Working towards better gender balance

Today is International Women’s Day and the theme this year is ‘Balance for Better’. Our CEO, Randall Brugeaud talks through what the DTA is doing to improve the gender balance in the government’s ICT workforce.

A grid of DTA staff with their hands in a balance pose.

When I first started working in ICT around 30 years ago, there was only a very small proportion of women in my teams or the sector more broadly. This was not unusual. From the late 1990s through to around the mid-2000s only around 16% of ICT professionals identified as female. Things have changed a lot since then, right? Well, perhaps not as much as we might have hoped.

Recent data released by the Australian Computing Society shows that only 28% of ICT workers in Australia identify as female, compared to 45% in all other professional industries. In 20 years, the proportion of female ICT workers has gone from 16% to 28%.

Worse still, women who work in traditionally male-dominated industries are more likely to face unconscious bias in the workplace. The 2018 Women in STEM Professions Survey Report shows that 51.3% of women reported being directly discriminated against on the basis of gender during the course of their employment. This discrimination appears in different ways, like being less likely to be listened to when giving technical advice, being sexually harassed, being prevented from undertaking training and professional development due to working part-time or simply missing out on a role or promotion because of their gender.  

This isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for the digital and ICT industries, the products and services they design and build, and the end users of those products.

The Australian Public Service (APS) is doing better, at least in the number of women working in ICT, than the sector as a whole. Around 35% of ICT workers in the APS identify as female. I’m proud to report that the DTA has the balance about right, with 56% of our predominantly digital workforce identifying as female. But, we don’t get a free pass just because the numbers balance out. We, along with most organisations, must be vigilant in making sure women have equitable and balanced experiences in the workplace.

So, what can we all do to push for better balance?

A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested a few ways to bridge the gender divide in the digital sector:

  • Foster female role models in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)
  • Inform working women about training opportunities to encourage participation
  • Establish awards and prizes enhancing the visibility of women in STEM and in high-technology sectors
  • Encourage greater female enrolment in STEM education and in high technology sectors that require STEM degrees

The benefits of narrowing the gender divide are significant. Diversity brings both social and economic value and is critical to Australia’s digital future.

The DTA is running a series of initiatives designed to support women and female-identifying persons working in digital roles across the APS.

A network for women working in digital

It’s not easy to work in an industry where you can’t see yourself in the people around you. We want to create a platform for women to come together and solve problems, provide support, share opportunities, connect with industry, socialise and network.

We will be partnering with organisations to develop a series of events aimed at different levels of APS staff, featuring key speakers from across government and industry. The events will be designed to promote digital technologies and connect women across the APS and industry.

Gender balance at the DTA’s Digital Summit

In August 2019, we will be hosting our inaugural Digital Summit. I have committed to a gender balance across the line up of speakers for this event. This will foster a range of role models in the digital space and to demonstrate the value that diversity of experience and perspective brings.

Coaching and mentoring for EL1 and EL2 women

The DTA continues to run and promote existing mentoring programs like the Women in Technology Executive Mentoring Program (WITEM) for EL2 women and Coaching circles for EL1 women working in digital.

These programs aim to support women working in digital or related fields across the Australian Government. To date, over 780 participants have participated in the program. As the longest serving mentor in the WITEM program, I have seen the positive impact it has on the participants. Last year, I wrote a blog about my experience as a WITEM mentor. Many of the women who have participated in the program have gone on to do amazing things.

I encourage women to seriously consider mentoring programs such as WITEM, as either a mentee or mentor — the experiences can be just as valuable for mentors. Nominations for WITEM 2020 open in the second half of 2019, so keep an eye out for this on the DTA website or subscribe to our mailing list to receive a notification when this happens.

I am proud of how far the APS has come, but we still have a lot of work to do. I am committed to improving the balance and striving towards better inclusion of women in the DTA and across the APS.