Labor promises $4.5m to inspire women to learn coding


news The Australian Labor Party this morning announced that it would put $4.5 million towards a grants program to promote, encourage and inspire more Australian girls to learn coding, if it wins power in the upcoming Federal Election.

This morning, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and two of his parliamentary secretaries, Ed Husic and Terri Butler, attended a Code Club event in Sydney, which has seen the city’s Town Hall taken over by youngsters learning to code. Code Club is a network of coding clubs for Aussie kids aged 9–11.

The three MPs, along with Shadow Minister for Education Kate Ellis said in a statement that for Australia to succeed in the digital economy, the nation needed a workforce of young people with skills in computational thinking and computer science. “To ensure all Australians benefit, we must ensure more young women in particular are inspired to learn to code,” the four MPs said.

According to Labor, Australia will need an extra 100,000 people skilled in ICT by 2020 if the nation is to keep pace with rising demand. However, the party noted that in the last decade, the number of young women starting IT courses at university has fallen dramatically from 1 in 4 to 1 in 10.

“To improve rates of participation by women in technology jobs, we need to spark girls’ interest by starting early, highlighting role models and demonstrating diverse career paths,” the four MPs said.

Labor’s $4.5 million grants program will provide opportunities for girls to experience the creative side of ICT and challenge persistent stereotypes.

Organisations like Code Club Australia, Code Like a Girl, Robogals, Code Camp, Tech Girls Movement, CoderDojo and many others are already working on this area. A Labor Government would build on these programs by making grants of up to $150,000 available for projects run by organisations like these, enabling them to scale up their activities across the country and boost girls’ participation in computational training.

According to Labor, these grants will help facilitate more mentoring and access to role models, networking opportunities, train volunteer teachers and connect coding programs to schools building confidence in girls to take up further study, showcase their talent and immerse young women in technology businesses.

A focus of the program would be to ensure stronger partnerships with schools, skilled professionals as mentors, and tech companies who have shown leadership in this area like Telstra, Westpac, Google, Microsoft and Intel.

According to Labor, the announcement today is the latest in what the party believes is a “comprehensive plan to ensure all Australians benefit from the transition to the digital economy – to secure today’s jobs, tomorrow’s jobs and ensure that no one is left behind”.

Labor has also promised to promote promote the teaching of coding and computational thinking in every primary and secondary school in Australia; Boost the number of young Australians taking up science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses at university as well as upskill 25,000 teachers; Offer a Startup Year at university to young Australians looking to start their own enterprise; And attract the best entrepreneurial talent from around the world and help build Australia’s growing startup economy through two new visa categories.

Labor also plans to get startups to help solve government problems through Challenge Platforms and support startups to compete in government tenders; Generate the skills required for the emerging digital economy now through a National Digital Workforce Plan; Back in great ideas through co-investing in early stage and high potential companies through the $500 million Smart Investment Fund; and improve access to finance for micro-businesses through a partial guarantee scheme, Startup Finance.

Labor said its proposals have been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

The party said funding for the policy announced this morning would be offset by existing announcements Labor has made in making sure multinational companies pay their fair share of tax in Australia, reducing superannuation tax concessions and abolishing the Emissions Reduction Fund.

A solid announcement by Labor, and part of a string of good tech-related policies the party is coming up with. I support this initiative as announced this morning — we do need to change the culture of technology jobs as being a male-dominated field, and promote it strongly to women. What Labor is promising to do here is a good start.

Image credit: Terri Butler


  1. Nothing stopping women from learning coding, nothing ever has except their own bias against been considered a “geek” or “nerd”, but now in 2015 they need 4.5 million dollars worth of inspiration because of reasons.

    Honesty these types of articles are getting tiresome.

    Labor is just pandering as usual because that’s the trend and they watched a few episodes of “Big Bang Theory”.

    • Agreed. Nobody has ever outed any female for taking up programming except perhaps for females.

