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The biggest questions need the boldest answers. That’s why we’re using our global scale, technology expertise and collaborative spirit to move towards a better today and a brighter tomorrow together.

Jane Hodgen, Head of Inclusion, Diversity and Leadership Development TCS APAC explores the battle for moving the needle on more representation of women in STEM.

Posted: June 2021

Q: There is no shortage of talented women in the tech industry, yet women are vastly underrepresented. What do you think are the biggest downsides of this lack of diversity in technology?

Diversity is critical in technology. It creates greater innovation in solutions, more effective and productive teams and ensures that any products that are created consider a wide range of individuals, not just a single section of society. A 2020 report from McKinsey found that businesses built on diversity perform better, hire better talent, have more engaged employees and retain workers better than companies that do not focus on diversity and inclusion. To ensure that we can build the best industry possible, we need to prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of the organisation.

Q: How can we start to tackle this problem?

To address this issue, we need to engage young girls in STEM as early as possible. From 11 years of age and onwards, children start to build a picture of what their career may look like and it’s around the same time that we notice a big drop in the number of girls in high school who consider technology as a career. This has been seen in TCS’ GoIT Girls programs where girls have given feedback comments like ‘we thought coding was for boys and didn’t see ourselves doing this’. While one in three university students who study STEM are females, the proportion of women working in the field is much lower.

According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report, less than 25% of the workforce working in artificial intelligence are women, a figure that drops even lower in Australia. Encouraging women to enter the STEM workforce starts in primary schools, so does building their confidence to develop their skills and then follows through to a career in the industry. In Australia, the federal government is investing AUD100 million into increasing women’s participation in STEM, yet there is still a long way to go to build up our workforce.

Beyond the education and encouragement of girls in school, we need to ensure hiring managers and the culture within businesses celebrate and encourage a diverse workforce. Offering a supportive and inclusive culture, along with practices and policies such as flexible work and part-time positions with real career opportunities across genders must be prioritised.

Q: What do you see as a barrier to women trying to pursue a career in the technology sector?

There are a vast number of opportunities for women in technology roles. We need to ensure that our future and current workforce understands the scope of positions available across the entire industry, from cybersecurity expert, scientist, network engineer to artificial intelligence expert; there are considerable opportunities for women to follow their interests.

RMIT and Deloitte Access Economics research predict that Australia will need 156,000 more digital technology workers by 2025, representing one in four jobs that will be created during that period. Particularly, roles in cybersecurity, AI and digital transformation specialties are in high demand to support local business growth. Women will play a key role in filling these new jobs; we should aim towards bridging the gender gap and having true diversity in the growing workforce.

Q: How can businesses ensure being set up for success and also offer career growth for women in the industry?

COVID-19 caused a swift shift to a digital-first business model to ensure that businesses can retain their current staff; providing the latest digital tools and flexibility is key to keeping engagement high. Beyond the tools themselves, ongoing workplace training to ensure employees are well equipped to leverage the latest technology; and an ecosystem of strong partners that can increase talent support will be vital to building up the best employees.

Supporting our current and future women in the workforce is a key priority. Solving this issue will be critical to ensure we have a strong pipeline of women, a key source of exceptional talent for years to come. We must tackle this issue on all fronts and at all stages of the education system. Our industry offers innovative, stimulating and exciting opportunities for women across the sector; we just need to continue accelerating our support in all areas.