Gender equality remains a focus for IT

While the gaps between a range of gender issues in the workplace are improving, there are some that still remain. How can this change?gender

While the technology the IT industry relies on is rapidly evolving, some of the practices essential to fostering a diverse workforce aren’t matching this pace.

The drive for gender equality in IT – and the workforce in general – is still developing, as a range of organisations and influential people seek to promote change. However, there is no simple solution to these concerns. For the industry to truly foster diversity, its inhabitants need to encourage equal pay, opportunities for advancement and leadership representation.

For any changes to take effect, they need to be made at all levels of the career ladder, as everyone from school teachers to CEOs can influence the way people engage with the IT industry. Women should be encouraged to attain the skills necessary for IT success at a young age, an effort that could drastically alter the way the industry is perceived.

What’s the biggest barrier to equality?

The issue of gender pay equity is not unique to the IT industry, and has become a notable social issue that, while improving in some cases, hasn’t reached parity.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) recently released its annual report into the state of pay equality in Australia, which revealed there is still plenty of room for improvement across the workforce.

In positive news, the WGEA did report there has been some notable progress toward pay parity. Despite these efforts, however, the pay gap is still significant overall.

According to the WGEA, the total pay gap between men and women in Australia is currently at 24 per cent. The organisation bases this figure on the average salary for full-time workers, a number which also includes bonuses and superannuation.

In monetary terms, this results in women being paid over $27,000 less on average per year, a trend WGEA Director Libby Lyons says needs to change.

“It is eye-opening to see the scale of the gender equality challenge,” she said. “The data provides insights into where action is needed and a yardstick against which we can track progress.”

Management roles encourage diversity

In many cases, gender equality concerns are about much more than just money. In fact, by addressing some of gender imbalances in leadership roles, organisations stand a much better chance of bringing the gap closer or abolishing it entirely.

The WGEA also noted the current difference in leadership roles across Australia. According to its report, males dominate the C-Suite, holding a vast majority over their female colleagues.

Only 15.4 per cent of all CEO positions in Australia are held by women, representing an area that needs a concerted focus to reverse these trends. Despite the fact women make up around 48 per cent of the country’s workforce, just 27.4 per cent of key management positions are held by them.

Ms Lyons stated there are some positive trends emerging, as organisations become more aware of the issue and begin to adjust their practices accordingly.

“I’m encouraged to see pay gaps inching lower, women’s representation in leadership roles inching higher and leading employers start to dismantle the structural and cultural barriers to women and men’s equal participation at all levels of the workplace,” she said.

What can employers do to create change?

Employers and candidates alike have a range of options at their disposal to ensure they have the best chance of changing workplace culture for the better or simply increasing their own chances for success.

Most people will be aware of the positive influence mentors can have on the direction of their career. Whether it’s in the early stages to help people get a foot in the door, or later on to discover what’s required to succeed at a management level, this assistance is often essential.

The University of California investigated the role mentors play in career development, finding that they are more effective for women than men. The researchers discovered this is due to the fact that women gain more social capital within the workplace by being associated with senior mentors.

Assistant Professor Sameer Srivastava explained that being prepared for a promotion is about more than just having the necessary skills, as the researchers found in the organisation they studied.

“In this company, as in many other comparable companies, technical employees tended to build relatively small networks, mostly within their own groups,” he explained.

“Senior leadership believed that the people who did well in the organisation were those who had not only depth but also breadth of social capital.”

What else can change?

The Australian Human Rights Commission noted there are a range of barriers that also need to be overcome to create more inclusive working environments around Australia. These include a low representation in management positions, along with the pressures of balancing work and familial requirements.

Often, new mothers find it difficult to return to the workforce, and may have to make comprises between regarding their career or home life.

While there are positive trends that have been identified by a number of organisations, there’s still further work to be done to further reduce the gender imbalance in the industry.