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Leadership's tug of war

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

However, the ratio changes significantly depending on the areas of ICT being studied, ranging from a participation figure of 16.94 per cent (13,000) in ICT trades, to 40.81 per cent (38,000) in ICT industry admin and logistics support. It drops to 24.5 per cent (53,500) in technical and professional occupations, but rises to 32.6 per cent (55,000) in ICT management and operations.

Women as IT managers
Arguably most worrying is that less than a third of ICT management is female. Some suggest the figure is even lower, especially as you move up in the ranks of management responsibility.

Michelle Beveridge, CIO for Open Universities Australia, claims to see less than 10 per cent female participation at ICT conferences for CIOs and senior managers.

"Either the women are not in the roles or they are not networking and working on their careers as well as the men. I suspect it is both."

"IT is proving less and less attractive as a discipline for women," says Anne Weatherston, group CIO for the ANZ Banking Group.

"This is a concern, given the importance and significance of technology in our world today. There are countless books and articles written about the value of increased representation of women at senior levels of organisations, and yet sadly the statistics point to the fact that the numbers are going the other way."

There have been efforts in the past to encourage a different image of female IT workers, such as calendars of semi-clad "film goddesses" designed to counter the image of Plain Jane women in IT. Many times these have been derided as demeaning of women. The same criticisms have been applied to female-oriented award systems.

Most working women would prefer to be highly regarded more for their professional skills than their swimsuit style. But, nonetheless, there are barriers, and not just of the "women must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good" type. There are serious cultural and financial inequities too.

Despite an age where paid maternity leave is seen as a given, there is often a need for more formal schemes designed to encourage and entrench women in particular industries and roles, and such schemes have been endorsed by women, including those leading Future-State CIOs interviewed for this article.

Sarah Parton, general manager for business engagement, architecture, design and innovation with construction and property asset managers Transfield Services, claims she didn't feel disadvantaged in her early years of working in IT at Accenture in the UK. "At the time I joined there was about a 60/40 men/women graduate intake, and a healthy mix of genders.

"Over the years the numbers thinned, particularly as women started having children and made alternative priority and lifestyle choices.


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