Getting the word out that IT is an ideal career path for women is the best way to reverse the wide gender imbalance, says a female CIO.
New research by recruitment firm, Greythorn, indicates male IT professionals in Australia out-number their female colleagues by a ratio of nearly four to one.
CIO of Melbourne-based education advisory company IDP Education, Michelle Beveridge, said young women need to be educated that IT is not just about nerds sitting in dark corners.
“IT is about solving problems and everything we do has a connection with technology these days,” Beveridge said.
“Women are good at relating to people and make good technical people as well. I’m surprised not more women are interested, but there is still a stereotype that IT is for geeks.”
Beveridge chairs the Victorian ICT for Women network which is hosting the Go Girl, Go for IT event in October, aimed at attracting more female high school students into the sector.
“Because IT is a globally recognised industry, you can travel and if you want to take a career break for a family, IT gives you that flexibility as well,” she said. “IT also allows more opportunities for telecommuting.”
Beveridge is moving her own career to a combined CIO, business manager role at Open Universities Australia this month, which she says is a sign businesses are recognising the CIO is a core role and are prepared to lift its responsibilities.
Greythorn surveyed 2922 IT professionals and found a 78 per cent to 22 per cent male to female ratio. The gender gap is greater at the higher end; females account for just 6 per cent of respondents employed at IT manager level or above.
The results did not surprise Beveridge.
“I would have thought it was worse,” she said. “In Victoria, it was sitting around 16 to 18 per cent and, particularly when you get to the senior roles, there are very few women CIOs in the country.”
Beveridge said another ongoing issue is enrolment of females in IT courses at universities is also dropping.
“It’s not as bad as it was 10 years ago where I would be the single female in a project team of 20 people,” she said.
“More new entrants to IT are women, but they are coming into IT from marketing, and other sectors and they are developing their skills from there.”
Greythorn Australia managing director, Richard Fischer, said females account for just 19 per cent of the Australian IT workforce with between 16 and 25 years experience.
“That number jumps to 35 per cent when you look at the group of IT professionals with five years or less experience,” Fischer said. “While the trend is heading in a positive direction an unsustainable level of imbalance still remains.”
Beveridge said attracting more women to IT is not just about getting more females into the sector. It’s about achieving diversity in the industry which is, in turn, “good for business”.
“Women help make the technology more usable,” she said. “With the female approach to technology, you are getting a better representation of the user community.”
Despite several prominent women CIOs in the country, Beveridge says not enough women are aspiring to the roles.
“All companies should be doing more to get women in senior roles. We are our own worst enemy as we won’t put ourselves forward for those roles,” she said.
“The number of women CIOs should be promoted more and I’m increasingly seeing senior women put back into the community again.”