This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #CrackingTheCode and we asked some of our talented women what they thought about the theme, as well as what more we can do to create a gender equal future.
For decades, women have faced many barriers to equality, so having access to digital technologies and education is critical, especially when championing those working in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM).
Learn more about the impactful voices and perspectives of our women, and their bold and transformative ideas on how we can combat discrimination and the marginalisation of women globally.
Jennifer Dalitz, Deputy Chair
Who would have guessed that the programming of the black box flight recorder of supersonic Concorde would’ve been done by a bunch of women working in their own homes with nothing but pencils and paper and an analogue telephone?
Dame Stephanie Shirley is an octogenarian software pioneer, child refugee of Nazi Europe, startup success and philanthropist. Dame Stephanie – or “Steve” as she referred to herself to get past the gender issues of her time – had hit many glass ceilings when she decided to create a women-only high-tech software company in 1960s England.
At the time, women were coming out of universities with degrees but hitting up against systemic inequity that kept them out of the workforce after marriage: they could not earn equal pay, work on the stock exchange, drive a bus or even open a bank account without a husband’s permission. And the lack of childcare options kept them at home with their young children.
But Dame Stephanie recognised the potential. These women could work part-time flexible hours, from their homes, on the simple basis of trust. This formed the basis of the home-working organisation she founded that was eventually valued at three billion dollars and created millionaires of seventy employees. Her female-only workforce developed a niche in operational research work, like scheduling freight trains, timetabling buses, and stock control programming. Even programming the black box flight recorder for the Concorde.
Some sixty years and a global pandemic later, and we’ve come full circle. Women once again have been working around their dining tables and accessing flexible work on a scale considered unimaginable only three years ago. But where to from here?
Australian women have ranked equal first in educational attainment in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap research for decades. Yet the glass ceilings are still there and the number of women in leadership roles remain stubbornly low with women holding only 22% of all CEOs or head of business in Australia (WGEA Gender Equality in the Workplace 2023).
What can we do to support and empower women in leadership positions? Although we’ve come so far, there’s still so much work to be done. As a society there are things we can do in the home, in our community and in our workplaces. Things like:
- Demanding equality of the organisations we buy from. Notice if women are absent from decision-making positions in the organisations you buy from. If you see it, ask why it is? It’s not only good for women, but studies show that organisations with more women in leadership roles produce results up to 35% stronger. Which is better for our economy and everyone in it.
- Provide an environment where women can speak up and be heard. Studies have shown that when men were talking with women, they interrupted up to 33% more often than when they were talking with men. By ensuring we actively seek out the opinions of women, and ensure they are given equal airtime, we open up to a diversity of opinions and experiences for innovation and problem solving.
- Manage with outcomes, not hours or locations. In the past three years, workplace flexibility has been reimagined. Far more than the pencils and paper that Dame Stephanie built a business on, we now have mainstream technology infrastructure to enable many roles to be performed from anywhere at any time. How can we use this technology, as a society, to harness the full potential of every Australian?
And now over to you… this International Women’s Day, how do you suggest we support and empower women into leadership positions?
Sally-Ann Williams, Director
When it comes to making substantive change in gender equality (or any equality measure) we have a long way to go.
In Australia, STEM employment occupations are expected to grow by 12.9% by 2025, but we’re currently unable to support this demand. Of the current population of STEM qualified people women remain underrepresented, making up only 16%. Only 0.5% of First Nations people, hold university-level STEM qualifications.
Women enrol in STEM university & vocational training in Australia at lower rates than men and leave the profession within 5 years. And just 10% of venture funding in Australia went to women-founded businesses in 2022 (3% for all-women-founded startups).
This year’s IWD theme of Cracking the Code alludes to finding the patterns and systems that prevent inclusion and access in society for all underrepresented people. It’s a focus on both dismantling systems that prevent and discourage inclusion and prioritising new frameworks to drive different outcomes.
While we have many programs and initiatives, we certainly don’t see the progress we would like in Australia in both economic empowerment, innovation outcomes or venture investment. Good intent alone will not drive the change we need to see for women and underrepresented communities. We need leaders in government, industry, and community who understand that it is not the responsibility of someone working in diversity and inclusion to drive change, but it collectively rests on all our shoulders.
We all need to take personal accountability for making changes to dismantle systems and process that don’t drive towards inclusive outcomes. This includes examining our own personal biases and practices, as well as our policies and processes that prevent inclusion and access in education, employment, community leadership, and representation.
