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Women in Technology

Digital Future UN Women

20 March 2023

Sonya Weiser

There have been some amazing women working in technology, but the number of women in the workforce in technology is low, it remains a male-dominated field. What can we do to encourage more amazing women to have careers in technology in the future?

I’ve been inspired by some fabulous stories from this year’s International Women’s Day events and publicity to write about women in technology.

Amazing women in technology

In 1842, the brilliant mathematician Ada Lovelace created the first computer program, elevating Charles Babbage’s adding machine from a mechanical device to the first simple computer.

Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace
image: Peter Krumins

Since then, there have been many amazing women working in technology and inventing all sorts of things, for example:

  • Bertha Benz, brake pads
  • Gertrude Bell Elion, Leukaemia, HIV and Malaria drugs
  • Maria Beasley, life rafts
  • Maria Pereira, heart surgery adhesive
  • Martha Coston, signal flares
  • Mary Anderson, wind screen wipers
  • Patricia Bath, laser cataract surgery
  • Patricia Billings, fire safe Geobond
  • Sarah Mather, underwater telescopes
  • Stephanie Kwolek, bullet proof material
  • Tabitha Babbitt, the circular saw
  • Yvonne Brill, satellite propulsion
Katherine Bennell-Pegg
image: Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources

And women are still achieving amazing things in technology to this day. On International Women’s Day earlier this month it was announced that Katherine Bennell-Pegg, Director of Space Technology at the Australian Space Agency, will be the first Australian woman to be trained as an astronaut by an international space agency!

Low numbers of women in technology

When computer programming was pioneered by Ada Lovelace, women were held to be intellectually inferior to men and were expected to focus on keeping home and raising families. Whilst we seem to have made great strides in the intervening years, there is still a long way to go before women have equal representation in the technology industry.

In 2023, women comprise almost half of Australia’s workforce, but still only make up 26% of workers in the technology industry.

Recent analysis by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources concluded that participation of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) has barely changed over the last decade.

Gender split of Australians employed in STEM occupations
image: Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources

The Women in STEM: longitudinal and completion rate analysis report, released in September 2022, analysed the employment and further study outcomes of students who finished higher education in 2011. The report also analysed the completion rates of students who started an undergraduate degree in 2012.

Some key findings of this 10-year longitudinal study which I found interesting were:

  • Women who completed a higher education STEM qualification in 2011 were around 1.6 times more likely than men to complete further study.
  • 2 in 5 (41%) 2011 STEM qualified women who completed a further qualification remain in a STEM field.
  • One in two women (49%) who completed further study in STEM ended up in a non-STEM occupation compared with two in five men (39%).
UN Women DigitALL
image: UN Women

Globally, the United Nations has announced the 2023 International Women’s Day theme DigitALL – innovation and technology for gender equality. The UN acknowledges that women are under-represented across the creation, use and regulation of technology. Women across the world are less likely to use digital services or enter technology related careers, and significantly more likely to face online harassment and violence. This limits digital empowerment of women and limits the transformative potential of technology as a whole. The UN states that women’s exclusion from technology industry has shaved $1 trillion off the GDP of low and middle-income countries.

We must encourage women in technology

There are two challenges to improving participation rates of women in technology. Firstly, we can encourage school-age girls to tackle university degrees in STEM subjects and adults to transition from other fields into technology. Then, once women gain employment in the technology industry, we must find ways to keep them there!

In Adelaide we are blessed to have a burgeoning cyber security sector, the Australian Space Agency headquarters and a future nuclear technology industry. If we’re going to have the workforce we need to be globally competitive in these areas, we must encourage and support women in technology.

women in technology
image: Microsoft stock image

Girls can't be what they can't see. Unfortunately, film, television and social media portray technology workers as men, with common stereotypes such as hackers being young men wearing hoodies! We must promote representation of women in technology in the media, shifting subconscious biases that have people assuming technology is a man’s world. And jobs in the technology industry aren't just the geeky data scientists, programmers, and software architects. We also need business analysts, human resources, marketing, sales people, managers, entrepreneurs and consultants.

I am proud to be one of the founding members of HerTechPath, which helps girls to see what they can be. HerTechPath offers programs for high schools, educators, parents and workplaces to support awareness and understanding of the diversity of incredible career opportunities available in technology. I volunteer my time, along with other HerTechPath members, to go to high schools and share our experiences and insights at high school workshops, as visible role models of women working in technology.

