in tech starts at a young age. The report noted that while addressing the numbers of women entering tertiary courses for information and communications technology (ICT) is important, career aspirations and expectations are usually set in high school or even earlier.
ACS looked at the findings of a national study that found that while 36 per cent of female students study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects in Year 11 and Year 12, only 18 per cent will go on to study STEM subjects at a tertiary level. This means that there is a 50 per cent drop-off rate long before students enter the workforce.
When the survey asked participants to explain why they chose not to pursue further study in a STEM field, 9.5 per cent responded that they felt “pressured by society to choose a career considered ‘more fitting’ for women.”
This highlights the negative feedback loop of gender imbalance. Girls see a male-dominated industry with few female role models and are less likely to push through the barriers to pursue a career in the industry. This then reinforces the current make-up of the industry.
It’s worrying that around half of our population may be left behind when it comes to the design and use of our future technologies.
A report from the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), Future of work: where technology and work intersect, found that the lack of women in STEM influences technology design and function, creating the potential for biases that favour men. Representation matters, as the report also found that working with ill-suited technology can have wide-ranging impacts on women’s productivity, safety, and health.
The Benefits of Including Women in Tech
If we can include more women in tech, then the positive effects will be felt by all of society.
Kate Pounder, CEO of the Tech Council, has also pointed out this shortage, saying that the technology sector will need an extra 286,000 workers over the next four years to see one million people employed in the technology sector by 2025.
When half of the Australian population are not reaching their full potential in this field, it’s easy to see that increasing the number of qualified women in tech could go a long way towards providing the boost that the sector needs.
In Australia’s Digital Pulse 2021, it was predicted that on average, over the next twenty years, increasing gender diversity in the technology workforce would grow Australia’s economy by $1.8 billion every year.
If women are trained in the skills that our country currently lacks, then an average of almost 5,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs could be created over that twenty-year period, and the net present value (NPV) of increasing diversity in technology could amount to an $11 billion opportunity for Australia’s economy.
Not only will the economy at large benefit, but there could be significant benefit for the individuals who choose to take up careers in tech.
Due to the highly skilled nature of technology occupations, women who make the transition into technology from other occupations tend to receive higher wages. The report estimated that occupational changes could lead to a $5.4 billion net increase in labour income, or just under $16,000 per worker on average.
But what about that negative feedback loop? When women don’t see other women in tech, how do they break into the industry?
Another benefit of working to increase gender diversity is that it creates a snowball effect. Research conducted by Deloitte Access Economics on behalf of Westpac found that a 1 per cent increase in female senior managers is associated with a 0.1 per cent increase in women in the workforce in the following year.
Increasing the number of women in tech may seem like an uphill battle at the moment, but over time, as the number of female role models within the sector increases, the work will actually become easier.
Can We Teach Students to Code Like a Girl?
The benefits are clear. So how do we increase gender diversity in tech? One way is to start in schools, before girls abandon the idea of pursuing a career in ICT.
Social enterprises provide vital support, as do school and industry partnerships. In the past, Coder Academy has partnered in initiatives aimed at increasing participation in STEM and ICT at a primary school level, and we will continue to seek partnerships that support female students at all levels.
Continuing this work in schools is important, but it’s also important not to forget about mature aged students. It’s never too late to learn how to code, and each year, many of the students enrolling at Coder Academy are career changers looking to break into tech.
This approach is backed up by the findings of Australia’s Digital Pulse 2021. When looking at ways to boost gender diversity in tech, the report concluded that, “a key source of increased female participation in the economic modelling was women reskilling from other industries. This would require consideration of ways to encourage women to move into technology through additional life-long learning courses.”
A number of new Government initiatives (such as the Women in STEM program) will provide significant subsidies and incentives for career changers who wish to pursue higher education qualifications.
Courses for career changers must offer a unique level of flexibility and support, as well as the proven outcomes that career changers want. To this end, Coder Academy offers flexible bootcamp structures, a focus on industry-relevant skills, and opportunities such as the Diversity in Tech Scholarship.
Of course, increasing diversity in tech can mean much more than just addressing gender diversity. Here at Coder Academy, we’re committed to creating an inclusive tech industry that champions all forms of diversity.
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