Women in ICT: a competitive advantage in the making

| April 14, 2014

Female participation in the information and communications technology is very low compared to other industries. Sharryn Millican from Qlik explains why gender diversity is crucial in today’s business environment.

Much has been written about women in information and communications technology (ICT), with conversations often relating towards the low percentage of women who occupy the sector.

According to the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, women occupy only less than 20 percent of positions in the majority of ICT occupations.

Having built my career in a predominately male-dominated industry, I’ve often been quizzed on why so few women seem to be attracted to a career in IT. From both a personal and management perspective, and having also worked internationally, I believe that gender balance is critical for the effective and successful running of an organisation.

A great example can be seen with Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo!. Taking the helm of a company that is under immense pressure is no easy feat, but Marissa’s style and approach has seen her make Forbes Magazine history by being the only person to feature in all three of its annual lists. In 2013 Marissa was ranked tenth for business person of the year, eighth for the most powerful women and topped the list for the top 40 business stars under 40. While Yahoo! is a great illustration of how women can positively impact an IT company, I believe it is yet to be a fully tapped driver of competitive advantage here in Australia.

The Australian landscape

IT trends including cloud, Big Data and mobility are in full swing in the Australian marketplace, making the opportunities available within the sector vast. Despite this, employers are still struggling to foster the local skills required to manage these technologies and, as a result, are resorting to outsourcing technical positions overseas. Rather than look to hiring elsewhere, the industry should consider encouraging women to fill these roles locally. But that leads us to the question, how do we go about making the sector more appealing to women?

Ditching the perception

A key reason the ICT industry may not be attractive enough for women is due to the perception that it’s a man’s world – highly technical and traditionally male-dominated. But in reality, ICT is one of the most dynamic industries you can be a part of. It’s an open field, with many different paths to take of which not all have to be technical. Besides, who says women aren’t technically-inclined? It’s also not just for the ‘geeks’; it’s for the problem solvers, and people who have the ability to change the way society works.

A woman’s touch

So what can women offer to the industry? Well, naturally they bring a different voice to the table. Women are also often very good listeners and adept at building consensus in teams. They are strong in collaboration. Like men, women can also be highly analytical and results-driven.  In today’s business environment, gender diversity is not only needed to encourage fresh thinking and innovation, it can also help to make teams more cohesive. After all, teams that are well balanced perform at better levels than those that aren’t, which in turn, creates better business outcomes for all involved.

Encouraging diversity

In order to achieve diversity, workplace culture needs to be at the core of everything senior management does. The culture of an organisation is its heart and it needs to be built on a foundation of respect and trust, no matter the gender.

For example, should any of Qlik’s employees need to leave work early for personal reasons, I trust they will manage their work requirements. After all, research shows we are not necessarily motivated by financial reward but recognition that we are valued by our organisation. I find that there is a definite correlation between engagement levels and feelings of value. To achieve this, senior management need to develop business strategies that focus on respect, inclusion and the benefits of diversity in the workforce.

Moving forward

In the age of big data and innovation, the ICT industry is an exciting market ripe with opportunities for all regardless of gender. As the industry continues to expand, it’s important that younger generations are acquiring the right skills as to not further rely on the offshoring of jobs. A first step involves relinquishing the current perception that only men are suitable for the industry. Women and men are equal in terms of the skills needed to enter IT, there just needs to be a shift in how it is marketed towards women. Ultimately, I hope we can achieve an outcome that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg envisions: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

Sharryn Millican is Regional Vice President of Qlik Australia and New Zealand.