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Leadership's tug of war

Tim Mendham | Feb. 18, 2014
Why IT is proving a less attractive discipline for women

women leaders

They are senior and strategic IT managers within their organisations. They cover the medical profession, education, engineering and property services, and banking. They firmly believe business skills are just as, if not more, important than technological ones. And they are also women.

The challenges facing women in IT have been discussed for years. They begin with technical subjects in primary and secondary school, and perhaps earlier.

Encouraging kids of any gender to do science and technology is difficult thanks to perceptions that both are too hard, too nerdish, and hold limited employment prospects.

These views extend into adulthood, but the differentiations evident between women and men become accentuated the higher up in the industry you go.

According to research issued by the Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies (now called Science and Technology Australia) in 2011, the plain fact is that at mid-career level, the number of women involved drops off. "It is rare to find women holding high-ranking positions in academia," the research states.

The organisation cites the CSIRO, where 39 per cent of employees are female but only 8 per cent are at Level 8 (on a scale of 1 to 9). While this represents a 4.5 per cent increase over the past decade, "At this rate of increase it will take about 60 years until the number of women at Level 8 is equal to the level of [overall] female representation at CSIRO".

Female engineers make up about 10 per cent of the workforce, the FASTS report says, but 77.8 per cent of them are in lower responsibility positions (Levels 1 to 3 on a scale of 5). The Learned Academies offer no good news either — their fellows, among the most eminent and respected scientists in the country, are overwhelmingly men.

Of the Fellows of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, 6.5 per cent are women, while the Academy of Science has just seven per cent. In government, the technology divisions of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) have just 5 per cent female participation.

Retaining talent
If getting women into science and technology is difficult, keeping them is even more so. A survey by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA) says the reason women leave their field include lack of flexible working conditions, lack of career development, workplace culture and pay inequality.

IT is no different, though the games environment may encourage more boys into the field. The latest figures from the Australian ICT Statistical Compendium, due to be published by the Australian Computer Society later this year, show the percentage of women employed in ICT occupations across all industries has increased to 169,400, or 28.34 per cent of the workforce. This is up 24.1 per cent from 2011.


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