Learning to code was the best career move I ever made. Fast forward 25 years and I am fortunate enough to be one of the few female CIOs in Australia.
Technology is the great accelerator the 21st century. Cloud computing, tablets and smartphones have already transformed how we live and work, but the best is yet to come.
We are on the cusp of a technological revolution. Soon eye-tracking technology will allow us to control tablet devices with a simple eye movement. We will arrive at work in driverless cars.
Smartphones will evolve from mobile computers to revolutionary devices with integrated laser that will turn flat surfaces into touchscreens and with built-in GPS systems so accurate they will measure to the closest centimetre. Before long every family will have their own 3D printer that lets them custom design everything from iPhone cases to ornaments.
At a time when the tech industry is exploding, sadly there are virtually no women coming through the ranks. Each year, Gartner conducts the world’s largest CIO survey to track senior IT leaders around the globe. Disappointingly, the percentage of women CIOs recorded in the survey has remained largely static since 2004.
This simply cannot be good for the industry.
We know intuitively that diversity matters and research has affirmed this thinking time and time again. For example, in 2015 McKinsey published the Diversity dividend highlighting that gender-diverse companies are 15 per cent more likely to outperform others.
Perhaps even more interesting to note is that half of the companies listed in the Fortune 10 are women. With technology now an integral of any businesses’ success, surely this healthy representation of women in leadership and obvious return is no coincidence?
As a woman passionate about the contribution females make to the industry, I am heartened by this promise of progress with the big players. But we still have a long way to go. If the industry does not change, it won’t reach its full potential.
Firstly, we need to start engaging future female CIOs now. My daughter is 8 years old and she is already learning to code. So should every other girl her age in the country. Digital literacy should be as important as any other form of literacy.
We need to generate a movement like Michelle Obama’s #builtbygirls campaign in the US, where all young girls are encouraged to engage with technology early and stay ‘hooked’. We need to make sure coding is no longer relegated to the domain of boys.
We also need to ensure that women in the industry are remunerated appropriately. The good news is, as far as other industries go the tech sector is faring considerably well. A 2016 report showed that women in technology are paid 8 per cent less than their male counterparts. While parity is still yet to be achieved this is a significant milestone for the industry when across all sectors the national gender pay gap sits at around 16 per cent.
If the industry can see the value women bring and we are bridging the gap in pay scales at a much faster rate than other sector, why are we attracting so few women into the field?
Campaigner for women in tech, Melinda Gates, has defined the problem as a ‘the leaky pipehole’ that sees females veer away from a technology career pathway as they move through primary school, high school, university and then into the industry.
In the US, 57 per cent of professional occupations are held by women, however females are represented in just 25 per cent of computing jobs. In Australia it’s a similar story. A study from Professionals Australia reported 28 per cent female representation in all science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related professions.
Although it is clear that we have a problem on our hands, we have many reasons to remain optimistic. Women like Gates and her comrades – Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer and Diane Green – are all working to encourage more women into the field. Then there are groups like FITT, a tremendous not-for-profit organisation solely focused on inspiring more women to achieve their career aspirations in technology through strong peer networking programs to guide young women coming through the ranks.
I am also buoyed the growing number of girls opting to study STEM at school. Here in NSW for by example, the girls studying either maths or science increased from 5.4 per cent in 2001 to 14.6 per cent in 2014, while the level for boys has only risen from 2.1 per cent to 5.9 per cent. But there’s still work to do.
As a woman who has been fortunate enough to enjoy an enduring, challenging and meaningful career in tech despite the unfavourable odds, I am extremely passionate about seeing other women benefit from the technology explosion and embark on a career in what I can only describe as one of the most exciting, well-paid and sustainable sectors there is.
I implore not only other women, but also men in the industry to share their stories of success with our girls and keep them engaged. Together we can achieve the diversity in thinking needed to use technology to solve some of the greatest problems.
So, this International Women’s Day challenge the young girls you know to code. The future is in their hands.
Andrea Walsh is CIO at Isentia.