      Unless this $4.5m is going towards advertising campaigns informing/reminding women that girls can be geeks too it just stinks of gender discrimination, and a weak alternative to Turnbulls $100m to curb domestic violence (against women).

    • Modern sexism in action. You see it everywhere, females largely choose not to enter a certain field, so some sort of programme is introduced to give females a leg up. The people this usually benefits is the women who were already choosing to enter that field, so in the end they get a relatively easy ride.

    • Let’s assume you’re right (you aren’t) and this is unnecessary to get women involved in programming. Why is it so hard for you just to assume that women know what women need help with in this industry, rather than taking time to publicly deride something that has practically zero impact on how you go about your life and career?

      • I disagree with sexist and discriminatory policies. They affect everyone. Hope that helps.

    • I completely agree. I don’t see anyone spending $4.5m to get more men into primary teaching positions.

      • Well (a) you’re wrong about that – there have been many (funded) programs to encourage men to study primary teaching. And (b) surely you’d agree that a few million to address that massive gender imbalance would be money well-spent.

  2. When I went through Uni (Engineering degree) there was 4 females out of 400. 2 were ‘sponsored’ to try and get the %’s up and guess which two I hope to never encounter in my field? Plenty of males there that weren’t much use too don’t get me wrong but they weren’t cajoled and pushed into it they chose it (probably for equally wrong reasons). If nothing else you might waste 3-4 years of someones life after pushing them at things they don’t want to do. Worst case you can endanger lives.

    I’ve worked with Female coders and they have been awesome but they have a passion for it like their male counterparts and wanted to do it because they enjoyed it. I’m sorry but I don’t buy the whole we won’t consider it because its a ‘guys’ club … females just flat out don’t want to do my kind of work. Or they believe they can get paid better in another profession for doing something equally as ‘nerdy’ (law,finance,business). My sister did finance/banking and was earning far more straight out of uni than I was with several years under my belt.

    Schemes to push such gender specific things will cause more issues in schools than not. We had special female only classes in high school and that did more to divide the sexes than any chance it had of producing female mechanics or tech/electronic enthusiasts.

    If you want more females programming get more of them playing video games and start breaking down the ‘Nerd’ or ‘Geek’ mis/uncool images.

    • What makes you think that the two women who were sponsored were there because they didn’t want to? Maybe they thought they’d like engineering but then decided when people like you came along and said they’re not up to scratch, became discouraged and figured their time is better spent studying something where they won’t face a lifetime of intimidation and belittling simply because of their gender.

      • Because we talked about stuff like that, why we picked the course we did (in first year we were bunched with mechanical and civil as well in most subjects) what the various deals were with scholarships. Ways to save cash on fees/books (we got quite crafty towards the end) The whole get to know this new group we’re going to be spending the next 4 years with.

        I get the above doesn’t sound/read great gender wise but I don’t know how to explain it. They were great people but terrible ‘engineers’ and didn’t care either. I believe the first is simply due to the last (I don’t think its gender related at all … they could have been male and the incentives probably cause same issues). At the time none of us could have cared less either as students (we were students … we were more bummed that there wasn’t more females in the stream etc)

        Its only since hitting workforce and seeing what damage can be done by those that just don’t care or are pay-check robot’s (male or female) that pushing people into STEM when they really don’t care about it, sticks in my craw if you will.

        My point is you have to really careful about pushing people or making jobs sound so awesome (which I think the case in their regards) and throw $$ around to just fill the numbers even if those number aren’t there to be had.

        Starting early is far better than doing it late in the education process … just don’t discriminate one group against another in the process.

      • Or maybe their attitude stunk from probably practically the beginning and he noticed?

        He is allowed to be observant, you know, though I’m sure after saying that you’ll go on to call him a pervert.

  3. The creative side of ICT, eh? You want to get women interested in ICT by showing them an extensive Visio stencil collection then? Surely there’s a better way…

  4. The existing comments illustrate the toxic environments that have existed and still exist to discourage girls and women from entering these male dominated fields.

