The Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda “Ideas Boom” faces some cultural challenges in terms of women in STEM.
“A new male CEO came in and took the males out to lunch to talk about?—?wait for it?—?working with the women. I found out when the new CEO called me to tell me the outcome of the lunch and that the men asked that the women be ‘nicer’.”
The above quote is from a March 16 to18, 2016 three-part series of Crikey articles on women in tech by Bernard Keane, Crikey Politics Editor. This series quotes a range of Australian statistics and comments (positive and negative) from interviews with male and female practitioners.
The March 16th article warns of The looming crisis for women in Oz tech.
“In the last five years employment in the ABS industry category “Computer System Design and Related Services” has expanded by 25% and now employs nearly 200,000 Australians; in the late 1990s it barely employed 80,000 people. But nearly all of that growth in employment has been among men.”
This is one of a range of statistics, which include:
“On one of the critical factors determining how many women enter tech industries?—?the number of female STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) students?—?Australia is going backwards, and fast…..
But despite industry rhetoric about “moving in the right direction”, the proportion of women in tech is getting worse, not better. The ABS data shows that, even with a rise in 2015, the proportion of female employees in computer design areas has fallen as the sector has expanded.”
The Mar 17, article, What’s driving women out of tech industries?, notes that “The lack of women in tech isn’t just about a lack of supply?—?the industry has characteristics that drive many women out.” Some industry characteristics are as bad for men as for women, such as the abnormal working hours; “the pervasive culture is still around hours put in rather than outcomes achieved.”
Training is also an issue: “The pace of change in tech is now at warp speed, so many women have to figure out how to keep their skills current if they want to take maternity leave”
However, this article also quotes some horror stories on unconscious bias that are so ironic they are almost laughable, e.g. “A new male CEO came in and took the males out to lunch to talk about?—?wait for it?—?working with the women. I found out when the new CEO called me to tell me the outcome of the lunch and that the men asked that the women be ‘nicer’.”
The Mar 18, 2016 article, Rape fears and harassment, but bright spots for women in tech, too
reveals some of the dangers for women in tech, noting that strip clubs are still a common venue for tech social gatherings. ”A quick review of social media and other online fora detailing the pros and cons of Silicon Valley culture from disillusioned women reveals stunning stories of strip clubs and hookers as incentive bonuses.”
However, apart from the horror stories the article also features positive experiences, noting that
“This isn’t the complete story of the tech sector, by any means. Several women contacted Crikey to explain they loved working in the sector.”
The series concludes with the message:
“Clearly many within the industry not merely talk about diversity, like some of the big companies, but are genuinely committed to pursuing it. Without a reversal of the decline in female STEM studies, however, even the most female-friendly tech workplaces will barely be able to stop the decline in women in tech, let alone reverse it?—?companies will only be able to try to retain a decreasing pool of women in the sector. And unless programs to reverse the collapse in female IT students take hold, Australia’s agile, innovative tech companies will be almost entirely male in years to come, despite promises to do better.”
Further STEM statistics appear in March 2016 articles in The Conversation and The Mandarin, giving the Academic and the Government perspective.
The March 16 article in The Conversation, More women than ever are in the workforce but progress has been glacial, looks more closely at the recent good news from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that “Australia was seeing the highest ever female workforce participation rate and the largest number of women ever in the workforce.” The article, by Alexandra Heron, Research Associate, Women & Work Research Group, Business School, University of Sydney, points out that
“The monthly labour force statistics taken alone, however, obscure how gradual the growth in women’s workforce engagement has been, especially in recent years.”
The article gives an analysis by age group and points to policies known to encourage women’s workforce attachment, concluding “Australian research also highlights how a complex interplay of tax, family benefits and childcare subsidies can end up discouraging mothers from working.”
The March 2 article in The Mandarin, Which three agencies quit Male Champions of Change?,
notes that “The Australian Public Service has racked up some impressive wins for the progress of women since the ban on married women was lifted some 50 years ago, but it also has three recent stains”. The article quotes Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson at an IPAA ACT breakfast ahead of International Women’s Day, who noted that “only three organisations have ever left the Male Champions of Change — all three being federal public service agencies. What does it say about our commitment to equality?”
The article describes Australian Public Service initiatives to renew the Male Champions of Change commitment.
On an international level, some hopeful news on women in STEM comes from a Syracuse University study, see the article in this Issue, Students as teachers effective in STEM subjects.