Pay gap, lack of role models to blame for ICT gender imbalance in Australia

December 6, 2012 at 8:37 am 5 comments

It’s an interesting set of claims in Australia to explain the lack of women in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in this article. I’m wondering about the notion of “role model” and how it plays a role in this story. Do you think that young women see the senior management in ICT companies? Do high school or college students know what the gender split is in the companies that might employ them?

When we introduced Media Computation, I thought that it would play a role in recruitment. Over 50% of students in Liberal Arts, Architecture, and Business would withdraw or fail the required CS course before we created Media Computation. Now that we have a CS course that 85% of those students pass each semester, that should draw in more students, shouldn’t it? We looked, but never saw evidence of that. There’s just not much of a feedback mechanism from undergraduate back to high school.

I do believe that the lack of women in upper management can be a deterrent to other women. “Unlocking the Clubhouse” talked about the phenomenon of women entering CS classes, seeing no other women, and wondering, “Do I belong here?” I expect that the lack of women in ICT management sends a signal to other women, “People like you don’t belong.” But I wonder if that signal reaches all the way down to high school or college.

The pay gap between women and men in IT and the lack of senior female role models are the main reasons why young women are not taking up a career in ICT, according to Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).

Speaking ahead of an address to the VMWare Women in IT event in Sydney today, EOWA director Helen Conway used the research from the 2012 Remuneration Survey conducted by the Australian Computer Society to show how serious an issue the gender pay gap is in the industry. She said the research found that men in ICT earn, on average, 9.8 per cent more than women, even though women entering the industry start on comparable or slightly higher salaries.

With not enough women entering the industry, Conway said this has resulted in a lack of senior role models for young women to look up to, which further contributes to the problem of young women not thinking of IT as a suitable career choice.

via Pay gap, lack of role models to blame for ICT gender imbalance: EOWA – gender diversity, IT careers, ICT careers, Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA). – CIO.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cecily  |  December 6, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I don’t believe pay gap or role models really plays any kind of role at all in recruitment, especially from top-career positions all the way down to young women. I don’t think young women look at the news and notice “Oh there aren’t any female CEOs and there is a huge pay gap, so I am not going to study CS”. I do think that family role models make a huge difference as do exposure to the field; a person who has written some code, any code, has a huge advantage over someone who hasn’t. If you can write a loop that helps more. You are more likely to have this exposure as a girl if you have it through a supportive family member. (Boys probably get more through things like classes and scouts.) I also think role models play a big role in retention; I have been at universities with women faculty and universities without, and those with female faculty seem to do better with retention. I also think role models need to have more in common than just gender; there needs to be some similarity with value system.

    For young girls, I think peers and high school teacher support are very important. I was lucky for grades 6-9 to be in an area where most of the girls wanted to go to a top-notch college, and I set a goal to do the same. When i got a year or two older and realized how much tuition could be at those schools, I decided to post-pone that goal until I was working on a much shorter masters degree, but that goal and the decision to eventually attend CMU can largely be traced to grades 6-9, even though I didn’t know what CMU was then. I was also lucky during that time period (grades 6-9) to have some fantastic science teachers, both male and female, who really took the time to honor and recognize and encourage my talent. There were some minor disappointments, but most of my peers and the teachers that I worked with were extremely encouraging, and science class was one of the few places where I felt at least a little valued.

  • 2. Recent College Grad  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:09 am

    As a recent college grad, I can definitely say it makes a difference to see women in upper management positions or venturing out to create their own companies.

    I remember in high school being inspired after reading about Leah Culver and in college discovering Jessica Mah as well as Jen Bonnett in the Atlanta startup community. Their presence made a difference. Earlier this week, I was watching a video about Dr. Sophie Vandebroek the CTO of Xerox who holds 12 patents and is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, a Fulbright Fellow and a Fellow of the Belgian-American Educational Foundation. Again, I felt myself inspired.

    Attending the Grace Hopper conferences during my undergraduate years served as a constant reminder that women do excel in Computer Science even when I was in an all male research group and attending (and winning) hack-a-thons that had very few women if any.