    STEM culture and certainly more specifically geek culture has a long way to go before it becomes welcoming to all genders – and these kind of programs are important first steps.

    • Do you see any initiatives designed to equalize the gender imbalance in nursing or social work? Why do you think that is? Each gender just chooses not to do certain things, it’s got nothing to do with an “unwelcoming toxic environment” or whatever other buzzwords you want to throw around.

    • yeah sure J, it’s us.

      I lost count of the times I was called a geek or nerd by female relatives because of my interest in technology. Indeed there is a “toxic environment” but not the one you’re thinking of, it’s not the one you’ve been fooled into thinking exists either.

      Geek culture doesn’t discriminate. It never has.

      Let me tell you who and what discriminates, it’s those who purport to be about equality but demand special treatment because of their gender, if you treat them equally they will claim misogyny and if you don’t they’ll call you a sexist.

      We know who they are, we know the labels they give themselves, we know the labels they give to others. Don’t you dare disagree with them that also makes you a sexist and misogynist.

      What is important is equality of the genders in IT, politics, STEM etc. Screw what individuals are interested in, must have 50/50 represented or patriarchy.

      But you never hear them call for equality for the dangerous and smelly jobs. Men can have those.

      You don’t hear them calling for equality in sectors where women dominate.

      I saw a Kmart TVC years ago, nothing but women in it (about 500 iirc) because apparently men don’t shop there, it was aimed at women because that is their main demographic.

      Complete silence, no one said it was sexist because when the main demographic is women you target your ads towards them. When men are your main demographic you have to target women because they are being overlooked.

      See how it works?

    • “and these kind of programs are important first steps.”

      Gender exclusive programs are never the answer. If its an issue split the classes into genders (like Phys Ed. generally is) but never exclude one over the other it will only worsen the situation because then someone is being treated unfairly based on gender which educates the impressionable that this is ok and acceptable.

  5. I’ve been to a few educational conferences where they reported that combining programming with robotics had a lot of success engaging kids in both area’s (wasn’t a sexist class and let both participate mind you).

  6. I have no idea if this $4.5m program will actually achieve anything, but it’s good to see someone in government at least acknowledging the fact that not having women involved in technology is a bad thing.

    Why is it a bad thing when a gender monoculture exists? You disenfranchise a whole gender from providing their ideas and input into these IT systems so vital to modern life. Having women involved in these systems makes sure that 50% of the population using them are comfortable with it. Without women you miss a whole point of view that can make these products better for everyone.

    It is stupid to have 50% of the population virtually invisible in such an important industry like technology. There’s no reason why a woman can’t do this stuff as good as a man. Literally 50% of the talent pool is avoiding it because of the disgusting state the industry is in. It’s so hard to enter a field where you’re the vast, vast, vast minority. You’re starting way behind because you were told as a kid that computers aren’t for girls then excluded by the boys at school because you’re not 100% familiar with their stupid “culture”.

    Who knows what technology genius will appear if we had greater female participation in IT. If we don’t encourage it and foster it, we won’t know and that genius will go undiscovered – a loss for all of us.

    If nothing else, why would I want to work in a room full of men? It’s gross and weird.

    • I strongly endorse Anthony’s comments. The poor representation of women in our field is bad for us, it’s bad for the products we create, and it’s bad for society as a whole.

      Any money spent to encourage more women to work with us, or to encourage us to create a culture that’s more welcoming, is a great investment.

      • I strongly endorse Anthony’s comments

        Well, only because he asked you back up his logical fallacies. Right?

    • @anthony
      “If nothing else, why would I want to work in a room full of men? It’s gross and weird.”

      Talk about talking up the bad and incorrect stereotypes there! Not helping!

      “Why is it a bad thing when a gender monoculture exists? You disenfranchise a whole gender from providing their ideas and input into these IT systems so vital to modern life. Having women involved in these systems makes sure that 50% of the population using them are comfortable with it. Without women you miss a whole point of view that can make these products better for everyone. ”

      Different perspectives definitely help!

