Why aren’t there more women in tech?

Despite the occasional ‘nerdy’ perceptions, the technology industry can be an exciting place to work. Tech is changing the world – and faster than ever. AI is the biggest thing impacting business, and it follows the internet, machine learning and everything digital that dominates work – and play. And yet, women aren’t a big part of this fast-growing industry. According to PWC Australia women make up only 18-28 per cent of the IT workforce in Australia. Considering half of the overall workforce in Australia are female, it’s a gap that’s screaming to be closed.
The underrepresentation of women in Information Technology (IT) jobs is actually a complex issue that stems from various factors including societal norms, educational barriers, workplace culture, and unconscious biases. While progress has been made in recent years to encourage more women to pursue careers in IT, significant disparities still exist. 

Social stereotyping

One of the primary factors contributing to the gender gap in IT is the societal stereotype that associates technology-related fields with masculinity. From a young age, children are exposed to gendered toys, media portrayals and cultural narratives that reinforce the idea that boys are naturally more inclined towards science, math and technology, while girls are encouraged to pursue interests in humanities and arts. 
This early conditioning can lead to girls feeling less confident or interested in pursuing IT careers later in life, as they may perceive these fields as "not for them" or "too difficult".

Lack of role models

The lack of visible female role models in the IT industry further exacerbates this problem. When girls and young women do not see other women succeeding and thriving in IT roles, they may struggle to envision themselves in similar positions. Representation matters greatly in shaping career aspirations and self-perception, and without adequate representation, women may feel discouraged or alienated from entering the IT workforce.
Think of technology figureheads and off the top of your head you could name Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg straight away, but who are the female CEOs who spring to mind?

Educational barriers

Research has shown that girls also often receive less encouragement and support in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects compared to their male counterparts. This can manifest in various ways, such as fewer opportunities for girls to participate in coding clubs or other extra-curricular advancement. Additionally, gender biases can influence teachers' expectations and grading practices, leading to disparities in how girls and boys are evaluated in STEM subjects.
Again, according to PWC Australia, the number of women studying STEM subjects is rising – but it’s slow and it needs work. There is a 50/50 split of all enrolments at university and yet 31 per cent of men enrol in STEM subjects, compared to nine per cent of females.

Unwelcome environments

Once women enter the IT workforce, it is often reported that they often encounter challenges related to workplace culture and gender bias. Tech companies have been criticised for fostering environments that are unwelcoming or hostile to women. It can be an industry that glorifies long hours, extreme competitiveness, and a lack of work-life balance. 
A recent report from PWC Australia, however, indicated that women who were working in IT felt it was actually an inclusive environment, so things are certainly changing.
Companies are acknowledging the ‘bro-culture’ problems that have existed in the past. Female mentoring and networking opportunities are helping. At the same time, it remains a difficult environment – especially for mothers who require flexibility. Difficult for active fathers, too, but that number is usually much smaller.

Unconscious bias

The prevalence of unconscious biases also contributes to the underrepresentation of women in IT jobs. These biases, which are often implicit and unintentional, can influence hiring decisions, performance evaluations, and career advancement opportunities. Women may be overlooked for leadership roles or challenging projects based on assumptions about their abilities, communication styles, or commitment to their careers, further perpetuating the gender gap.

How can we address the gender balance?

Addressing the gender disparity in IT requires multifaceted strategies that target both systemic barriers and individual attitudes. Educational institutions play a crucial role in promoting gender equity in STEM fields by implementing inclusive teaching practices, providing mentorship and support networks for female students, and offering exposure to diverse role models and career pathways in IT.
Companies and organisations must also prioritise creating inclusive and respectful workplace cultures that value diversity and promote equal opportunities for career growth. This includes implementing fair hiring practices, conducting bias training for employees, establishing mentorship programs for women in IT roles, and actively addressing instances of discrimination or harassment.
Additionally, public awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts can help challenge stereotypes, raise awareness about the importance of gender diversity in the tech industry, and inspire more girls and women to pursue IT careers. Encouraging collaborations between industry leaders, educational institutions, and community organisations can foster a supportive ecosystem that empowers women to thrive in IT and related fields.