Every important narrative has its beginnings and the story of women in tech is no exception.
The year is 1842 and Londoner Ada Lovelace is intently writing algorithms that will revolutionise the capabilities of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.
Inking-out intricate maths that sequences all of the engine’s inputs, Lovelace is also making her mark on tech history. She is becoming the first ever computer programmer.
Babbage has been immortalised as a tech innovator, a forefather of computer science and an architect of modern industry.
If Charles Babbage’s name has a familiar ring to it, ask yourself, does Ada Lovelace’s?
Let’s spell it out one more time. The first ever programmer was a woman. It’s a piece of history that should glimmer in all our memories. What does it mean if it doesn’t?
Well, it’s always been harder to get proper recognition as a woman in tech.
Fast forward two centuries, it’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, 2022 and a day in the calendar when many leading women across various industries should be fully recognised and celebrated.
It’s also a day when the hot-button topic of gender balance in the tech workforce will be debated more hotly than usual. Lots of tech industry commentators believe we’ve entered into the 4th industrial revolution, characterised by Forbes as the meshing of human productivity and life in general with tech and digital industries.
This leads to a burning question – is an accurately representative demographic shaping the tech that shapes all of our lives?
While gender barriers in digital industries are fast crumbling, the general consensus is that the number of women working in tech needs to be much higher. Drilling down into software engineering numbers specifically, it’s a belief backed-up by hard statistics. According to a 2021 worldwide software engineering survey, of 82,286 professional respondents:
Though gender inequality is steadily reducing in many parts of the world, the World Economic Forum pinpoints only six countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden) where women have equal work rights and employment opportunities when compared to men.
Truthfully, there’s no way to sugarcoat workforce gender inequity on an international scale.
Considered a nation home to many of the world’s most progressive tech companies, US numbers for women software engineers do reveal a significant improvement. A lopsided balance remains however. A 2021 survey found that of 329,559 US software engineers:
To fully understand the gender disparity in software engineering, it’s necessary to move back down the talent pipeline to an educational level. This sheds light on how women are exposed (or underexposed) to tech skills from an early age, and what’s being done in Australia to empower more women in tech.
Differences in gender engagement with tech become measurable as soon as specialist disciplines are added to the high school curriculum in Australia. As of 2021:
As far as traditional schooling is concerned, the uptake of these subjects is a pivotal phase in receiving a specialised tech education long-term.
The Australian government’s Equity Monitor 2021 report on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) found that lowered participation in tech-related subjects “directly impacts future employment opportunities”, whether that’s in a tech career or another role that calls for day-to-day digital capabilities.
Around the time many young women are making tertiary education plans or searching for job opportunities, the tech space has already been defined, by school experiences at least, as a domain for ‘boys and their toys’.
Further down the pipeline, this leaves a raft of women playing catch-up with men who were more immersed in digital skills from a young age. Equity Monitor does report that government initiatives designed to stimulate tech engagement with younger women are starting to shift the balance of statistics, as:
While the numbers are heading in the right direction, they’re still eclipsed by male participation levels.
It’s no surprise then that there’s now a trend whereby women are successfully following alternative pathways into tech careers. Women are choosing learning journeys which help them work around the traditional tech education system that still predominantly services men.
At Academy Xi, we believe that for tech industries to reach their true potential and maturity, as many people as possible will need the chance to reach their professional potential.
Academy Xi helps thousands of people from all walks of life transform their careers by developing practical industry-needed skills related to tech, data, design, digital marketing and business.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re proud to note that currently 65% of all Academy Xi graduates identify as female. Diversity is at the heart of what we do and why we do it.
With its mission of turning “education into employment systems to prepare, place, and support people into life-changing careers that would otherwise be inaccessible”, Generation Australia now partners with Academy Xi and shares our emphasis on championing workforce diversity, tech accessibility and equal opportunity in digital careers.
Academy Xi’s Olivia Bowden recently interviewed four people who’ve helped cultivate a “collaborative ecosystem” that exists between Generation Australia and Academy Xi.
All of these interviewees are either applying software engineering skills developed with Academy Xi in industry, or have mentored learners in our courses to help them develop career-altering capabilities.
Ayushi Karn was a System Administrator, but re-trained and became a Software Delivery Engineer at Clear Dynamics Pty Ltd. Karn optimistically points out:
Unlike in times past, most tech firms are simply unwilling to lose out on the deepest pool of talent, just because of inherited bias and reluctance to hire or promote women.
This trend is further exacerbated by the ongoing digital skills shortage being experienced by nearly every Australian organisation with digital transformation plans. Passing over the best person for a job for any reason is just a limiting business practice. Following this pattern over a period of time is fundamentally unsustainable. This ties in neatly with International Women’s Day 2022 theme of sustainability.
Ethical motivations for gender equality are now joined by industrial performance incentives, which are limitlessly scalable, from individual companies, to markets and entire international economies, all of which benefit from having the best brains on the job.
Laying out its roadmap for a more balanced workforce, the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency equates greater opportunities for women with:
Read this list once more. Ask yourself, from an industrial standpoint, is there anything essential it doesn’t cover?
It’s a bullet point description of a healthy Australian economy, made up of healthy businesses, powered by a diverse workforce in which everyone is given a healthy chance to contribute what they’re really capable of. It isn’t a utopia, only to be dreamed of and never realised. It’s where Australia is heading, slowly but surely.
Laize Ferraz notes that biases of every kind are rapidly breaking down in Australian tech, where industries are “actually diverse in so many ways: gender of course, but also in terms of nationality, background, age, transferable skills and career experience.”
Ferraz, a lawyer turned software engineer with PALO IT, has experience as a web development instructor with Academy Xi and Generation Australia. Asked to give advice to any woman keen to make it in tech, Laize observes:
These words could easily be a potent tagline for International Women’s Day. A simple mantra that many the world over now buy into wholeheartedly.
Our collective mindset toward the contribution women can make to tech is quickly evolving. It has to be 50-50, a completely even split. Anything less and we’re only really cheating ourselves and limiting our potential. It’s always been this way.
Circling back to this blog’s beginning to illustrate the point, without Lovelace’s ingenuity and intuition that much more could be done with a tech invention, the Analytical Engine would have been nothing more than another iteration of a basic calculator.
Addressing the Australian tech skills shortage specifically, Equity Monitor notes that where women are concerned, they’re now fixing “a leaky pipeline” that sees Australia’s talent pool limited by the underrepresentation of half of the population.
Noting a gradual reframing of gender roles in tech-related fields, Equity Monitor documents that:
These fixes are not short-term. They’re designed to promote permanent changes in the workforce demographic and lasting chances for more women to demonstrate what can really be done with tech.
If you’re a woman, passionate about tech and reading this blog thinking “I’d like to be a part of the progress”, there’s never been a better time to show the people what you’re here for.
Academy Xi offers industry-approved, practical digital skills courses in tech & data, design and business & marketing that are built and taught by practising experts.
We’ve helped thousands like you fast-track their tech industry ambitions and carve out careers that realise their true potential. Read about the Academy Xi and Generation Australia partnership here for first-hand, real-life stories about what it takes to transition into tech and what’s being done to tackle gender balance in today’s digital industries.
For women with tech aspirations, Academy Xi wants all doors to be open and never closed.
With many like-minded companies and organisations now insisting on equal opportunities for women, expect to see tech inch closer and closer to an industry that is completely uncoded.