By 2026, Deloitte’s Digital Pulse Report forecasts that there will be over 1.1 million technology workers in Australia, representing an average annual growth rate of 5.4%. There is already a significant skills shortage in the Australian tech workforce, so increasing female participation — which is already low — would not only expand the talent pool but help address the increasing skills gap. However, with women leaving high-tech jobs at twice the rate of men, there’s a danger that tech’s skills shortage could worsen without some serious self-assessment from within the sector.
I frequently hear women talk about how they have to deal with a hostile “bro-culture” common in many companies in the tech sector. This pervasive environment, which can manifest as overt or unconscious, I believe, is a leading cause of women leaving the industry.
One theory is that tech startups begin with a core of young, like-minded male employees who recruit from their existing networks. They are more focused on growing their business than employment policies so by the time they add an HR department, the “boys being boys” culture is ingrained, and difficult to change.
My own conversations with women in tech uphold this theory. Many women say that the environment is set up in a way they feel they can’t be themselves and still be in the mix. For example, after work beers and pizzas are the norm in the tech world; it is where many of the conversations and deals are made. However, for women with kids this is not a viable option, so they are not involved in the conversation. Women say that they must change their whole persona to fit in and succeed in the tech world.
This is but one reason why women are underrepresented in the tech workforce — only 29% of the Australian tech workforce is women. Based on Australia’s current trajectory, it will take 66 years for the industry to reach gender parity.
Meanwhile, gender diversity better reflects the customer base and improves diversity of thought. Gender diverse teams are more innovative, creative and productive. Greater female representation improves decision making and solves problems more quickly.
Increasing female participation in tech is not just about equality and equity. Australia’s economy would increase by $1.8 billion each year over the next 20 years as a result of increased gender diversity.
So, how can we improve the under-representation of women in tech?
First, we need to eradicate stereotypes. The tech world needs to be demystified and become more attractive to girls while at school and university. Organisations like Girl Shaped Flames empower Australian teenage girls by introducing them to women in a variety of industries, including technology. Networking groups such as Women Who Code and Women in Tech help support and educate the next generation of tech-savvy young women.
To reduce unconscious bias, organisations need to promote best practices around attracting, recruiting and retaining talent. Flexible work arrangements and parental leave policies will help reduce the high levels of attrition among female tech workers and encourage mothers to return to work. As more women join the tech workforce, it will create a role model effect particularly when women are promoted to leadership positions.
Finally, male leaders in the IT sector need to lead by example. They must admit that there is a problem and take concrete steps to address tech’s ‘bro culture’ in their own organisation.
Increasing the number of women in tech is not about excluding men. Both men and women need to stand side by side to forge a path for better female representation in IT.
By bringing more women into the tech workforce, Australia will be able to reach the 1.1 million tech workers forecast by 2026 as well as achieve the economic benefits of gender diversity.