How To Fix The Tech Industry's Gender Diversity Problem

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Women simply aren't as good as men at programming. It's just biological. Women just aren't interested in technology. Women are too emotional. Men are more logical, so they code better. Women aren't as technically minded. Women have smaller brains than men. Women don't get very far in their careers because they need to leave to have babies. You wouldn't like the culture. Your nails would hit the wrong keys too much.

No but really, it's biological, it's just science. Women are better suited to caring jobs, like a nurse, or a childcarer.

These are real statements, said by real people - many of whom are working in tech - to excuse the lack of gender diversity in the industry. And it's combating statements like these that drives Holly Tattersall, CEO of mentorship program Women in Digital.

Holly Tattersall

Tattersall studied business at uni, followed by a stint of backpacking in Colombia, which led to starting a tour company (and the digital marketing that goes along with it), then selling her part of the business - and finally, taking a gig in digital recruitment "as a temporary filler" while finding her "next big thing".

"Little did I know that digital recruitment was it," Tattersall says.

Along comes a mentor

During this leg of her career Tattersall met "countless" women - one of which was a senior executive at Deloitte, who took an interest in her career, becoming her mentor.

Tattersall looked up to her as someone who was confident, kind and spoke her mind. She admired the way she'd successfully balanced career and family through discipline, and prioritisation.

"This experience was pivotal," Tattersall explains, "and something that I wanted to give back to the other young women I met who had lower levels of confidence of self-promotion - often required when negotiating your career changes."

So she started the Women in Digital mentoring program.

"As I encountered various negative attitudes or environments I would simply expand the Women in Digital service offering to fill the void," Tattersall explains.

"They encouraged me to promote role models and successful women in the industry to overcome that persistent stigma," Tattersall says. "I'm always looking at creating solutions and that is how I found myself continually challenged and engaged by my career in tech."

According to Tattersall, there are three keys ways in which mentorships play a critical role to women in STEM industries.

1. It provides a support mechanism for women who may feel isolated within a male dominated industry, reducing the likelihood of exiting the industry.

2. Role models help to illustrate what's possible. If we can't see it, do we imagine it, and can we become it? By championing successful women in tech, we highlight what atypical success can look like.

3. Sponsoring is equally as important – this is where someone actively promotes you for opportunities in your company or the industry. Where women aren't as good at self-promotion, sponsorship helps to bridge that gap and champion high potential women in tech.

But Tattersall points out, it's not just up to women to make a difference.

In 2012, the ABS found that women remained underrepresented in the most senior corporate positions within the top 200 ASX companies. Six boards (3.0 per cent) had a woman as chair (one more than in 2010, and two more than in 2008), and seven (different) companies had a female Chief Executive Officer (CEO) (3.5 per cent, up from 1.3 per cent in 2002).

Whilst these numbers have improved since 2012, Tattersall tells me, leadership level is still highly male dominated.

"If we have more men in leadership positions then we need them, as decision makers of many companies, to support the push for diversity," Tattersall says.

"They have the power to change recruitment strategies, amending advertising strategies that often deter women from applying to roles. They have the power to facilitate flexible work, meaning women won't be compromised in their family vs career decisions. They have the power to champion and sponsor women as role models in the industry."

What's working?

Initiatives like Women in Digital offer educational events and mentoring for women in the industry, Girls who Code offer practical coding classes for girls, Diverse City Careers help women to find jobs with employers who are endorsed for offering equitable working conditions - and Tattersall says these initiatives are making real progress.

"I believe these initiatives are working! They help to amplify messages about diversity, to promote equal opportunity in the industry, and offer training ops to promote technical and soft skill development."

Tattersall says there is a "great desire" to hire more women in tech, "especially as more individuals and companies understand that our ability to design and create products/services for our diverse customer base is largely a sum of the diversity and empathy of our team."

What still needs to be done?

Even if you aren't a part of the tech industry, you can help.

"Outsiders to the industry are often reliant on technology teams so if possible, take a vested interest in the diversity of that technology team," Tattersall advises.

This means spending your hard earned cash on brands and companies that have diverse leadership teams. The diversity of companies is sometimes difficult to decipher - but organisations like Femeconomy, a platform that only promotes brands that have at least 30 per cent of women on the Board of Directors or are 50 per cent female owned, are a good guide.

But the one thing Tattersall would change, if she could?

"The ease at which women transition into tech careers at a later stage in their career."

Tattersall says if we're concerned about diversity in tech we need to shift the stereotype and welcome a more diverse range of experience into the industry.

"They often have highly transferable skills and a keen interest to learn, but there is a pervasive belief that technology is a young person's game, that you must be wearing a t-shirt, sneakers, be under 30 and addicted to Snapchat to be relevant in the industry."

But over to you, dear reader. What can you do? If you've got an idea to help create change and equality in STEM, let us know in the comments below.

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Holly Tattersall recently spoke at the CSIRO Data61 'Women in Tech' event, which explored the barriers to gender diversity - with a particular focus on the technology industry.

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