Women in IT: Govt action only part of the solution


blog There’s already been quite a lot of debate on Delimiter regarding Labor’s election promise yesterday to devote $4.5 million towards a grants program to promote, encourage and inspire more Australian girls to learn coding. Some Delimiter readers believe such a move is discriminatory, given there doesn’t seem to be many barriers to entry to women entering the IT workforce at the moment, while others believe it’s a positive step which will help shift the current unequal gender balance in the sector.

Yet another view comes from respected technology journalist Claire Connelly, who believes Government should be part of the solution, but notably not the whole solution, to the issue. Connelly writes in a stirring piece for The Age (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“The problem with government-imposed affirmative action is that it adds to an already growing hostility between genders and creeds, and in this country we can’t afford to have more of that. When companies adopt diversity quotas they do it with a better intention than if one was just imposed on them. Diversity quotas should be the sign of a competitive workplace. The numbers prove it.”

I wrote yesterday that I was supportive of the policy announced by Labor. And that still represents my personal view on the issue.

However, thinking about the issue today, following the past 24 hours of debate, I think the most appropriate position for me to take on this topic in general on an ongoing basis is to leave the debate to others.

From my point of view, although this is an important policy debate, and I am glad that we are having this debate on Delimiter, I don’t personally want to weigh in too heavily into it. The reason is pretty basic: I am male, not female, and I don’t feel that it’s my place to shape policy for women or to preach to women how they should engage with the IT sector.

Just as I don’t think you can have a Minister for Women that’s a man, I don’t think male technology commentators should be shaping policy on female engagement with IT. That would seem to be common sense. There are real and subtle differences between the sexes that shape how we engage with any topic, and this topic is one that I feel only women (and probably the transgendered) can truly have insight into.

That’s why I’m glad that we have strong voices such as Connelly talking about this issue. If I could say anything about this debate, it would be to encourage more women to get involved in it. That would have the effect of pushing the debate forward, and placing it in the right context, but also of helping to educate men about the distinct challenges women face in the IT workforce. That would be useful for all of us.


  1. The reason is pretty basic: I am male, not female, and I don’t feel that it’s my place to shape policy for women or to preach to women how they should engage with the IT sector.
    Which is just a ridiculous statement.

    The assumption being there has to be a specific policy for women because they’re women.

    Comments section from article, Nigel & Sounda pretty much nailed it.

    • “The assumption being there has to be a specific policy for women because they’re women.”

      Hey mate,

      If an interest group representing 50 percent of the population wants something, why shouldn’t it have it? That’s a pretty massive constituency. It’s half the country.

      If I represented that large a constituency on a certain issue, I would be damn sure that I was getting what I want. There are much smaller constituencies which get a lot more in this country, I can assure you.

      • If an interest group representing 50 percent of the population wants something, why shouldn’t it have it?

        They CAN have it. My point is there doesn’t need to be gender specific policies. The opportunities are there for everyone regardless of gender. All you have to do is say “this is what I want to do with my life”. If women are not interested in particular sectors that is their choice (they have agency just like men, it’s 2015). Government policies should NOT be gender specific.

        I don’t think male technology commentators should be shaping policy on female engagement with IT

        OK, noted, from now on I now identify as a female. Please use my preferred pronouns when referring to me, she, her etc.

        • Hubert
          Are you aware of the degree of sexual harassment in the IT industry? Or to be a bit broader, it’s a “blokey, macho thing” that’s in engineering jobs in general. Put it this way. I’m a guy [obvious] and I wouldn’t go into an engineering or IT job because the blokey crap towards women would put ME off. The worst is at IT conferences where female programmers get hit on etc. That is disgusting.

          • As someone who has been in IT for over fifteen years across a range of companies and roles, I can assure you it is the least “blokey” environment I’ve ever been in.

          • Sexual harassment, sexism, misogyny are all different things. Conflating them does not help the discussion. I’m here to talk about government policies. If you want to talk about sexual harassment you can find someone else to have that discussion with.

          • Gotta say 30 years IT and engineering jobs, never seen this “blokey crap” you’re talking about. The main proponent of “blokey crap” has invariably been the sales departments of any companies I’ve worked for.
            “The worst is at IT conferences where female programmers get hit on etc. That is disgusting.”
            What conferences are these? I’ve been to conferences all over the world and never seen this.
            “I wouldn’t go into an engineering or IT job because the blokey crap towards women would put ME off”
            Ahh, you don’t actually work in this area, you just flinging mud from afar.

          • I’ve seen the “blokey crap” in engineering workplaces. Not from the engineers, who were generally a bit more grown up about it (we all had female students in our uni classes, and they generally did very well), but from the blue-collar crowd they worked with.

            The worst example I saw was the office in a workshop owned by a major international mining company, which was literally wallpapered with centrefolds, and the attitudes matched.

            I’ve not encountered this “blokey crap” in any professional office I’ve worked in, including the engineering offices of the abovementioned mine.

          • ” it’s a “blokey, macho thing” that’s in engineering jobs in general.”
            Excuse my frankness, but I don’t believe you have any f’ing idea what you’re talking about at all.

