Women in Tech – Celebrating the Trailblazers

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Technology is at the forefront of our lives and work, but women are underrepresented in the industry by five to one. While this topic is not new, we need to examine current insights and break the bias through education and self-promotion to foster rapid change.   March 8 is International Women’s Day and the 2022 theme is about breaking the bias and closing the gender divide to eliminate prejudice at work, school, and university. It’s a great day to recognise the inspiring women’s networks and trailblazers in our communities and in business who innovate with technology and make a difference.

Why we need more women in tech

Most employers know that they benefit from a diverse and inclusive workforce where people with all kinds of differences and disabilities feel welcome and valued.  Different backgrounds and perspectives lead to new ideas, services and products, improved customer service and business practices. Without going down the Mars vs Venus track, women do think differently and bring unique ideas to the table.

Technology plays a big part in our lives and mostly exists to improve the needs of people. Product and service development benefits from multiple perspectives. Let’s look at AI machine learning for example. AI is built by humans and without women working in this field AI will not have a gender-diverse balance. Customer service chatbots will be based on a one-dimensional system, which may not deliver the results users expect.

Stats and insights

While there has been a push in the past few years to encourage women to move into tech industries, statistics show that progress is marginal. According to Deloitte Insights women represent 24% of the workforce in large tech companies in 2021.  An increase of only 1.6% from 2019.

In Australia, the STEM Equity Monitor 2021, a national data report on girls’ and women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) reveals a slow progression too.  The report looks at STEM gender equity in Australia measuring change and exploring educational pathways, graduate outcomes, and workforce participation.  Women working in STEM-qualified industries has increased from 24% in 2016 to 28% in 2020. Key management personnel and senior managers have increased from 18% to 23% in 2020.

Igniting the passion – It’s cool to love tech

The debate about why women don’t pursue a tech career has been going on for years, but we are not any closer to a definitive answer.

Starting with gender stereotypes about boys being better at STEM subjects and how teasing young girls about being geeky inhibits their interest in technology. We must subvert this way of thinking in the formative years because tech is now a part of everyday life and business.

The perception that you need to be a ‘techie’ is not true.  Girls need to be curious and interested in doing things in a better way across many fields and industries.  Most new innovations come from the desire to solve a problem.  For example, Amy-Rose Goodey from Brisbane is passionate about tech and has co-founded Cortex Brain Technologies developing brain-computer headsets to help people with autism and ADHD.

Tech is broad and not just about coding. Experience across the tech stack with other disciplines like health, behavioural studies, sales, marketing, and product development is valuable and adds another dimension.  Anna Chung from the Unit 42 Threat Team at Palo Alto Networks says that cyber security is going to be immense in the future and that you don’t need to have expertise in maths, coding, or engineering. In fact, she was terrible at maths and says other valuable assets in this space could include reverse engineering, AI, data mining, and threat actor profiling.

Cheers to the champions – Advocates and networks

Women are empowering themselves by establishing associations and networks to improve women’s lives worldwide.  The following organizations also champion women in tech.

International Women’s Day

March 8th is a global day for women coming together to raise awareness about inequality and celebrate women’s achievements and foster positive change.

One of IWD missions is to celebrate digital advancement and women forging innovation through technology.  They say that “technology is way too important for women to be excluded from its development and use” and have informative articles about STEM, tech careers, women leaders in tech and new technology.

Zonta International

Zonta is a global service organisation of professional women with a mission to make a better world by empowering women.

They have several programs including The Women in Tech Scholarship to encourage women to undertake education, careers, and leadership roles in IT.  The scholarship was awarded to an Australian recipient in 2019.

Zonta has several Australian chapters, including Geelong – the home of Enterprise Monkey.

Women In Tech –  International

Women In Tech is a global non-profit organisation on a mission to close the gender gap and help women to embrace technology.  By 2030 they want to empower 5 million women.

They have mentoring programs, informative events, advocacy and support and a jobs board. The Australian chapter was launched in 2019.

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves – Women in tech trailblazers

Tech and digital transformation are great fields for women to work within.  On International Women’s Day let’s celebrate Australian tech trailblazers who started with an idea to solve a problem and now have made inroads internationally.

Kim Teo and Kerry Osborn – Mr Yum

Melbourne based, Mr Yum co-founders Kim Teo and Kerry Osborn along with Adrian Osman and Andrei Miulescu developed a QR code menu ordering and payment system for the entertainment and hospitality industries in 2018.

While QR ordering had been around for a while, due to the social distance rules of the pandemic, bars, restaurants, and hotels embraced the contactless system. The idea is that the customer orders food and drinks from the menu via the QR code. Interviewed on TechCrunch Teo said that the system eliminates administrative tasks and processing of bills and includes analytic tools. The results are a quicker and better service with fewer errors not to mention the split bill dilemma.

Mr Yum is now in 1500 venues including shopping centres, airports, and movie theatres with 13 million users.  In a short period, Mr Yum has expanded and the business employs 120 people with five offices in Australia and overseas.

Melanie Perkins – Canva

Australian tech entrepreneur Melanie Perkins had this crazy idea about making graphic design accessible to anyone. At university, she found that students spent countless hours trying to learn complicated design programs.

Perkins developed the idea further with co-founder Cliff Obrecht and later with Cameron Adams.  She created an online affordable design tool that would enable anybody without design experience to make graphic images for social media posts, marketing and more.

Canva is known worldwide now with about 60 million regular users but originally Melanie and co-founders had difficulty in securing funding.

Ally Watson – Code Like A Girl

Ally Watson, founder of social enterprise Code Like A Girl was awarded an Order Of Australia (OAM) in 2022 in recognition for promoting diversity and opportunities for women in tech.

A software engineer, working in the male-dominated tech field Watson felt isolated and wanted to meet other women in the industry. Code Like A Girl was born as a passion project to build connections with like-minded women and evolved to inspire young girls and women to study coding and software development. She also wanted to close the gender gap in the industry and encourage girls to study STEM subjects.

According to Women Love Tech Watson’s organization has helped thousands of girls and women to career pathways through coding and digital skills. Businesses and companies can partner with Code Like A Girl to close the gender divide in tech.

Conclusion

The reasons why women are underrepresented in tech are varied but to change we need to foster awareness, promote STEM subjects and explore careers in the early years.  Curiosity, creativity, and the passion to solve problems are important and tech pathways are not always clear or set in concrete.

With more women forging career paths in tech industries, the gender imbalance should even out as recruiters will have more talent to choose from.

As we have seen from talented Australian women entrepreneurs, it’s never too late to have an idea or solve a problem and have a career in tech. Let’s keep breaking the bias!

Sources:

STEM Equity Monitor 2021

Deloitte Insights