Written By: Adele Ferguson 27/7/15
Internet behemoth Google put the global technology industry on notice in 2014 when it released a study that showed even the most progressive of companies had a massive gender gap.
It prompted other tech giants Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo to release their own diversity reports. Virtually all showed similarly disturbing gender gaps. Music streaming group Pandora was one of the few exceptions.
A year on, nothing, yet everything, has changed. Women still represent 30 per cent of the Google workforce, but tech companies globally are frantically trying to rectify the male-dominated workplace and image.
They are also trying to fix the gender gap in the industry at large. In June Intel, which has a workforce comprising 77 per cent men, set up a $US150 million ($205 million) fund to invest in technology start-ups run by women.
The start-up fund’s chief executive Lisa Lambert told the media the aim was to prove what the research says is true. “We want to prove by these investments that when you have diversity in your employee base you will get better business results.”
Google is also trying to close the gap. It allocated $US150 million recently to a campaign to promote diversity throughout its 56,000-strong workforce.
Apple has donated $US50 million to organisations including the National Centre for Women and Information Technology and its treatment of women at conferences has captured the attention of the media.
On June 5, Bloomberg published an article headlined “Apple finally puts women on the stage”. It made the point that for the first time in almost five years, a woman executive from Apple had taken the stage to present at the company’s worldwide developers’ conference.
The gender gap in IT is a global phenomenon. While many of the Australian arms of these global tech giants, including Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Pandora, are run by women, the overall number of women tech entrepreneurs in Australia is 19 per cent.
Even with government policies to encourage females to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), the trend doesn’t look like changing in the near future. ABS figures showed that in February 2013 there were just 597,000 ICT workers in the country, and of those 28 per cent were female.
Worse still, Department of Education figures show that the number of females enrolling in IT courses has fallen from 25 per cent in 2001 to 20 per cent in 2013.
So why aren’t females looking at careers in ICT and tech entrepreneurship?
One reason is that only 7 per cent of investor money goes to female-led start-ups.
A study by Harvard Business School found that investors prefer pitches from “attractive male entrepreneurs”, even when the content is similar to that of women.
The Australian digital economy is worth an estimated $79 billion. If Australia can get its innovation and digital technology right, the digital economy could increase Australia’s productivity. Indeed, a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed it could add an extra $37 billion to gross domestic product by 2024.
In its submission to Treasury in response to the tax discussion paper, lobby group Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association Limited (AVCAL) called on the Abbott government to recognise the cash flow challenges start-ups faced by moving to quarterly research and development tax refunds for eligible small businesses.
WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?
Despite gender bias and tax policy deficiencies that need addressing, some organisations are trying to push through. One such company making headway in supporting female entrepreneurs is non-profit group Heads Over Heels. It was founded five years ago by a small group of women – venture capitalists, private equity and incubators – who together asked the question: where are the women?
After seeing research that showed women don’t have access to the same personal networks as men, they set up a support ecosystem.
Heads Over Heels identifies and helps develop female chief executives that are running start-up businesses that are ready to scale. These companies are then invited to portfolio events, where they pitch their businesses and make specific requests for support.
Of course, when an industry or business lacks diversity, it isn’t usually the players that need fixing, it’s the systems.
Which is why Head Over Heels backed Grace Papers, a business set up by lawyer Prue Gilbert and her husband Ben to transform the way organisations think about careers and parenting. The business has developed a digital platform that supports working parents to navigate pregnancy and careers.
“Gender equality is about social change. The most effective way to drive social change is to empower those with most to gain first – pregnant mothers – as the change agents,” Gilbert says.
With employee turnover costing Australian businesses an estimated $20 billion a year, keeping women engaged is imperative, but it requires an interventionist approach from corporate Australia.
To put it into perspective, 12 months ago the Human Rights Commission released a report that found 49 per cent of women experience discrimination either while pregnant, on maternity leave, or after they return to work.
RETHINK ‘PRIMARY CARER’ MODEL
Awarded the 2014 Human Rights Business Award for supporting working mothers to anticipate and address stakeholder bias and ultimately prevent discrimination, Gilbert says Grace Papers challenges new parents to rethink the current “primary carer” model.
“We know that when couples get the infrastructure support right at home they can be far more productive and successful in their careers,” she says. Add that to research by the US Department of Education that found children of highly involved fathers were 43 per cent more likely than other children to score mostly As in their reports at school, and that their family lives were more satisfying and cohesive, it would seem to be self-evident.
But the ABS says about 86 per cent of women who have a child under two also have a partner who works 35 or more hours a week.
As a society we continue to reinforce a model that expects mothers to assume the role of primary carer, regardless of whether they are working. Grace Papers aims to empower pregnant women with strategies to navigate the social expectations of working mothers, as well as the potential challenges in the workplace.
Gilbert says: “It’s a risk-mitigation strategy for business – support working fathers and mothers in the early stages of their family planning and you will retain your talent and avoid the costly cycle of employee turnover that takes place 12-24 months after women return from maternity leave.”
In September, Equal Pay Day will show again how big the pay gap is between men and women. In November 2014 the gender pay gap stood at 18.8 per cent.
Gender pay and inequality in the workplace is an important issue, socially and economically. In a ground-breaking report in 2013, Goldman Sachs estimated that Australia was missing out on $195 billion, or 13 per cent of gross domestic product, by failing to close the workforce gender gap.
It is an issue, along with broader issues such as innovation, advanced manufacturing, taxation and Australia’s role in the digital age that a group of women tech chief executives from Twitter, Microsoft, Pandora and REA Group will discuss with me on Thursday at the Melbourne Press Club.
But while we have a Minister for Women in Tony Abbott, it will be small steps. Abbott’s old-fashioned views about women was on full display in December, when he said his biggest achievement as Minister for Women was getting rid of carbon tax because “as many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget”. He is also convinced that Australia has “smashed just about every glass ceiling”.
Companies have started to take action to lift the number of women on boards, but there is still a long way to go.
Source: Financial Review http://www.afr.com/brand/100women/tech-companies-move-to-rectify-glaring-gender-gap-20150726-giknhr