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There aren’t enough women in IT. The statistics show it. The lack of women in the sector hurts companies and the economy. But if given the chance, women can succeed.

Women comprise 45 per cent of employees across all professional industries but only 28 per cent of the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) sector, according to 2017 data from a report by Deloitte Access Economics and the Australian Computer Society this year.

The numbers for women in top management roles are even smaller. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in September 2018 show that women hold only 17 per cent of CEO roles of non-public sector employers.

The Deloitte/ACS report says having equal representation of women in leadership roles could lift labour force participation and add up to $10.8 billion to the Australian economy every year.

Having few or no women in the workplace can impact a company’s performance because the diversity of voices needed to get the best out of people and create an inclusive culture is lacking.

A 2014 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University found that changing from a single-gender office to an office where there is an even number of men and women lifted revenue by 41 per cent.

Deloitte research has found that women in the Chief Information Officer role tend to outperform their male counterparts in interpersonal skills, persuasiveness and networking ability, which can boost a company’s financial performance.

I’ve experienced plenty of barriers, hurdles and downright discrimination in more than 25 years in the IT sector.In all that time, I’ve never had a female boss that I can remember.

I was once in a very senior role in a healthcare IT company in Australia. I was the logical choice to run the local business when the time came for a new boss in Australia, but I missed out to a less qualified male.

The UK-based CEO respected that he needed me, in what was a sales and product development role, but he couldn’t talk to me. The leadership team was all male.

IT also has a male-dominated feel to it.  Women in IT tend to be in human resources and marketing roles rather than the technical side, and the collaborative environment and teamwork that is attractive to women is missing.

Women can do the job if an opportunity is available.  I’ve had two male mentors who played a significant part in furthering my career.

One of my mentors promoted me to run the Energy Australia Outsourcing account for CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation) despite me knowing nothing about poles and wires. I initially didn’t want the role. The account was losing millions of dollars, and the prospect of having about 200 male staff working under me was daunting.

But it turned out to be a pivotal time in my career. We built a great team, fantastic culture, we turned it (the business) around so it was turning a significant profit, and I learnt an enormous amount about people and how to run a business.

I did hire a few females though.

I believe that success for anyone comes down to people being comfortable enough in their own skin that they feel happy to develop others.

We can change the environment. At Alcidion, our team is working towards attracting more women to the technically oriented roles as well as the healthcare business related roles.

The company is making its recruitment advertisements more attractive to females. We say we’re a flexible workplace; we’re friendly, young, upcoming, engaging and open to new ideas – language that resonates with females.

Alcidionalso offers pay parity between men and women.

The pay gap between men and women is a deterrent and should be addressed. At one point in my career, I was being paid as little as two-thirds of a man doing the same job.

Deloitte Access Economics says there continues to be a significant difference in the average earnings of male and female IT workers in Australia, with an average pay gap of around 20 per cent.

Workplaces can also be more attuned to the needs of women, such as working mothers who also manage families.

Some men – and women, too – judge the value of women with families by the number of hours they are at the desk, and not by the output or their preparedness to work into the night after their kids have gone to bed.

Importantly, more women need to be attracted to IT at school and university. They need to be shown female role models in IT – even though they are few and far between – such as Ginni Rometty, the first female boss of IBM in the US; Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

And, in Australia, there’s the former head of Microsoft in Australia, Pip Marlow, now head of customer marketplace at Suncorp; Maile Carnegie, formerly Google’s Australia and New Zealand managing director, now head of ANZ’s digital banking division; Kerri Lee Sinclair, the chief investment officer, technology and innovation, at the Kin Group; andTessa Herd-Court, CEO of the Intelligence Bank.

Furthermore, change must come from the top down. The number of women in IT may not change significantly until more women are appointed to company boards.

I’ve made it my personal agenda to mentor others – men and women. If you detect some talent, regardless of their experience, age or gender, you should foster that talent, give them a chance and help them be successful.

Kate Quirke is CEO at Alcidion, which aims to make healthcare better with smart, intuitive solutionsthat support interoperability, allow communication and task management, and deliver clinical decision support at the point of care to improve patient outcomes.

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Kate Quirke

Kate Quirke

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