    However, I am also inspired when I read about Gates and Jobs as well as Sam Todo. Regardless of gender, I think as a person I am just as capable and seeing another person’s success in areas I am interested in motivates me. I don’t think “oh this person is a woman so now it is possible for me” or “well, he’s a man so he must be better equipped than I am”. If there are women represented that is great and can be inspiring, if they are not but there is something I want to do, I am going to do it. This isn’t to say there won’t be barriers that can be discouraging, but as you pursue what it is you are passionate about and strive for excellence you can work against many obstacles that come your way.

    For me, starting my own companies or initiative has given me the most freedom though there are risks that must be mitigated.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:21 am

      Joy, let’s make a comparison in terms of impact on high school and undergraduate women. Which has more of an impact: (1) female CEOs and other top-executives in technology companies or (2) you, as an undergraduate serial entrepreneur and winner of both a Fulbright and Rhodes Scholarship? I don’t disagree with you that females in upper management inspire you and other women like you, but is it more inspiring and have more an impact on others to see a “peer,” someone that they can imagine themselves being like? Not so many undergraduate and high school women will track the upper-ranks of management. But news of the effect of someone “like me” doing great may be more inspiring, have a greater impact.

      • 4. Recent College Grad  |  December 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm

        Short Answer: It depends.

        Long Answer:
        I agree seeing a peer has an immense impact. Leah Culver and Jessica Mah are young women like me. Seeing Leah start Pownce and Jessica start Indinero in their early twenties was/is inspiring :-). I was also inspired by Kevin Rose and other men in their twenties as well. On this front, I felt connected to them because I identified as a young “techpreneur”.

        …but am I any less inspired by Steve Jobs because he is less like me in some areas?…hard to measure…might I be an outlier…perhaps in someways…but I think I am the same in terms of being often perceived as an outsider in certain pursuits (computer science, entrepreneurship..)

        At the end of the day, how are we defining impact? If we are asking which role models attract more women, I believe having a mix of role models and mentors provides a richer view of what life can be (granted not everyone has this kind of access…can this be changed?).

        I am not denying the importance of having people you can identify with. Here is a link to a post I wrote when I realized this as it relates to computer science:

        Still, the importance of inspiration from peers in particular really hit home when I had the opportunity to give talks about my experiences. Students around my age …some younger… some older…. would say things like——–
        “Wow, I didn’t know I could do that, but seeing you inspires me” —— When I was working in California, I would go on outreach trips because at 21 I was someone the students could relate to according to the organizers.

        With the speaker series I will be doing in Zambia for high school students we are reaching out to African/Zambian role models because, yes, connecting with someone you can relate to does make certain things seem more accessible…more attainable –especially when those role models have similar experiences. I push to have gender balance as well so the students have exposure to variety.

        This is as well and good, but there seems to be an assumption that my role model has to be like me on the exterior which is a notion that intrigues me. The exterior could indicate but doesn’t necessarily dictate we have had similar experiences or share a bond beyond that.

        You and I aren’t very similar on the surface, but I can identify with you because I see the passion you put into the things you care about.

        I find myself inspired by many people because their lives remind me that my dreams are also possible. I want to make it possible for others to also realize their dreams.

        Currently, I am exploring how to use media to impact the narratives that lead to alienating stereotypes provide more role models..more stories. As it relates to ICTs/IT/Computer Science we have a pervasive story wrapped in maleness.

        The following video illuminates the importance of narratives

        Just like Adiche states she didn’t know people like her could exist in literature because she had never seen herself portrayed, there are many women who don’t believe they can’t exist in our field because they don’t see themselves portrayed.

        Perhaps a high school or college student might see themselves in me more than Dr. Sophie Vandebroek and that has a wider impact, but how do we change the broader narrative of what it is to be a woman?

  • 5. katrinafalkner  |  December 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Perhaps it is not the direct influence of these role models on young women when making career choices, but the indirect influence that they may place on parents and career advisors?

    The lack of visible women in computer science areas can mean that parents and career advisors don’t see those career areas as female-friendly. These same people have a massive impact on the way that young women view potential careers, and whether they see them as a possibility.


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