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IWD 2024: Grokking our way to gender parity in tech
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

As we mark International Women's Day 2024, many of us are still processing the Workplace Gender Equality Agency's (WGEA) gender pay gap data released on February 27. Reporting for the first time on company-specific gender pay gap figures in Australia, the agency announced sobering news that nearly two-thirds of workplaces have a pay gap that favours men. So, were there any positives? The WGEA pointed out that the gender pay gap is on a downward trend with a decrease of 1.1 percentage points from the previous year. This was partially driven by the passing of the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment Bill in 2023, which no doubt galvanised employers to focus on gender equality strategies.

The other side of that coin is the gender gap in education and skills, where there is also some room for optimism. According to the OECD 2023 report ‘Gender, Education and Skills: The Persistence of Gender Gaps in Education and Skills’ OECD countries have nearly achieved gender parity among secondary education graduates. In Australia, gender gaps in school performance are close to the OECD average and NAPLAN 2023 scores show that female students outperformed males in literacy and were only marginally behind boys in numeracy. 

Despite these small but promising gains, there is still much work to do. The fact remains that young women are less likely than young men to pursue STEM subjects. In Australia, females make up only 25% of enrolments in year twelve information technology, physics, and engineering classes, 37% of enrolments in university STEM courses, and only 17% of VET STEM enrolments. The areas of tertiary study that females and males choose cement gender inequity in the workforce. Ultimately, this dynamic leads to gender gaps in earnings, and curtails economic growth.

The OECD report cites at least two possible reasons for this: 1) The lack of self-confidence girls have in their mathematics and science abilities during school (often leading to 'STEM anxiety') and 2) a lack of role models for girls in STEM fields. 

I can relate to “STEM anxiety”. I’ll never forget the sinking feeling of being left behind in my year nine maths classes. As my confidence declined, my choice to opt out of STEM subjects solidified. In parallel, my love for the arts and humanities compelled me to apply to attend my hometown’s (Ottawa, Canada) selective Arts High School and then pursue degrees in psychology and history. 

I often describe my path to a career in technology as a winding one, but I wouldn’t change it for an instant. The skills and experience I’ve gained along the way have set me up for the roles (Strategy, Product Management and Delivery) I’ve had in technology and education-focused organisations. 

When I reflect on my journey, I’ve come to the realisation that the bravery, confidence, and curiosity I lost in high school was gained back through my work experience. I’ve focused my efforts on learning from the cyber security specialists, engineers and data scientists I’ve worked with since 2014. Being honest about my knowledge base, continually asking questions and going through countless whiteboard markers has allowed me to progress from project officer roles to executive level strategic leadership roles in technology. 

That’s why we need parents, teachers, and employers to become more aware of their own conscious or unconscious biases and focus on giving young people equal chances for success. We also need to link STEM to real-world female mentors who can inspire young women to branch into currently male-dominated subjects. 
At Grok Academy, we believe that another solution is exposing kids to STEM early in their education. Studies show that when this occurs, they are more likely to be interested in STEM at school and consider STEM related jobs. This is particularly true for girls.

As a not-for-profit edtech, Grok Academy helps often under-qualified and over-worked teachers deliver the Digital Technologies Curriculum from K-12 with confidence through free classroom-ready resources and professional development programs. Our own research shows that of those students who complete digital technologies programs, 50% have an interest in STEM subjects, and 53% say they would consider a tech career. While at Grok Academy we do have a higher number of males complete our activities than females, the balance is shifting. We have seen a 53.1% increase in enrolments in Grok's courses by female students. Similarly, there has been a 65.2% increase in unique female users between 2022 and 2023.

This trend is not fortuitous. It is by design. As Grok Academy's Chief Strategy Officer, I am focused on ensuring that our content and pedagogical approach continues to encourage female students to study digital technologies subjects and consider IT-related careers. One way that we do this is through our industry partners, who co-create content with us that is informed by the latest technologies, trends, and real-world challenges. Our partners also address the need for more diverse industry role models. In the past three years, we have had over 60 female technologists and executives featured in our online courses.

At Grok we expect our people to be passionate about the intersection between education and technology and to harness this knowledge to bring value to students and teachers. We’re proud of our diversity, with 55% of our workforce identifying as female and 43% male, while our leadership team split is 51% female, and 49% male. However, in our specialised engineering and analytics roles, there is room to improve with 39% of our people in these areas identifying as female. 

The word 'grok' means to understand something intuitively or empathically. This idea is embedded in our culture and approach to supporting diverse learners and dismantling preconceived ideas that deter girls from pursuing digital technologies education. Having the right leadership and values ensures that our behaviour and mindset as a company are reflected in our products and all our interactions with teachers and students. If Grok is accessible to all and helps ignite a passion for digital technologies and STEM, we have done our job. Meanwhile, we'll keep grokking.