A key challenge for all nations as they strive for increased productivity and a higher standard of living is to harness the full potential of their entire citizenry. In this context, one of the most recognised and acknowledged gaps is in relation to gender. Essentially, we need to encourage greater participation by females in our workforce. Analysis by Goldman Sachs concludes that “closing the gap (between male and female employment rates) would boost the level of Australian GDP by 11%.” As Annabel Crabb suggests in her book “The Wife Drought”, this would be like adding another mining sector to the Australian economy.
Yet despite the considerable gains on offer, we as a nation are a long way short of where we need to be on the gender equality challenge, particularly in the ICT profession. Data presented in this paper shows that the gender pay gap across the economy is almost 19 per cent and in the ICT profession is around 20 per cent. Female participation in the national workforce is about 43 per cent, but in the ICT profession it is only 28 per cent. The percentage of women in management roles across the economy is only 36 per cent, with the data suggesting it is even lower in the ICT profession. And despite the widely acknowledged skills gap looming in digital technologies and ICT, enrolments and completions of ICT degrees and vocational qualifications have dropped significantly in recent years.
The immediate, short term challenge is to urgently address the barriers to greater female participation in the ICT workforce. Gender equality is clearly an important principle and must be pursued. But in an era of growing shortages of skilled ICT people, there are also compelling economic and national wealth reasons why we need to increase the number of professional ICT women. Moving the gender numbers and ratios in the right direction will require collaboration across relevant stakeholders and a genuine commitment by individual employers to implement practical and effective workplace initiatives. No single organisation can by itself orchestrate and deliver the quantum change needed. It will require a coalition of organisations and leaders working within an agreed strategy with clearly defined goals and targets. Many employers are making significant progress. And there are many groups advocating and urging changes in our workplace cultures, structures and governance. We need to more effectively harness this collective energy, knowledge and goodwill in order to create a wave of change across the entire economy of employers and professionals engaged in the practice of ICT.