It’s official: Women in IT are struggling with a lack of female role models and mentors and too few opportunities to progress. Yet there is a silver lining to being in a male-dominated industry.
The top three challenges facing women in IT are in the areas of access to networking opportunities (59%), guidance on work-life balance (42%) and access to formal mentors to help with career progression (35%), according to the latest corporate diversity report released by FITT (Females in IT and Telecommunications), Australia’s largest network of women in information and communication technology (ICT).
Surprisingly, almost half (49%) of women do not feel satisfied that their current employer is providing enough in the way of programs to encourage women to progress.
Megan Stokes, Director of IT Systems and Service at Singtel Optus, agrees that finding mentors and sponsors (a type of mentor who connects you with career opportunities and advocates for your advancement) is the greatest challenge faced by her and her female peers.
“Being sponsored by someone senior is a huge opportunity lift. Where these relationships form naturally, people usually choose a protégé who is just like them, which does nothing to support diversity,” said Stokes.
“We also need more female role models in all forms – working mums, people working with more flexibility, younger women succeeding, older women entering the industry,” Stokes added.
Danielle Cavallaro, Analyst Programmer at Macquarie Group, can attest to the positive and powerful influence of female role models in the workplace.
“I have been very fortunate to have access to female role models at all levels of senior management in my current workplace. It has given me a sense of confidence that being a woman in IT is not a barrier to career progression,” said Cavallaro.
Women who aren’t so fortunate should consider looking beyond their immediate office for mentorship and support, according to Carolyn Shaw, a 20-year veteran of the IT industry. She has worked in all manner of roles ranging from programmer to consultant to project manager.
“The Internet allows us all to connect more and provide support and encouragement to one another,” said Shaw.
“Support networks are also important. There are a number of these now, compared to when I started out!”
Despite the challenges they face, all three women agree there is a silver lining to being female in a male-dominated industry – you stand out, and can make the most of your unique strengths as a woman.
“Being different means you can bring a different perspective to the table. And as long as you value yourself, others will see the value you bring too,” said Stokes.
Cavallaro agrees. “Women tend to have a refreshing creative view, and can find solutions that are often more in line with the client’s needs and vision.”
Shaw echoes their sentiment. “Women are excellent at managing multiple tasks in complex environments. They also have great communications skills, and work very well collaboratively, making them ideal for project work and managing teams.”
When it comes to addressing the challenges faced by women in the industry, FITT Chairperson Terrie Anderson says there is work to be done.
“There has been a significant increase in women’s programs and initiatives in recent years, with Australian corporations stepping it up to ensure that opportunities and circumstances unique to women are better addressed. While this is having a positive impact, more can be done to enable women to progress towards more senior positions in sectors such as ICT that are historically not female-driven,” said Anderson.