Encouraging girls in high school to take up a career in technology and perhaps study technology at university level is just the first step. Once women have completed study in STEM degrees, the Department of Industry, Science and Resources report shows that they are less likely than men to stay in the technology industry. If we’re going to improve the ratio of women to men in technology, we must support and encourage women to stick with their technology careers.

MTX group training
image: CRN news

Technology is a very fast-paced industry, with increasingly rapid changes. Unsurprisingly, women who take a career break to look after others find themselves quickly falling behind. It takes a lot of self-confidence to get back into a technical career after a break, and as women are notorious for imposter syndrome they often lack the courage to put themselves back into a technically demanding role.

Short-course education for transitioning into new areas of technology are another good way to encourage women to enter or re-enter the industry. One example of this is the technology training program run by MTX in its Adelaide headquarters. This training is designed to provide industry-relevant course materials and experiences to help participants accelerate their transition to the technology workforce.

Ten years ago I was on the president of another volunteer organisation, Women in Innovation and Technology. We provided encouraged women in technology through networking events, where we shared experiences and supported each other. Women in IT also ran mentoring programs for young women completing their final year of a university degree, providing them with the skills and confidence to start their career in technology.

Winnovation awards 2019
image: Women in Innovation

Celebrating success stories of women in technology is important, not just on International Women’s Day, but all year round. Women in IT has moved in new directions over the last 10 years and now runs an annual Winnovation awards program. This awards program showcases South Australia’s best female innovators, recognising women who are creating positive change and contributing to the state’s innovation economy.

baby Sonya Weiser and father
image: Weiser Australia Pty. Ltd.

Finally, we need a societal shift in attitude to be truly supportive of a diverse workforce of real people with responsibilities for other people in their lives. Times have changed since the 1960s when I was a baby! Women and men must take equal responsibility for care-giving of children, the disabled and elderly parents to allow women to have equal representation in the technology industry. One good thing that came out of the COVID pandemic has been that employers in the technology industry now understand that we can and do work just as effectively from home offices. This creates opportunities for flexible workforces, where we can get in a full day’s work but schedule it around care-giving that can be done by men and women alike. Workplace cultures that embrace gender equity support these flexible working conditions and support equal care-giving responsibilities for men and women alike.

Want to have a chat?

I hope this blog post has inspired you to support women in technology. If you’d like to talk further about anything I’ve written about, get in contact with me today, I’m always happy to meet and have a chat over a coffee.

Further reading

History made: Australian woman Katherine Bennell-Pegg to be trained as an astronaut by European Space Agency, 8 March 2023, Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources, available at: https://www.industry.gov.au/news/history-made-australian-woman-katherine-bennell-pegg-be-trained-astronaut-european-space-agency

Global SI MTX Group launches training program in Adelaide, 22 September 2021, Nico Arboleda, CRN News, available at: https://www.crn.com.au/news/global-si-mtx-group-launches-training-program-in-adelaide-570169

International Women’s Day: Innovation and technology for gender equality, 8 March 2023, United Nations, available at: https://unric.org/en/international-womens-day-2023/

IWD 2023: 26.7% of Women in Tech is not nearly enough, 8 March 2023, Lisa Johnston, Security Brief Australia, available at: https://securitybrief.com.au/story/iwd-2023-26-7-of-women-in-tech-is-not-nearly-enough

YouthSpark Microsoft, Make Whats Next, 2016, Microsoft, available at: https://youtu.be/XULvYM-MTbM

IWD 2023: Women disrupting tech – Leading the charge in innovation and inclusion, 8 March 2023, Deanjali Ghosh, IT Brief, available at: https://itbrief.com.au/story/iwd-2023-women-disrupting-tech-leading-the-charge-in-innovation-and-inclusion

Power on: How we can supercharge an equitable digital future, 24 February 2023, UN Women, available at: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/explainer/2023/02/power-on-how-we-can-supercharge-an-equitable-digital-future

Progress on the sustainable development goals – the gender snapshot 2022, UN Women, available at: https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-09/Progress-on-the-sustainable-development-goals-the-gender-snapshot-2022-en_0.pdf

Winnovation Awards 2019, Women in Innovation, available at: https://youtu.be/gC5LECaVk7I

Women in STEM: longitudinal and completion rate analysis, 20 September 2022, prepared by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources, available at: https://www.industry.gov.au/publications/women-stem-longitudinal-and-completion-rate-analysis

Sonya Weiser

Sonya Weiser

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