A couple of weeks ago I compiled SmartCompany’s annual listing of the 12 most influential people in the Australian technology industry. It’s a difficult task, and regardless of the criteria set, leads to agonising decisions as to who makes it on, and who doesn’t. As such, you can only be certain that the people who are happy with it are the 12 that make it on.
It was also noted fairly quickly however by Angela Priestley from Women’s Agenda that as a representation of Australian technology influencers, it was heavily weighted in favour of men, with only one woman, Telstra’s Catherine Livingstone, making the cut. This was an issue that I grappled with while compiling the list, and there were many female contenders who for one reason or another were eliminated. Suffice it to say, leaders such as Microsoft Australia’s Pip Marlow and Intel Australia’s Kate Burleigh were high in the list of contenders, but didn’t make the final 12. Angela has since compiled a comprehensive list of influential women in IT, which you can read by clicking here.
The lack of women in positions of influence in the Australian tech industry is – sadly – nothing new. And it is possibly getting worse. While it is great to see women running four of the local branches of powerful multinationals (Burleigh at Intel, Marlow at Microsoft, Angela Fox at Dell and Maile Carnegie at Google Australia) there are few running locally-domiciled tech companies. The start-up scene is also bereft of female leaders, and with the retirement of AMP CIO Lee Barnett, we lose one of the few remaining women in senior leadership roles in the user community.
The issue has also been thrust back into the spotlight recently thanks to several stories detailing the discrepancy between the pay earned by men and women in the industry for performing equivalent tasks – something that needs immediate correction.
The sad fact is that young women are simply not choosing technology-oriented degrees to the same extent as young men, and the result is a technical cadre which is heavily biased towards men. Thankfully the team at Digital Careers have taken up the challenge of trying to bring more women into IT, as part of their overall mission to raise student uptake of technology degrees. It is also true that many technology leaders have come into the industry from non-technical backgrounds, with finance being a common qualification amongst modern CIOs.
But the truth is, until we see greater representation of women in IT, we are never going to have an IT industry that is as strong as it should be.
Technology is a rich and rewarding industry to work in. It is fast paced, pays comparatively well, and provides a wealth of opportunity for personal and professional development. And with technology so thoroughly embedded into our lives, its importance within society is surely only going to rise.
The importance of the technology industry to Australia is also hard to dispute. Which should be a worry to us all, when as an industry we are barely tapping into more than half the available talent.