Most STEM fields are experiencing a skills shortage at the moment, and the issue is compounded by gender diversity issues.
There are more than 435,000 people in Australia who list themselves as working in IT, according to the recently released DiverseIT Report from Davidson Technology. The study, which looked at levels of gender diversity across various IT job categories, found that while women fare pretty well in certain areas of the industry, there are others experiencing a dearth of women in technology.
“We know the number of people entering the IT field has decreased dramatically in recent years,” says Davidson Technology CEO Brendan Kavenagh. “IT was seen as a back of house operation and expense that not too many people knew much about. Now IT is integrated into every component of business.”
The most common role types are project managers, developers, analysts, architects and designers. Women are most commonly found in IT management and analyst roles, though; the number of women in engineering roles peaks at 33 per cent in data engineering, and drops as low as 18 per cent for system engineers. All in all, women are outnumbered two to one in IT roles, and this is consistent across all states and territories, says Kavenagh.
The results aren’t surprising, and it’s an industry-wide problem, says John Sullivan, product development manager for MYOB. As a member of an IT company, Sullivan says he has seen the number of women in technology decline in recent years despite the sector’s rapid growth.
“We are losing our ability to be creative within the IT space because of the skills shortage,” Sullivan says. “Eventually, you realise that there are only a limited number of people who are capable of developing these products. If we don’t do something to build these skills within the country, we’ll just become a country of consumers, not innovators.”
Contrary to popular belief, many IT functions, including software development, are performed in teams, says Sullivan. Research has consistently shown that the best teams are diverse ones, as different genders, races, orientations and backgrounds bring new ideas and experiences to the table. “It’s actually a very collaborative environment, and everyone contributes more and learns from each other when there is diversity,” he says.
Setting benchmarks and goals to get more women in technology fields is a good starting point, says Kavenagh. “It needs to be on the agenda, and people need to want to do something about it,” he says. There needs to be a robust pipeline of women in technology, says Kavenagh, and that means companies need to provide development opportunities.
To help close the gap, Sullivan and his team have created an initiative called DevelopHER. It’s a 10-week, full-time paid internship designed to teach women who want to work in IT or who want to jump trades the basic skills they’ll need to become a junior developer. They hope that it will generate some interest and momentum from other IT companies who are looking for ways to attract more women in technology.
The program provides skills education and hands-on experience, but it also focuses on other areas where Sullivan thinks IT companies need to improve. Women still take on a majority of child caring responsibilities, and few companies in this sector are equipped to accommodate women taking time off or returning part time, he says. To help with this, the initiative provides after-hours support for participants as well, including help with finding childcare, allowances for learning materials, mentors and social networks.
“The industry has a revolving door of women, and efforts need to go farther than just recruiting women who work in IT away from other companies. ” Sullivan says. “Technology companies need to rework their recruitment mechanisms to increase the breadth of the fields they draw candidates from. There is a misunderstanding about the what skills you really need to succeed in this industry. Some can be taught, and a STEM background isn’t necessary in some cases.”