      STEM dept’s at Uni have been trying to break this ‘divide’ down for 30+ years to no avail some have managed better than others. You get hammered with gender/social courses and work place dignity ad nauseum. There will always be bad workplaces but so far I’ve found that this magic ‘bloke/geek culture’ is a fantasy perpetuated by those on the outside.

    • “You disenfranchise a whole gender from providing their ideas and input into these IT systems so vital to modern life. Having women involved in these systems makes sure that 50% of the population using them are comfortable with it.”
      Yup, just like those completely niche iPhones which were designed by guys and obviously never used by women. Hell, the mere thought that the biggest market audience could be women is laughable.

      Ha. Ha ha! Ha. Well, you know what laughter sounds like.

      “If nothing else, why would I want to work in a room full of men? It’s gross and weird.”
      Oh, so you’re a sexist. I get it now.

  7. I’d prefer if they added “Programming” to the education curriculum so EVERYONE can learn it. It’s a FANTASTIC skill to have!

    In terms of people commenting, IT is so broad that there’s plenty of women in analyst, PM, testing roles etc. I’m not sure why everyone thinks there’s a dearth of women in such a big, accommodating industry.

    • I think tying programming with something like robotics (so its more than just sitting in front of a screen) can really help engage kids.

      pure programming can at times be somewhat stoic just on its own. a robot on screen turning left 3 times to turn right might not be as interesting as something almost falling of a table etc.

      • Delimiter’s audience is overwhelmingly male

        Because women are unwelcome or because women are not interested in tech news?

          • That’s not been my experience. I would agree that most “programmers” are male, but there’s a lot of analysts, PM’s, testers etc who aren’t.

          • Because most people who work in IT are male, at the moment.
            That is not in dispute. It is possible to not work in IT but have an interest in IT.

            So, all those women who do have an interest in IT who are supposedly so sacred of the tech sector so much that they refuse to go into this field are also so scared of the scary males that they wont even bother engaging in the conversations on a tech news site either???

          • “That is not in dispute. It is possible to not work in IT but have an interest in IT.”
            I think that is why there are so few women in IT, at least programming, it just doesn’t push their buttons to extent it does for guys. I’ve worked with some really good programmers and some really bad programmers. What the deciding factor is was how interested they were in programming and technology. It’s just one of those professions that it isn’t good to be mediocre, doing your degree and taking a job and have no interest in programming outside of that. If it’s not something you are interested and passionate about you just won’t be that good. Not every programming position needs someone with passion, but the work that doesn’t involve that sort of commitment is pretty soulless and boring.

  8. It’s not a man versus woman or one before the other discussion. It’s about inclusiveness, awareness and feeling confident enough because it’s apparently a choice. I can assure you that if awareness is made earlier, choice becomes likelier too.

    Young girls and young boys need role models of all diversities in all professions. You can’t be what you cant see. I started Rare Birds to create awareness. Open to all to participate as an aspiring entrepreneurs, established entrepreneurs or a supporter. I’ve highlighted both genders as role models but particular women entrepreneurs (tech as well) because when I went to my old Primary and High school in Sydney 2 years ago in Sydney (I am a serial entrepreneur who was curious about why there were more guys than women during my career as entrepreneurs) had a conversation with 30 school aged girls and young women between 8- 17years old about “Who they wanted to be and what they wanted to do later”. I wanted to see if what they were thinking was the same when I was that age. I was pretty horrified when these young women thought that being in business or being an entrepreneur was a man. Its the same in tech. They weren’t being sexist or mysoginist. They told me what they thought because of what they saw and what their environment gave them. Their parents were not business people mostly and they didnt know any entrepreneurs either male or female in Australia. They knew Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. Not a dingle Australian. I wish I asked if they knew any tech people and what that meant to them.

