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IWD 2021: Zscaler manager on how to get more women into Australia's IT industry

05 Mar 2021

Comment from Zscaler enterprise account manager Megan Peters.
 

What does the IT industry need to do to attract more women in the years ahead?

To me, it seems like a bit of a “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” situation. It’s likely unappealing for women to look into technical roles because there aren’t many of us in them, which can be intimidating. Far more often than not, I’m the only woman in my meetings. 

The IT industry would attract more women naturally if more role models were present, but we need progress to build that momentum. This can start with highlighting the success of other women and the career trajectories available. For example, I believe all tech companies should have mentor programs for female high school students who are starting to think about their careers and university studies to connect with women in IT, create work-shadow days for female students to shadow, and open female-prioritised internship roles. 

To get more women interested in tech, we need to connect them with other women, who they can relate to and help to propel and jumpstart their career trajectories from an early age.

What do IT companies need to do to ensure that more women have the opportunity to achieve senior leadership roles within their organisations?

A study from McKinsey & Co from 2004-2011 demonstrated a link between a company’s performance and the proportion of women serving on its governing board. It determined the reasons for this performance effect were that certain leadership behaviours typically adopted by women are critical to performing well in the post-crisis world. 

It starts from the top, since closing the gender gap in IT begins with hiring, but doesn’t end there. Leaders in the workplace who make a conscious effort to mentor, sponsor and promote more women, make a subsequent, long term impact. 

That same study also showed that women are more likely to hire or promote other women than men are. So, rather than just focus on overall employee split, or hiring rates, the long term, exponential value is in focusing on developing and propelling your strong female hires to senior positions within your organisation. 

Australia, in particular, still has a long way to go here, with just 31.2% of Australian organisations having a female on their board.

What is the role of government in attracting more women into STEM-based qualifications?

I think the government can play a hand in encouraging and attracting more women into STEM-based qualifications in similar ways they do with other diversity efforts and minority groups, including requirements around government or university sponsorship, credits or subsidies for women to enable and attract young women into these programs. 

They can also build requirements around hiring or promotion to senior leadership quotas to ensure there’s continued progress in closing the gender gap each year in order to impact the overall economy positively.

What can women do to support themselves and their peers drive a more diverse and inclusive IT industry in Australia?

Find a young woman within your organisation or elsewhere who you can offer to mentor. Women supporting women goes a long way, and we are a more powerful force together.

How do we get more women interested in tech?

Organisations can also approach hiring differently to create less bias. For example, making sure there’s a woman on every interview panel; making sure interviewing for “culture fit” is thrown out the window because it’s an old boys club mentality; and providing and promoting flexible work policies for women who are or want to be a parent eventually, so they don’t feel like they need to choose between career or family. 

It’s also imperative that men take a more significant role in Women in IT. Women in ‘company’ groups should not just be female only. Senior male leaders should join these clubs and meetings within their organisation to better manage, understand, and relate to women to better coach, develop, and manage them. 

There are linked statistics to hiring women and company performance, so there’s no reason companies today should not prioritise diversifying their organisations, and more specifically, their senior leadership roles.