            [Citation Needed]. Desperately.

          • “I’m a guy [obvious] and I wouldn’t go into an engineering or IT job”

            So you’ve actually no idea because you don’t actually work in our area’s. This is the kind of BS that puts women of working in STEM. The false propaganda that’s bandied about.

            Sorry Andrew but I’m agreeing with JCL here.

            15+ years for me and I’ve not encountered any blokieness in the programming or IT areas (that is in companies ranging from 4 -1000’s of employees).

            I won’t say it never happens but I’d say we have as much an issue with gender bias than any other area of a company. Possibly less as machismo and tech really are at opposing poles. The only physical attributes that matter as far as Tech is concerned is your brain and passion for the genre (and possibly how well you can type)!

            “The worst is at IT conferences where female programmers get hit on etc. That is disgusting.”

            Are you talking about gaming conventions or something similar (and hence completely out of scope here)?

            because I doubt you’ve been to an actual professional IT conference? I’ve been too Science, Medical, IT, Education conferences (joys of being a programmer I need to be a subject matter expert in any field I work for) and they all pretty well act like the professionals they are in a very similar manner. If the Females wish to say different then fine I’ll stand corrected but at least then it’ll be from someone who’s attended and experienced it (and not residing in an armchair)!

    • hey HC,

      can you please reduce your tone a bit? There are probably better ways of making the points you’re making … the first rule of Delimiter is don’t talk about … no wait, that’s Fight Club!

      The first rule of Delimiter is ‘be polite’ ;)

      • I thought my response was very polite. I was drinking a very cool beverage with lime juice and thinking about that dog food commercial with the office puppy in it when I wrote it. Tone is hard to gauge over the internet, perhaps you just misinterpreted it.

        • “perhaps you just misinterpreted it”

          Or perhaps I have a decade of experience administering reader comments and you should heed my gentle warning :)

      • “The first rule of Delimiter is ‘be polite’ ;)”
        Is there another delimiter?

        There’s zero barriers to women in IT, most companies actively encourage them. If you want to discrimate based on sex then try levy that sex to pay for it and see how well that goes down.

        • Nice Richard… Typical blinders on financial response. Ignoring all the benefits and penalties that haven’t been quantified at a dollar cost.

          Well as long as we are on that, shall we discuss the discrepancy of salaries between men and women. Because I think if we are talking about paying for it, then Women have already paid their fair share, by giving the corporates WAY too much of a free ride for so long.

          • @w all benefits and penalities can be quantified, typically as a dollar value. Whithout such your remain in the relm of mysticism.

            Having employed a number of women in IT roles I don’t see the deparity in wages. If you compare IT salaries (high value) with many typically female dominated positions the average is skewed. But what barriers specifically are you talking about?

            The last decade has seen a revolution in IT. Inexpensive hardware combined with zero cost development and deployment middleware & RDBMS have meant anyone can grab a copy and develop whatever they like. Public cloud infrastructure has smashed cost of deployment offering near infinite capacity as pay-as-you-go. That few people have the skills / knowledge required to commericalise ideas is not anyones fault but their genes (can’t do much about that) and/or lack of application. Life isn’t easy, the lack of appreciation for such knowledge does not change this reality.

          • Have to say I totally agree with Richard here (a very rare occurrence!)

            There are plenty of Youtube videos debunking the wage gap myth too btw.

          • “shall we discuss the discrepancy of salaries between men and women. ”
            You mean how women, when compared to men in the same or like-for-like field, typically earn $1.00 for every 70c men earn?

            Are you just bandying a popular false narrative or have you actually done any (non-biased) research on the topic recently?

            Last I checked gender discrimination in the workforce was illegal and has been for decades. This narrative has been debunked so often it’s now making people look extremely foolish to even bring it up.

  2. There’s a couple of things I think you could do:

    When choosing whether or not to cover a story, you could give some “affirmative coverage” to stories involving women, LGBTI, racial minorities, etc.

    You could also share your platform – a guest column every now and then could give someone a bit of exposure, and increase the variety of points of view you offer.

  3. I’m very confused. Just because a policy targets women doesn’t mean only women are effected, and just because women are roughly half the population doesn’t mean all of them will be effected by this.

    Like it or not the world of employment is a competitive place. Arbitrarily giving one group a competitive advantage effects everyone.

  4. Renai, while I don’t blame you for instinctively steering clear of this hornet’s nest, perhaps a better response would be to express your views on the matter, as informed by both evidence-based policy (if any) AND female views on the issue.

    Increasing gender equality is something both women AND men need to get involved in if we want it to happen, and it comes down to mutual respect when responding to a problem. We don’t have to agree that government involvement is necessary, but diverse, sensible voices need to be heard so that policymakers can make an informed decision about what to do.

    Personally, I would like to see more evidence that quotas work. As noted by Hubert Cumberdale, there are few barriers actively stopping women from entering the IT industry. Ultimately, it comes down to a pervasive cultural view (shared by both men and women) that IT is a nerdy, masculine profession.