    This is a script in their heads about gender roles. Some will choose their own script in time. Most follow that of their parents or role models or the greatest visable influence in their journey. The script was changed when I met a male serial entrepreneur at 32 and found out for the first time who I wanted to be. He became a mentor and investor of my first company. That was unique. I know this because of the thousands, yes, thousands of entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to globally over 10 years.

    We can nfluence both genders to be role models for both genders in tech as long as the conversation is inclusive and doesnt start with a man versus woman script.

    For those who care, go back to your school and share your story and journey. So all kids can see the possibility of choice. I wish I’d had that while at school. So the scripted pathway of go to school, get a job, save for a house, get married, have 2 kids, get 2 dogs, buy 2 cars, inground pool in a good community wasn’t the only script I had. Luckily I chose a new path. Because I had a role model who emulated the pathway I wanted to walk. And never talked to me about man versus woman. Who talked to me about the behaviours of both and having great confidence helps in great choices, even though at times I absolutely was the only woman in the room. #ifshecanican

    • Yep so we have this stigma about STEM that its all “slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails” hence males need only apply.

      Being on the inside, I don’t believe that is something I see being particularly perpetuated by those inside either (we’re just plain boring ordinary and normal). We’re interested in a subset of things that a majority of the population are not (tech), we’ll include pretty well anyone with a similar interest without a thought to chromosomes.

      I think every ‘Geek’ will have encountered the glassy eye syndrome during a conversation and had to switch the topic away from Tech to something more general/mainstream (unless the intent is to put the convo partner to sleep).

      What I think we have is a very long running cultural problem that cannot be solved from the inside entirely but that has been were our only focus has been to date.

      (I still don’t ascribe to 1 gender only subjects inside normal schooling ever being an answer).

  9. I watched the piece on abc about this yesterday. I’ve been writing and speaking about this for two years ever since I won ICT woman of the year at the national Iawards (the IT industry’s main awards) in 2013, but frankly this seems like such a pathetic attempt at some votes ie ‘let’s jump on this because it’s so hot right now’. I don’t think they’ve got the angle right. The main missing piece is WHY women should be encouraged to enter into and climb the ranks in this industry full stop (not just to learn to code) and what the benefits could be. I’ve sat at the industry awards as a female and only 10% of the audience are female. And you get comments such as ‘who do you work for’. And sheer dismay when you indicate you run a tech company (or several). Then the category I was in didn’t even progress to the international level, though all the others did(!) and my understanding is they’ve taken it away since. As a female led company (I have a female business partner too) we actively try and recruit web developer who are female, plainly because diversity in any workplace and on any team is good. But they are few and far between to come by. I could rant for ages on the topic but better stop now! But there are many people who work tirelessly in this space for no reward who are making real changes in this space. This would be an easy won for the current government to extinguish. Just start supporting them now. Though I also agree with Malcolm Turnbulls comments yesterday that the Government are ‘not an ATM machine’. There’s lots of ways support can be given, which are not just financial. More:

    • Wait a minute: “As a female led company (I have a female business partner too) we actively try and recruit web developer who are female”

      I don’t even know what to say to that.

      • You could say it is sexist and discriminatory but I suspect as a male that option is not available to you and pointing out the obvious is forbidden. If you want the privilege to be able to hire applicants that match your own gender and to be able to do it so blatantly with impunity you must be female.

        • Its only ‘actively try and recruit’ folks… not the end of the world is nigh and its an exclusive club.

          I understand your point but its not like Yvette is saying she never employs males (although I’d be interested in the % breakdown to see how close to the supposed ideal 50% it is).

          • Yes, I understand your point too, I was just trying to illustrate the reverse would not be tolerated at all regardless of numbers.

  10. You people bleating about how this is sexist and women choose not to enter this industry are the actual problem you know.

    Well, no, clearly you don’t know. Which is also the problem.

    • Or we’re just fed up being blamed for having a Y chromosome and liking Technology.

      Do you have any idea how much ‘crap’ or concern one will get if you try and label yourself as a ‘Geek’?

