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ICT's masculine identity
This year in politics has been dominated by debates around misogyny and the apparent glass ceiling for women aspiring to leadership positions in Australia. So what about the ICT sector?
I recently had the pleasure of chairing the Masterclass associated with Australia's glowing and growing ICT industry awards, the iAwards. The content was second to none.
The high growth, highly innovative Australian ICT companies in the audience gave as good as they got, toing-and-froing with a cast of outstanding national and international speakers.
What a thrill to be to hear the US venture capital market is now more often and more seriously looking at Australian startups for their innovation, attitude and of course their access to high growth Asian markets.
It was also a thrill to survey the optimistic and innovative nature of the audience. With programs like the Masterclass, Australia 3.0 and the iAwards we have come a long way.
But in other ways we have a long way to go. Apart from the audience’s optimism, what struck me most was the overwhelming preponderance of blokes. Let’s face it, this is an industry populated largely by blokes, led by blokes, managed by blokes, taught by blokes and far too often celebrated only by blokes. Chances are if you are reading this – you are a bloke.
I cringed along with many from the male dominated audience when the master of ceremonies introduced the Minister for Digital Economy, Kate Lundy, as ‘the beautiful Kate Lundy’.
How about Kate Lundy – one of the most intelligent, competent and consistent contributors to the Australian ICT sector over the last decade?
I started to wonder if this appalling clanger from a naïve MC is indicative of why so few women are in leadership positions in the sector. In my search for answers I turned to highly successful 2013 ICT Woman of the Year, Yvette Adams. Yvette is an outstanding entrepreneur and genuinely a leader in the ICT sector.
For Yvette, it’s time for Australians to recognise computer coding as the single most important professional skill of the future. It starts with our kids, and therefore it starts with girls. Today’s kids are digital natives that we must encourage from the earliest years.
She says: “There is already a massive skills shortage globally when it comes to developers/programmers and it is only going to get worse. If you want to encourage your child into a profession they are guaranteed to get well paid to work in, head them into technology.”
For women, Yvette adds, “the ICT sector is perfect given the growing flexibility of telework and the ability to create global enterprises from anywhere”.
A recent report from consulting firm Ernst and Young, entitled Untapped Opportunity, argues that the issues confronting women in Australia’s workforce in general are not just bad for women as individuals, it’s also costing the nation billions of dollars in unrealised productivity potential.
Yvette and the report would agree: A high level of women participating in ICT is important to our nation’s productivity.
I turned to another highly accomplished woman in the Australian ICT sector, Fi Slaven, who is a leading executive and has been a decidedly effective CIO in Australian industry.
She makes the argument that for more women to be successful in ICT leadership positions, they need to be more comfortable in their own skins. It’s also not just about more women in ICT leadership, it’s about more diversity at all levels of leadership.
She says: “My concern is that we are going backwards. Women, unlike their male counterparts, don’t promote themselves confidently enough in the corporate environment. And no one seems to be held accountable for attaining higher levels of diversity in general in the Australian industry.
Most of the approaches to diversity at senior levels are treated as optional, meaning that we tend to recruit and promote people who look like us, sound like us.”
Most powerful, however, was Fi relating a recent experience to me. She was asked to keynote at a high-powered CIO conference. One of the topics for a following panel discussion was ‘Why aren’t there more women in ICT leadership’? As the panel stepped to the stage, it became apparent every one was a Caucasian, middle aged, slightly overweight male.
Maybe in order to find better solutions to these challenges, the industry should at least ask the people who should know: The women in ICT.
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