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Women in IT: 'I often feel we are swimming against the tide'

Women in IT: 'I often feel we are swimming against the tide'

The CIO of Isentia on why companies should do more to close the gender gap in ICT

'There are many moments when I think we are making great strides in closing the gender gap in ICT, but many more when I feel we are swimming against the tide.

'There are many moments when I think we are making great strides in closing the gender gap in ICT, but many more when I feel we are swimming against the tide.

As one of the few female CIOs in my country, I rarely discuss my work without entering a conversation around the diversity. Mostly I am asked if I see my success as signs of the gender gap closing.

I answer this truthfully; there are many moments when I think we are making great strides, but many more when I feel we are swimming against the tide.

A few weeks ago, I experienced the latter. For those of you who missed it, a report in Motherboard revealed a 10-page internal memo written by a senior Google staffer who proclaimed that diversity in tech would never be achieved because of the fundamental differences between men and women.

In backing such obnoxious claims, the unidentified author went on to make a series of wild generalisations including (but, sadly, not limited to) - women look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average. The general undertone: women simply aren’t built to succeed in technology.

Supporting women in spirit alone will not achieve systemic change.

Andrea Walsh, Isentia

This overt sexism does nothing to help address what is a serious gender inequality problem in IT. A study released earlier this year found that in 500 San Francisco based start-ups (with fewer than 100 employees) only 23 per cent of tech staff members are female. In the 10 top tech companies including Apple, Amazon, Oracle, Airbnb and Twitter, women make up 36 per cent of the tech team.

It is a similar story in Australia. A study from Professionals Australia reported 28 per cent female representation in all science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related professions. In New Zealand it’s slightly worse - Government figures show only 21 per cent of IT employees are women.

Pipeline issues, the lack of women ‘leaning in’, or (in the case of Mr-Anonymous-at-Google) women simply not having what it takes, have all been badged the culprit.

My hypothesis is it is actually a resistance to change that is causing the problem.

Take the recent Atlassian diversity survey as an example. Of the 1,400 US tech workers polled, 83 per cent agreed diversity in the sector is important, yet, only half of those surveyed thought improvements are needed within their own organisations. How so many people in tech believe true diversity already exists when the data tells a different story is baffling.

To echo the wisdom of the great innovator Charles Kettering, ‘the world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.’

In the case of diversity, this is especially true. In 2015 McKinsey coined the Diversity Dividend after publishing findings 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?

At Isentia, the technology team is, culturally, incredibly diverse.

 The 100-plus members hail from South America, South Korea, Russia, Korea, India, South Africa, New Zealand, China and beyond. Our focus at present is to balance our gender mix. We have active recruitment strategies in place focused on diversity – both gender and cultural, and are committed to building the pipeline of females coming through the ranks through education and outreach.

Diversity in action at the recent Innovations Games Day at Isentia
Diversity in action at the recent Innovations Games Day at Isentia

 Although it is clear that we have a problem on our hands, we have many reasons to remain optimistic.

Women like Melinda Gates and her comrades – Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer and Diane Green – are all working to encourage more women into the field.

Bill and Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Diane Greene
Bill and Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Diane Greene

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. In my home state of New South Wales for 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.

Technology leaders must commit to improving diversity across our industry. Supporting women in spirit alone will not achieve systemic change. We must each act intentionally and intelligently to improve diversity. My question for anyone in our industry is simple - what will you do to enact meaningful change?

Related reading:

Leaning in: How to break stereotypes and beat imposter syndrome

‘For best results, add women’

#MoneyTalks17: The lowdown on salaries, generational differences and diversity in Auckland ICT

Lois van Waardenberg: 1000 days to make a difference

Claudia Vidal: ‘This article on diversity is not about gender imbalance’

Angie Judge: How to rise to the challenges of big data and diversity

Andrea Walsh is CIO at Isentia. She is an experienced technology and digital solutions leader, and has led led large (100-plus) IT and digital teams in delivering high profile, multi-million dollar business outcome solutions across the Asia Pacific region. She is a supporter of FITT (Females in IT and Telecommunications), a not-for-profit network which aims to inspire women to achieve their career aspirations and potential at all levels and disciplines within ICT.

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz and @divinap

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Tags leadershipIsentiaSTEMMelissa MayerCIO rolegender gapGates foundationsexismdiversityFITTgenderMelinda Gatesstrategywomen in technologysocial enterpriseSheryl Sandberg

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