      If you don’t like Tech I won’t talk to you about it if you do great we’ll probably wax lyrical about things most won’t and don’t care to understand (and gender really doesn’t matter).

      Same deal I imagine for Lawyers or accountants that talk shop etc.

  11. A lot of unnecessary angst here.
    There’s no deep meaning in this initiative.
    It’s just politics.

    • But its politics which might cause more harm than good (ie create a divide rather than close one).

  12. Ok so all this to and fro has got me thinking.

    Is there an industry out there that has gender equality? Somewhere with near enough to 40-50% participation from both sides of the gender divide?

    We can both show extreme’s for near 100% of one or the other but has anywhere ever yet made it to parity?

      • Absolutely Justin. Some FACTS would be good. The ABS stats are reliable but the more widely distributed stats that WGEA pushes, well, a 1st year stats student could drive a bus through. These rely on “self reporting” and 76% of companies don’t respond. It makes one wonder why? Cherry picking?

        Using their methodology, most men in the public service are paid 50c to 70c to a woman’s dollar but you can bet that they would never report that. For example Department of Human services (~70% women) would NEVER take on a gender equality strategy in the way the male dominated departments have (Defence 50:50, CSIRO).

        This lack of self awareness, humility and empathy from the “fairer sex” is simply astounding.

        I think it’s clear from this link what the intended gender make up is:

        What ever happened to leadership by example?

        Take the red pill.

      • Very interesting.

        Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services: 79% men vs 21% women
        Mining: 84% men vs 16% women
        Construction: 89% men vs 11% women

        I’m sure those that purport to be all about equality will be addressing the gender imbalance in these industries one day.

  13. There’s a few discussions going on here:

    1) Is there a problem with diversity in tech? Yes.
    2) Should the government be the one to fund the change? No. (Depends on political views.)
    3) Do initiatives like these really effect change? We need more data over time.
    4) Is tech as siloed as it once was? No. Technical competence is needed in every job now. From media to science, finance to small business. It’s no longer a choice. It’s basic literacy for today and the future.

    All in all, I think children of all genders and ages should be given a solid technical education.

    Tech culture is mainstreaming and we’ll see the negative nuances go away with this.

    From a practical level, in the US, hacker schools and meetups like Hackbright and Girl Develop It are teaching females to code. These are two of many grassroots organizations doing good work that are growing through employer partnerships and corporate sponsorships.

    I’ve built two tech companies now and agree with Jo about the importance of role models and seeing yourself in someone. People like Cathy Edwards, CTO of Chomp need to be highlighted more. Events like SydStart shouldn’t launch with an all-male line-up when there’s a bunch of brilliant female founders out there with much to share. Having a bit of empathy, awareness and perspective makes a huge difference.

    All in all, I’m really happy with the progress in the Aussie tech space – it’s certainly a lot more welcoming than it was years ago. Keep it up. :)

    • There’s a few discussions going on here:

      1) Is there a problem with diversity in tech? Yes.

      I’ll just discuss this one then.

      I think the assumption here is that a lack of diversity is considered a problem when in reality competent people of both genders don’t care who they are working with and are just getting on with their jobs and not worrying about the numbers because they are irrelevant.

      Look at it another way, if I said there was problem with diversity in nursing because there are more women than men most people would find that laughable. If said something like “It’s a girls club, that’s why men avoid it” when there is nothing actually stopping men from doing it people would find that absurd. Regardless more women choose nursing and less men choose it because they are interested in other things (Tech perhaps???) Yet we don’t go around saying there is a diversity problem in nursing. We don’t say it because men have agency and we know this because rather than saying “Men are prevented from doing nursing for reasons x, y and z” we say “That is their choice not to do nursing”. Women have just as much agency as men, I think it is extremely condescending and misogynistic to assume they don’t.

      Sidenote: I think this is the same social phenomena that results in people asking “Who/what made her do it?” when a women commits a murder vs a man when people just accept “He killed them, he is responsible”, the general assumption is men have agency women do not.

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