    The same problem occurs in the teaching sector (which I studied for a time) – there are endless calls for more male teachers, but men that try to enter the industry can receive pretty poor treatment based on widespread views about the suitability of men looking after kids, or having the necessary ‘caring’ personality that people think is required to teach.

    Connelly is part-right about government quotas only going so far to increase gender diversity in IT. However, she and many other commentators fail to explain how Australian men (and women) are to overcome the stereotypes about STEM careers, and entice more women to voluntarily enter these industries.

  5. Given that every IT related job I’ve had (with the exception of the small business I currently work for, owned and run by brothers) has had a woman in a high end managerial position, including one in a call centre that had over 200 staff and of all the Team Leaders a whopping three were male, I’m pretty certain any challenges women face in this sector are self-imposed.

    Some more debate from people actually in the IT sector would be nice, I didn’t see a lot of evidence of that in the other article thread. Of course, since apparently women IN IT are non-existent any input from women looking into IT or decided in the past it wasn’t going to be for them for whatever reason would be highly welcomed – and I think I speak for everyone when I say this.

  6. I agree with the Minister for Women should be female, and that there are very rare occurrences where gender needs to be made an issue, but generally speaking, when you specify a gender, you are being discriminatory, and therefore defeating the whole point of equality.

    There hasn’t been an actual barrier for girls to learn programming in high school, since there were a couple of girls in my class, in 1995. There were 3 or 4 (out of maybe 20) in my TAFE class in 1998.

    The problem isn’t necessarily the industry, but the preconceived ideas that people have about the industry… or maybe just the fact that girls would rather be doing something else with their time.

    • I’d like to mention that I wasn’t able to take software development and design for my HSC (about 8 years ago) because we didn’t have the numbers to open a class (only 2 others were interested) :( I was only able to do IPT. I went to a girls school, yeah no one cared for IT. It’s strange, loads of girls did a science subject so there is interest in science but then ultimately not many girls went on to do a science based degree at uni.

      Anyway, these days theres so many resources out there, who needs SDD?

      • Ok I find this interesting. When I went to school(graduated 93) we didn’t have a computing type course at all. I did a TAFE thing after school, and I remember there being a pretty solid mix of males and females in that class.

        When I went to Uni, it was the second year of them offering a pure “IT” course. Prior to that it was Maths and Computing. Numbers were massively down across the board. But whilst there were more men, there were still a lot of women. I don’t remember exact numbers but off the top of my head I can remember as many females as I can males.

        Since then I have worked in a variety of environments, alumina refinery, Govt owned Railway company, IT outsourcing company(supporting state govt), EPCM, and now a Coal Miner. Honestly, the Coal miner has probably been the least representative of females, and that I think is more a matter of timing than anything else. With the recent low coal price, the company has been making redundancies, and the areas that are taking a hit are the SAP programming areas. So we are down to 2 in our team of 16. But every other company has had probably a third of our staff being female. In at least 3 of them females held various levels of management roles, across Helpdesk/Server/Client management. In fact the one area that probably was least represented was the desktop support areas. In them we always seemed to “lack” females. with only at most 1 in 10 or so. All the programming areas were where most of the females were, and in them the numbers were probably closer to 4 out of 10. Before the redundancies, our SAP area had 5 females to 4 males.

        I don’t know if I have just been fortunate, but I haven’t experienced the wholesale sexism and harassment that so many seem to talk about. It has happened of course, but generally it was a one off type situation that resulted in an informal correction, and then it stopped. Only once did I see it go further, and that resulted in the firing of the individual.(who had been using a server to store a copy of his US based porn server, I am not joking about that).

        • Your comment is also really interesting. I went to uni to do a B. IT straight after high school and I could count the amount of girls doing the same/v similar degree as myself with one hand (those of whom who started the same time as me).

          As you can probably tell with my time line and such, I’m still young, so I’ll mention that I’ve only had one job since I graduated. I’m in development now, and it’s exactly the same thing – I can count the number of female developers with one hand. I’d say there’s about 50 developers in total. We do have many females on our floor so at first glance, it does look out our department is very diverse, but they are all testers.

          I can’t really speak for the sexism claims and so forth in the industry as I have only had one job and it is one where I don’t feel like that’s ever happened to me at all but I would attribute that to being fortunate to work in a company that’s a bit laidback (despite being a corporate) and therefore the people have mostly been polite and helpful. I have worked in other areas of the company though (short stint, not development though) and I have witnessed the whole ‘boys club’ thing going on, so I would say that would be one of my biggest fears.

          The poor female to male gender ratio at my workplace doesn’t bother me that much because it is what it is. Females just aren’t interested in IT and enforcing quotas isn’t going to change that. Encouraging girls to code from a young age is nice but honestly, with the ways things are going (increase of offshoring), what’s the point? In my point of view we should just broaden that and try to get girls interested in science/engineering careers. Not sure how and again, with the way things are going, there’s no jobs anyway….

          • Thanks for your input!

            “Females just aren’t interested in IT and enforcing quotas isn’t going to change that.”
            In fact, enforced quotas can only cause long term problems as I see it.

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