IWD 2021: Nintex director on challenging gender norms in IT
Comment from Nintex director for field marketing, Americas and Asia Pacific, Eileen Tan.
What does the IT industry need to do to attract more women in the years ahead?
One of the biggest challenges facing the IT industry is diversity and inclusion. While there has been some progress in accelerating gender equity in the workplace, there’s still a long way ahead towards achieving greater gender diversity in the technology talent ecosystem.
The industry needs to show more interest and provide pathways for women who want to enter the industry from a different field and change the criteria for a point of entry. At the same time, companies need to set the stage to help women acquire tech-related skills enabling them to develop a hybrid skillset, marrying their current skills with technology.
Many women right now don’t see themselves ending up in tech, so vendors and enterprises alike need to ensure that they have mentoring programs in place to enable women at all stages in their career to progress.
Both female and male mentors should be encouraged to support these programs. Such mentoring programs help ensure a pipeline of developing talent that will rise through the organisation to its highest levels. No one is self-made, and it’s working with others in this way that can ensure employees will reach their full potential.
What do IT companies need to do to ensure that more women have the opportunity to achieve senior leadership roles within their organisations?
Few people would disagree that there need to be more women in senior management roles within Australian tech companies. What’s less clear, however, is how this can be achieved.
While there has been some progress in recent years, there is still much work to be done. Much of the current situation can be attributed to organisational cultures. Having men at the top has been the case for so long, it’s become the norm. Unless purposeful steps are taken, the current status quo is unlikely to change any time soon.
In the technology industry, the situation is made more concerning by the struggle to attract women entering STEM studies. The reasons for this trend are somewhat unclear; however, the result is fewer women are graduating and accepting jobs within the sector. This, in turn, results in fewer women climbing the corporate ranks and accepting senior management roles.
Having support and recognition in place to support women to achieve senior leadership roles is critical. Parental leave policies and childcare support are also important. In many ways, the pandemic has forced tech companies to look at their diversity strategies, and we’ve possibly achieved more in one year than in the past ten years in recognising the need for more acceptance of working anytime, anywhere.
This should encourage more companies to be open to new ways of working and attract more women moving forward to join and remain in the industry for the long-term. As greater numbers of women attain senior management and board-level roles, they, in turn, will be able to help to nurture the next generation.
What is the role of government in attracting more women into STEM-based qualifications?
Governments, academia and the IT industry should work together to focus on the implications of not taking action to attract more women into STEM-based qualifications. Once we all understand the real-world problem we face, if we don’t take the issue seriously, we’ll be more likely to take the steps required to improve the circumstances.
Awareness weeks run by governments might be worthwhile, but they need to be augmented by other things. These could include targeted, government-funded advertising campaigns and campaigns funded by business that don’t contain a “sales” push. Scheduled to run throughout the year, they will help get the messages across to appeal to larger numbers of people.
As awareness increases over time, it might be worth establishing a commission that would fulfil a role similar to a road safety commission. This body could coordinate campaigns nationally to ensure messages were reaching as many people as possible throughout the year.
Just as safety messages like ‘wear a seatbelt’ and health messages like ‘give up smoking’ took years to become mainstream, perhaps ongoing messages to facilitate interest in STEM-skills might just benefit the community as a whole.
What can women do to support themselves and their peers to drive a more diverse and inclusive IT industry in Australia?
I feel we still have a long way to go, but I prefer to focus very much on the positive and building on what we have done to date rather than looking back and thinking that we haven’t come very far.
Each and every one of us has a role to play in making sure the diversity challenge is addressed bit by bit. The best team is a diverse one — the richness of differing values, varying backgrounds, and a wide range of experiences adds to a more well-rounded outcome for a company, and you’re able to be more collaborative and supportive.
How do we get more women interested in tech?
As a first step, the idea that there’s a diverse range of interesting potential careers within IT should be planted as early as primary school. Many students in early grades are already involved in coding classes, but very few would associate this with a prospective long-term job path. Both teachers and parents should be setting the context for why they are coding and explaining that it could lead to something much bigger in their futures.
There’s no question that the efforts required to achieve diversity are worth it. When you consider the world of the future, where there will be increasing usage of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, having half the population underrepresented will mean many of the potential benefits may not be realised. Let’s take steps today to address the issue.