Women have an integral role to play within the Australian information technology and communications industry, according to the Australian Computer Society (ACS).
Speaking on International Women’s Day, ACS Women board director, Susan Bandias, told Computerworld Australia that women brought the ICT industry a skills set very different to men.
“Women are naturally great multi-taskers and very adaptable and therefore, have great problem-solving, communication and relationship skills, which as mentioned above are very different skill sets to what men bring to the industry,” she said.
“Women fulfil all sorts of roles in the ICT industry from business analysts to more traditional roles such as teaching. Women's skills need to be valued more within the male-dominated industry.”
According to Bandias, three main issues — being undervalued, having fewer career opportunities and difficulty in achieving a work-life balance — were affecting women’s participation in the sector.
“We are seeing the beginnings of a change in mentality, with women such as Julia Gillard, Quentin Bryce, Gail Kelly, Anna Bligh and Kristina Kenneally, whose careers defy the main issues that women are currently facing,” she said.
“The challenge and the opportunity here is the technology industry is at the forefront of this change due to its profound skills challenges, its ability to identify and create technology-based solutions to improve working conditions and efficiency, as well as its history of being able to pioneer the testing of new working environments for both men and women.”
A greater representation of women in the ICT sector could go a long way to addressing the systemic skills shortage in IT, but research carries out by the ACS had found that women often left the sector mid-career, Bandias said.
“It's important that we retain them,” she said. “[In the research] women felt that they were undervalued, had fewer careers opportunities compared to men, and felt the need to achieve better work-life balance.
“Smart employers will retain female ICT professionals by offering them work life balance opportunities and part-time work, to leverage their unique skills base, which is crucial to the industry's success.”
Further, Bandias said working mothers were an untapped pool of talent which ICT employers needed to better recognise.
“The ICT industry is a unique industry, as maintaining skills and knowledge is essential,” she said. “Therefore, creating a family friendly working environment would help retain women in the workforce.”
Noting specific steps needed to increase women’s participation, Bandias said a greater focus on providing affordable training in a variety of formats and times, mentorship programs from successful women in ICT, and advocacy and lobbying for equal status and work-life balance for women were required.
New networking opportunities specifically designed for women, advertising for flexible part-time work, and developing partnerships between the ACS and industry to help further women's careers would also help.
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