Embracing equity: circling back on lasting change for women in tech

This is a guest post by LuLu Shiraz, director of product and service at Vertiv Australia and New Zealand

Young women today follow in the footsteps of Australia’s unsung female tech icons. Think of Florence McKenzie, Australia’s first female electrical engineer, or Kay Thorne (nee Sullivan) who worked as a technical assistant on Australia’s first digital stored-program computer, CSIRAC. We find these influential figures scattered across Australia’s history, and more are coming up through our classrooms, TAFE campuses, and university halls.

We need to be doing everything in our power to encourage young women to join tech and stick with it. Because despite the progress made, gender equity in the technology sector continues to be a pressing issue.

On this International Women’s Day (IWD), I want to see a renewed commitment from all to fight for lasting change. IWD was established 47 years ago when the United Nations General Assembly moved to acknowledge women’s achievements. But there are still barriers within this agenda alone.

The underrepresentation crisis

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: women in tech are still underrepresented – 74% of tech workers are men, despite women representing 47.9% of the workforce. Women are missing out on the tech industry’s both high and consistent salary growth, and its significant opportunities for some of the highest achieving career opportunities. The future of Australia’s economy depends on technological progress, and women shouldn’t be left behind.

But the Australian technology sector isn‘t a stranger to progress – we’ve seen movement in recent years with initiatives such as the Australian government’s Advancing women in STEM strategy, several university scholarships all across the country, and global grassroots movements making an impact, including Girls in Tech.

Funding and activism are crucial steps to boosting female representation. But it’s not just about representation, we also need to improve the conditions and culture within technology companies and provide solid proof-points to students that there are pathways to success and career recognition.

Social and cultural barriers for women

Many women in tech face social barriers, such as unequal recognition of good work, and higher standards. In fact, a survey from Naviste found 94% of women in tech feel they are held to a higher standard than their male colleagues. This exposes a concerning issue of gender bias in the workplace, where women are expected to perform at a level beyond what is expected of their male counterparts, creating an unequal working environment.

Despite their hard work and talent, we’ve seen women passed over for promotions and their ideas are not given the same weight as those of their male colleagues. Research by the Governance Institute of Australia shows that women in board positions tend to have more qualifications than their male counterparts. This disparity sends a public message about the extra steps women must do to become leaders. And it has industry-wide effects on what women believe themselves capable of.

When it comes to awards, men are often more comfortable accepting accolades and putting themselves forward for awards. In fact, a gender gap exists in the highest tier of international science research awards.

This needs to change, and it starts with an equitable acknowledgement of skills and achievements – women won’t put themselves forward if success appears unattainable. It’s important for companies to address and eliminate these biases to foster a more inclusive and equal workplace.

IWD is one acknowledgement of the powerful work women do globally. But if we want to drive participation, we need to build visibility and recognition internally.

So, how close are we to achieving gender equity in tech? The truth is, we’re still far away. But the future is bright, and it’s up to us to make it happen. The next generation of women are more confident, and it’s up to us to pave the way for them.

The pandemic has shown us what’s possible when we put our minds to it – we can make changes quickly when there’s a need. It’s time we apply that same sense of urgency to achieving gender equity in our industry.

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