The lack of women working in Australia’s tech sector has been flagged repeatedly by both sides of the gender divide.
There have been plenty of occasions where I’ve walked into a tech event and been the only girl, or one of a handful, in the room.
The funny thing is, because I use Alex, the shortened version of Alexandra, a lot of people assume I’m a boy. And what happens is moments like this one, just this week.
I met a senior tech person for the first time. He was surprised to discover Alex was a woman. And then he said he felt less threatened by me because I am a girl.
The fascinating aspect of this is it’s not just about gender equality. It makes good business sense, which I’ll get to shortly.
The lack of women in the industry is visible. For many having a female in a leadership position is still regarded as a novelty and proves the sector still has a long way to go.
On the surface there appears to be a few more female founders filtering into tech and that was on show in SydStart’s pitching competition earlier this week, but the gender gap is far from closed.
The tech sector repeatedly whines about how difficult it is to find and attract technical talent in Australia and talks about implementing entrepreneurial visas. What if the answer is much simpler than that? Training and encouraging women into the tech sector could be one solution for filling the talent woes.
“By encouraging more women to give it a go, and by highlighting role models and sharing their stories, we think we can inspire a new generation of women to startup,” Sally-Ann Williams, Senior Program Manager at Google for Entrepreneurs in Australia said.
Fishburners general manager Murray Hurps told Business Insider: “One of our goals for the last six months has been to increase female membership.”
Murray said the incubator wants the sector to “get up and get on with it and not let sex be an issue”.
“We’re trying and we see this as one of our top issues,” he said.
Fishburners has hit 20% female membership and while the quotas are an arbitrary number it is also “working hard to reach 25% by the end of the year,” Hurps said.
“The second-most commonly reported problem for startups in Australia is the availability and affordability of talent, so leaving half of the potential workforce out of the equation is missing a significant opportunity,” he said.
Providing flexible work arrangements, close to childcare and changing the idea about what type of skill-sets a tech employee needs to work in the sector are all ways to attract more women, regardless of the industry.
“The unique perspectives and abilities of female startup founders also creates opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist,” Hurps said.
Williams argues women-led tech companies are more successful, “There is a lot of data showing that diverse teams create better products and run more successful organisations.”
How successful? Well, investors should be checking gender as well as the balance sheet, it seems.
“Women-led tech companies achieve 35 percent higher return on investment and, when venture-backed, bring in more revenue than male-owned tech companies. Yet women are still underrepresented in startup communities,” Williams says.
Tech is in a unique position where working remotely in many cases, even if it is part-time, can be a reality.
It also needs to be communicated that not all tech-sector jobs require people to code. Solid communication skills and a good handle on human behaviour can also go a long way.
Freelancer Asia Pacific director Nikki Parker said the problem stems back to the education system which she said doesn’t traditionally encourage tech as an option for young women.
“It is a sad truth that women are grossly underrepresented in the tech industry in Australia,” she said, adding things are slowly starting to change, “The women that are prominent in tech are exceptional and doing incredible things but the tech industry needs to shift its ideas of what skills are needed and what constitutes a valuable asset in a tech company.”
Parker explained that, because she couldn’t code, she was continuously steered away from a career in the tech sector.
“My talents were probably more suited to law or working in marketing for a fashion brand. I fear that this is the general sentiment for women who are interested in tech,” she said.
“Rather than being embraced with open arms, we are patted on the head by the heavily male-dominated sector and told to look elsewhere.
“Stop seeing tech as a man’s domain, ladies. It is time to show the world what we can do for the tech industry.”
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