We won’t always get it right, but we need personal commitment to drive collective change.
Cindy Hansen, Chief Governance and Strategy Officer
Sometimes it can be challenging to think of ways that we as individuals can make a difference to champion gender equality, especially in such areas as technology and innovation.
One way is to consciously take steps to fight the ‘Matilda Effect’, which describes the bias that denies recognition of women’s work. The term was coined in 1993, by science historian Margaret Rossiter, in honor of women’s right activist Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Try to be more conscious of gender bias in your workplace and in yourself. Look out for how different people are spoken or reacted to. If you’re leading a meeting, encourage and recognise contributions. If you’re hiring, promoting or seeking candidates for an award, use gender-blind criteria and anonymise applications. The University of South Australia has listed some simple actions we can all take that you can find on their website.
Encourage women you know to seek out leadership positions. Women in Technology (WiT) offers not only a support network, but also the WiT Board Readiness™ Certificate, which ‘is a 10-week practical program designed for female leaders from STEM disciplines to develop the skills, confidence and connections to take the next step towards taking your seat at the Board table’. You can find out more at https://wit.org.au/
Lastly, check out grassroots campaigns that you can join. According to the organisation, 500 Women Scientists, ‘Wikipedia is one of the most highly trafficked websites in the world, but only around 19 percent of English Wikipedia biographies are about women.’ To address this imbalance, they hold Wiki-Thons to ensure the contributions of women in STEM are shared. To date they have created or edited over 3,000 pages that have been viewed more than 80 million times. You can find out how to take part at https://500womenscientists.org/wiki-edit-a-thon
Mariko Manning, Learning and Development Manager
When I was young, I was raised with the concept of not having any limits on what I wanted to pursue.
However, when I started school, I immediately experienced gender bias. We feel it and read it - we know that it’s there even if it’s not obvious or told.
We collectively need to start educating people on why gender inequality exists and what steps are needed to close the gaps. We can then work towards creating opportunities for women, especially in roles of technology and innovation.
Organisations and governments need to provide support through programs and initiatives to back women in their career pursuits regarding technology, as well as create a more inclusive culture through mentorship opportunities.
I am hopeful that together we can crack the code of gender equality, but this will only happen if we collectively work together and start removing the gender bias.
Laura Troia, Manager, PMO & Technology Vendor Relationships
The future of women in technology and innovation starts with the support of the educational institutions they receive at a young age. The respect and opportunities women receive in their future roles will keep them in the field. Gender pay equality and rights to flexible work arrangements continue to impede women, and organisations need to lead the way on these issues if they want to attract and retain a dedicated and successful workforce.
Above all, women need to be role models, mentors, and advocates for other women – educating, empowering and supporting others to success.
Michelle Naguib, Manager Third Party Division
All women need to “own their success”, to broaden and expand the number of influential female leaders within the industry. It is our responsibility to be courageous, speak up and take charge of our learning and development to promote equal opportunities for ourselves and future generations to come.
Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
While we are the driving force behind change, we cannot do it alone. Society can support and empower women by recognising the gender bias, providing unprecedented opportunities, encouraging transformative ideas, creating safe environments to be heard and establishing gateways to network and incentivise progression at all levels.
Belinda Dee, Senior Business Analyst
In society, we’re starting to acknowledge that gender equality needs to exist in the tech and innovation space, although there are still large gaps to fill in supporting women into these roles.
We need to recognise that diverse teams, including those with greater gender diversity, are more creative, innovative, and, ultimately, are associated with greater performance.
In the Information Services team at Qudos Bank, this is being acknowledged with almost half the team being women.
Tina Hantjeris, IT Applications Analyst
Gender equality is a long journey with many more stops before we reach our destination. While there have been improvements within the space of technology, we need spaces that create a sense of inclusiveness. A community of supportive peers can help assist in providing interest for roles in technology and innovation, which can help build the confidence and abilities for all women.
Kushma Shrestha, Project Coordinator
Gender Equality and Women Empowerment has always been topical amongst society. Equality begins from accepting and acknowledging it within yourself. Organisations and Governments also play a crucial role for this such as skill-based recruitment, leveling the law, removing Gender pay gaps, promoting work-life balance – just to name a few.
There is a beautiful quote where it mentions that “Women are the Architecture of the Society”. I encourage every woman out there to never stop believing and to spread your wings in this innovative world.
Published March 2023