Female tech entrepreneurs are a force to be reckoned with in the IT space—but this news gets little publicity compared to more shocking stories, like that of the James Damore brouhaha that erupted recently. Interestingly, Australia’s had its own recent moment of soul-searching over the paucity and treatment of women in the tech industry not too long before the Damore controversy.
It occurred after 500 Startups cofounder Dave McClure was revealed to have, in his own words, “made advances toward multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate” shortly after a visit to launch a Melbourne outpost. In response, many of this nation’s tech entrepreneurs—Susan Wu, Annie Parker, Atlanta Daniel, and Paul Bassat—signed an open letter, encouraging a “zero-tolerance policy to gendered harassment” and demanding action be taken over any “behaviour that makes women feel exploited, secondary or unwelcome.”
1. Take on the education system
If Australia’s universities are pumping out a disproportionately low number of female scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians (STEM), it’s unfair to sheet home all the blame regarding the sausage-fest state of the industry to employers. We’re getting into dangerously Damore-ish territory here.
But even if not as many women as men are interested in STEM, it seems likely that more are interested than is reflected in the current enrolment figures. Leeanne Enoch, Queensland’s Minister for Science, suggested that educators and industry figures do a better job of pointing out to female students how studying STEM will allow them to have an impact in STEM-related fields, like technology.
Fostering their desire to study in these areas will naturally open up avenues to join the industry—especially when recruiters see that blossoming talent applying for those positions! That’s a start, to say the least, but it’s a start that needs to be adopted as a standard to empower women in education—and beyond.
2. Reconfigure workplace mindsets
In this recent Fairfax article about the most influential female entrepreneurs of 2017, what kept coming up was not external structural barriers but perceptions. In particular, female tech entrepreneurs (in contrast to their male counterparts) tend to downplay their talents.
Jane Cay, founder of booming online clothing retailer Birdsnest, says, “I always had something that held me back and I thought ‘I’m not the smartest in my class, can I really start a business on my own?’ It was a case of realising you just have to try it.”
Ally Watson, founder of Code Like a Girl, mentioned doing public appearances to demonstrate that girls can—and do—code. “I’m all about breaking down any barriers people might have about technology. I’m probably the opposite of what you’d imagine a programmer to be—and I like that. I like to shatter those stereotypes.”
The number of high-profile female tech entrepreneurs and CEOs will continue to increase. As it does, the existence of more role models will encourage more women to throw their hats in the ring—all IT decision-makers need to band together to break down barriers and lead the way for tomorrow’s women in tech.
If you’re an IT decision-maker—male or female—you might want to consider (or reconsider) whether your business is doing enough to recruit women and develop them professionally. If you’re mentoring tech industry women, it’s worth asking yourself if you’re doing enough to build up the self-confidence of your proteges and push them to reach their full potential. And if you’re a woman in tech, it’s beyond time to show off your talent and parade it around a bit—both for your own sake and for that of your female colleagues. Men have had their time in the spotlight for long enough (too long, some might say!).
3. Stop being the only one in the room
Ally Watson launched female-focused tech events after getting sick of turning up to the conventional testosterone-sodden events as a highly visible minority. Many women (correctly) observe that tech is male-dominated and decide it’s not for them. One of the ways out of this chicken-and-egg conundrum is for tech entrepreneurs and senior managers—both male and female—to, like Watson, constantly push the message that there are many exciting opportunities available for women who want to make a mark in the tech industry. For instance, you should consider:
- Holding a sponsored women’s IT networking event
- Highlighting female role models, especially those in leadership positions, and the great work they’re doing
- Attending or hosting a hackathon and encouraging female computer programmers to lead or take part in the session
There are only a few ideas, but they represent a good place to start. Women are making big advances in the tech industry and beyond—particularly in Australia. For example, a 2015 Robert Half survey found Australian companies were outperforming their British, French, German, Japanese, Swiss, and Singaporean counterparts in employing women in IT positions. There’s good reason to believe a country that was a pioneer in giving women the vote early in the 20th century will also take a leading role in fostering more gender balance in the all-important tech industry in the early decades of the 21st century. And we can all be part of this change if we stand for what’s right and empower women in tech at every turn.