IT Brief Australia - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
Story image
IWD 2024: Three steps to welcome women in technology
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

When I was a teenager, thinking about my career prospects, it wasn't commonplace for women to pursue a tech career. Going back to when I started uni in early '00s, the digital era was just starting to take off, there were fewer resources or support systems to empower women in STEM, and there was a type of stigma around being a woman passionate about technology.

My first formative experience with technology was when my uncle gave me his old computer, teaching me how to play games on floppy discs. But even then, I wasn't inspired by the thought of building a career in STEM. Fast forward to high school, I ended up picking software development simply because I had a spare elective. 

It wasn't until I built a game for my sister (and loved the development process) that the idea of an engineering career was born. It was fun to create something from the ground up, and I wanted to keep creating software. At the time, women made up about 10% of the enrolments in Engineering and Technology. Today, women make up 29%of the tech industry overall. But there's still more that can be done to take gender out of the equation. Here are the three changes I hope to see in the industry. 

Cultivating an environment for people to thrive
Throughout my career, I've had the privilege of learning from many amazing people. Also, throughout my career as a woman, at times, I've felt like a book judged for its cover. There have been times, especially early on in my career, when I was expected to take on office housework because I was reliable — a strength that at times felt as if it was being used against me. 

For example, in a previous role as a gesture of goodwill, I'd once volunteered to organise cake and decorate a colleague's desk for their birthday, which was meant to be a shared activity in the team. This was not part of my job description as an engineer, but I'm a team player and thought that once-off couldn't hurt. And for a whole year afterwards, I was expected to continue with this activity.

And while event management is fun from time-to-time, that's not what I was being paid to do or what I wanted to be recognised for. On the contrary, I wanted to be recognised for my technical expertise and not work longer hours to make up for the time lost when getting cakes.

So, leaders of tech teams (and all other industries) should ensure the workplace environment is set for everyone's success, allowing people to thrive, do the jobs they've been trained for and be their best selves in their chosen fields. Companies could also implement mandatory sessions to train the staff about understanding different personalities at work, such as the DISC assessment of each employee and unconscious bias training.

I am a firm believer in strong support from upward management — so now as a leader, I like to run knowledge-sharing sessions to promote learning. During the earlier stages of my career, I found these types of sessions helpful when I would "rubber duck" with my managers, who would listen and steer me back as needed when talking through learnings in coding.

Celebrating diversity in leadership roles
Our role models play a very important part in our lives, from teaching how they manage situations, building rapport with others or applying critical thinking.

However, with only 18% of women in tech leadership roles, we need to celebrate our achievements more to inspire other women in the process. Otherwise, we risk the lack of representation causing women to feel intimidated by career possibilities that should be within reach for all.

As a female tech leader myself, I'm always on the lookout to challenge bias. An example could be favouring males in the recruitment process because of the idea that a female candidate may go on maternity leave. 

In addition to being a full-time tech leader, I'm also a full-time mum to a 20 month old. No doubt, having a supportive employer makes juggling both more seamless. For that reason, offering flexible working arrangements, such as hybrid work, creates a culture of trust and respect within the company, especially for working mums.

Leaving a positive impact
When it comes to gender equality in STEM, there's more to be done outside the corporate world. The jobs we work at don't exist in a vacuum, and the work that's done at a broader industry and societal level has a domino effect. 

Outside the 9-5, this could mean taking on mentorship roles, getting involved with women in STEM communities, or finding and offering advice in forums for people on a similar path to the one that you've experienced. I use my podcast, WomenTechCast, to provide a platform that allows women in tech to voice their stories and experiences. I also love helping others grow their technical expertise, which inspired me to join Women Who Code, supporting our next generation of tech leaders to build their toolkit. 

Before finding my community, I felt a bit different or alone sometimes. It was refreshing to find other women just like me —people who I could relate to, learn from, and share experiences with. For those still in search of their community, my advice is to attend events, join forums or find networking opportunities that'll give you the chance to connect with others in the industry. 

One day, I hope to see a 50/50 split of women in tech. But until then, let's keep encouraging each other and driving the change we wish to see.