An industry veteran on what needs to be done to close Australia’s gender gap in tech

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By Linda Trent

If you take a look at some of the world’s biggest tech players and their Australian leaders than you might be led to believe that the industry is well stocked with female talent.

But a closer look quickly dispels this myth.

Currently, 28% of ICT workers are female. And while this may not seem hugely surprising to some, when compared to the average of 43% in other professional industries, the disparity quickly becomes apparent.

Unfortunately, the gap only appears to be widening. According to research from the Department of Education, there was more than three times the number of Australian female tertiary students studying IT in 2001 than in 2013.

While the topic has risen to the top of the agenda in recent months, with many prominent female IT professionals speaking out about the issue and suggesting ways to make change, we are still a long way from finding a solution.

I’ve spent the last three decades working in IT.

While I must admit it wasn’t a career I actively pursued — rather something I fell into — I have not looked back. There are many reasons why I enjoy working in IT and it’s often the things women perceive as missing, that actually drew me to the industry in the first place and has kept me there.

Over the years, I have spoken to many young females and the most common reasons I hear as to why they steer clear of a career in technology is it’s labelled as masculine and the skills involved are ill-suited to personality traits of females.

This is a result of perception rather than reality.

This perception gap is what I believe to be one of the biggest contributing factors to the issue we face today. And unfortunately, it is something that will continue to stick around, deterring females from entering a career in IT, for many years to come.

That’s why it’s important that this topic is spoken about openly and honestly.

One of the biggest barriers that needs to be smashed is understanding what’s actually involved in working in the industry and what skills are specifically used.

A lack of creativity is one of the most common misconceptions of working in IT.

I often hear young students wanting a career that allows them to be creative, which is why they dismiss IT. But this is incorrect. A large portion of what you do as an IT professional is finding ways to solve problems. Whether you are building a custom app or blocking security attacks, you always need to think quickly and creatively to solve a business problem.

Another aspect is team work. When you think of IT, you likely think of someone working alone in a dark room. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. A large part of my day to day job is speaking with customers or fellow app developers; going back and forth and working together as a team to understand a business need, and the design and development of an app that will help solve a business challenge.

The industry is also constantly changing and transforming. New innovations, technologies, and companies are coming onto the scene seemingly every day, which means you are constantly learning new things and updating your “knowledge base” and “skill set”.

It’s this challenging and constantly changing environment that really makes me love the work I do but unfortunately, these aspects are often forgotten when considering a career in IT.

Busting these myths is admittedly, just one tiny step forward. There are several things that still need to be done to make substantial progress, but if we continue to have open dialogue on the topic and create greater awareness of the issue and misconceptions, then we can slowly, but surely, see this gender gap close and see a greater diversity in the sector. The IT industry has a lot to offer, and it shouldn’t be dismissed because of misconceptions.

I really encourage females to talk to people in the industry. Attend conferences and workshops with an open mind. What you see and hear, might just surprise you.

Linda Trent is a custom app developer and business owner who has worked in IT since the early 80s and is the founder of Maximums Productivity. She startup her own successful business developing custom business apps using Filemaker, an Apple subsidiary, which she continues to run today.

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