Why Too Few Women Are Scaling The Career Heights In The IT Sector

Why Too Few Women Are Scaling The Career Heights In The IT Sector

There’s still more work to do, to ensure female candidates have a decent shot at challenging and fulfilling roles, says AVEVA director of sales, Pacific, Christine McNamara in this op-ed.

Who thinks Australia is doing ok, when it comes to evening up the scales in the historically male-dominated world of IT.

Women comprise 29 per cent of the country’s high-tech workforce, according to the Australian Computer Society’s 2021 Digital Pulse report.

There are fewer of us on the higher rungs of the career ladder though – only 18 per cent of CEOs and 22 per cent of tech company board members are female.

Is that a vast improvement, though, on the way things were when I entered the sector in the late 1980s? Most definitely.

Back in the day

My IT career commenced with installing PCs for small businesses and transitioning their finance and admin teams from paper-based ledgers to new-fangled financial software. For me, the daughter of Orange’s first Apple Mac dealer back in the seventies and a girl who’d learnt to program in CPM at the age of 11, setting up the hardware, connecting the cables and getting users to speed was easy and enjoyable work.

But, as a techie woman, I was a distinct novelty for my employer, an accountancy practice that was making a handsome return helping its clientele computerise, and its customers alike.

The curiosity show continued as I moved up the high tech food chain. I became proficient in Unix – you’re looking at the first female to attain certification status in Australia – and invariably found myself the only woman at technical conferences and information sessions.

My technical prowess saw me hired as a senior network engineer by a leading financial services organisation but subsequently passed over for the role of operations manager because, in 1992, appointing a female technology leader was a bridge too far, for the executive team.

Doing the work

Working hard and being extremely good at my job helped me to hold my own in the cut-throat world of IT contracting, working for household name organisations such as First State and Telstra, as they re-engineered their processes and deployed new IT platforms and programs through the nineties and noughties.

Acquiring the soft skills that were too often conspicuous by their absence in our industry back then stood me in good stead too. In a sea of non-communicative introverts, I strove to stand out by communicating effectively with stakeholders. Being able to clearly articulate the objectives and benefits of investing in IT has always been the key to obtaining buy-in and backing from executives and employees at all levels.

The wealth of experience I gained from those years at the pointy end of projects and programs of work saw me well-positioned to join the leadership team at AVEVA in 2022.

Charting the changes

All in all, my journey has been quite the ride! So, would it be easier for a young woman with drive and determination starting out today, to get to where I’ve gotten?

In some respects, yes. Women are no longer subject to the overt sexism that was endemic in my youth and there are certainly more openings for them to pursue than once there were.

But, for my money, too few of them are stepping up or pushing themselves forward when opportunities arise.

In part, that’s due to a deficit of confidence. Unlike our male peers, we women typically want to make sure we’re amply qualified – able to say yes to every single criteria, even the ones that are merely ‘nice to haves’ – before we put our hands up.

Supporting the next generation of women to shine

That needs to change, if we’re ever to have a shot at evening up the numbers and seeing more women pursuing and performing in senior roles.

I believe it’s up to female leaders like me to make this change happen, by supporting our junior colleagues as they climb the career ladder. Modelling and engendering confidence and self-belief can give the next generation the impetus and encouragement they need to keep scaling the heights.

This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my role at AVEVA, where inclusion is woven into our cultural fabric and we’re fortunate to have an excellent mentoring program that connects experienced women like myself with younger women across the organisation. We also have workplace gender targets where by 2030, we aim for 30 per cent of our leadership to be women with females making up 50 per cent of new hires and 40 per cent of management.

Another way we can be the change we want to see is by exerting positive influence in the workplace and industry more broadly; calling out unacceptable workplace behaviours and encouraging unbiased hiring practices.

Driving change together

Women in IT have come a long way. We may no longer be a curiosity, as I was back in the day, but we’re not yet where we need to be. Collectively, we must keep our foot on the accelerator, driving the changes that will see our gender having an equal opportunity to access the abundance of opportunities on offer. I, for one, am delighted to be along for the ride.

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