Why we need more women in tech
All images used with permission.
The effort to get more women to pursue careers in the booming tech sector has in recent years crept up the political and business agenda. The reasons are multi-fold: We need more women in tech because we need more people in tech, a fast-growing industry that is tipped to be worth some $250 billion to the Australian economy by 2030.
We also know that bringing more women into tech roles is good for society and the industry itself. Diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones, it has been shown, with positive effects on innovation, decision-making and even profit.
And yet, women remain chronically underrepresented in the industry, accounting for less than 20 per cent of the national tech workforce.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, says Tiffany Wright, Director of Education at Microsoft Australia and New Zealand.
“We still don’t have the equal male-female split across the industry that we’d like to see, but in many forward-focused organisations, things have shifted quite dramatically in a very positive way,” she says.
In the early 2000s, when Ms Wright got her start in tech, she entered an industry that was dominated by men. The gender divide was apparent not only through sheer numbers, but also through the prevailing culture of the sector.
“It’s only in hindsight that you look back and realise, ‘Hey, the culture wasn’t so good’,” says Ms Wright, who joined Microsoft in 2017.
“That’s one of the things that I like about the leadership piece, that you have the opportunity to build that culture yourself, to have an influence in shaping the workplace environment so that it values equality and diversity and is inclusive.”
According to research by Deloitte, the tech sector – or at least its bigger players – are on the right path to closing the gender gap in the years ahead.
Company-led partnerships and policies have been vital in driving this change. Microsoft has established a range of national and global initiatives directed at nurturing and hiring creative and innovative women.
“The Microsoft philosophy is very much that all boats need to rise with the tide, so we have a discreet focus on nurturing women and other groups to increase diversity across the organisation,” says Ms Wright, whose role at the company involves helping educational institutions to achieve better learning outcomes through digital transformation.
“Some of the things we focus on are: How do we create opportunities for all people to participate in the new digital world and economy? How do we make sure that everybody is being lifted? And what are some of the like-minded organisations we can partner with to progress these goals?”
As the Australian university with the highest percentage of female students, ACU was deemed to be an ideal partner for Microsoft. In 2022, it was announced that the university would embed core digital skills in its IT and business courses, meaning students could graduate with certification in Microsoft Excel and the company’s cloud computing platform, Azure Fundamentals.
“When you consider the fact that around 70 per cent of ACU students are female, that alone makes it a great university for us to work with,” says Ms Wright, adding that the two organisations have “a shared belief that a diverse and inclusive workforce is needed for more sustainable innovation”.
But while the effort to diversify has been taken up enthusiastically across the industry, even the most aggressive of campaigns have been found to take time.
Part of the problem, says Ms Wright, is that misconceptions about what a job in tech looks like cause many women to overlook the opportunities available in the digital world.
“One thing I’ve observed is that women and girls tend to think of tech in a very narrow sense, not realising the broad range of jobs that exist,” she says.
“I’ve had interns in my team, females who have told me they never considered a career in technology until they realised that there were many avenues for collaboration and creativity. Once they discover that the industry is essentially about collaborating and creating in order to solve problems, it becomes more attractive and perhaps less daunting.”
Which brings us to another contributing factor to the persistence of the gender gap: Even some of the industry’s most successful women have admitted to feelings of doubt about their place in tech.
“Almost every tech woman I have worked with has at some point talked about imposter syndrome and self-doubt,” says Ms Wright, who in 2022 won the Innovation category at the ARN Women in ICT Awards.
“I wouldn’t say that imposter syndrome is solely the remit of women, but I do think that working in an environment that has historically been so male-dominated tends to fuel it.”
Thanks to positive cultural change in recent years, both in tech and society as a whole, support is now rarely far from hand.
“People have permission to be more vulnerable,” says Ms Wright. “If you were to say to a colleague at Microsoft, ‘Hey, I’m doubting myself. Can I really do this?’, you can bet that they’ll talk you off the cliff and say, ‘Yes, you’re here for a reason and you can do this.’”
But what about the young hopefuls who are yet to join the industry? The women who will need to beat the odds to get a start in the big world of tech?
“My message for any young woman who may be hesitant to join the industry out of fear they might not be accepted or included is to be the change you want to see,” says Ms Wright’s colleague Elizabeth Fuller, who leads the ‘Girls in Tech’ initiative on Microsoft’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.
“Whenever I’ve led initiatives at Microsoft around diversity and inclusion, people have always been incredibly supportive. They recognise that in order to make true progress, we need to better represent the people we serve. Women in the industry need to pay it forward, to kick open doors for other girls and other women.”
Improving gender diversity in the technology workforce is not only the right thing to do, says Tiffany Wright, it could also deliver a huge boost to our national economy.
“There is an absolute shortage of digital capabilities in Australia today that needs to be met so we can continue to thrive in the digital economy, and we can’t bridge that gap with just men,” she says.
“The issue that comes up time and time again is that you can’t be what you can’t see, and so if there is low female representation in the industry, it makes it harder to attract the female talent that we know is out there. We need to break down those barriers and provide opportunities for people to thrive, so that women can leverage the digital transformation to solve the problems of the present, and the problems of the future.”
Learn more about ACU’s partnership with Microsoft. Keen to forge a career in tech? Explore the options.