Kaylene O'Brien, deputy chair of networking forum Vic ICT for Women, is one of many Australian ICT workers who have experienced gender discrimination.
“You don’t have to scratch too hard to find women in ICT have all got a story,” O'Brien told CIO Australia.
“Mine was a surprise and it was a long time ago. I found my manager of a previous employer was inviting his team out and they were all men and I was at the equivalent level but I wasn’t included.
“When you are excluded from social things you miss out on hearing about career opportunities and building stronger working relationships. It may seem insignificant at first but it has an accumulative effect over the years in terms of access to decision makers and career opportunities.
"It’s something that senior leaders should be quite conscious about. So providing [equal] access to mentoring and decision makers is an important step in addressing the gender imbalance,” O'Brien said.
A new survey by the Australian Computer Society has revealed that one in four women who work in ICT experience gender bias.
The ACS surveyed 5113 ICT workers – 86 per cent were male and 14 per cent were female – and found 25 per cent of female respondents had experienced gender discrimination, with 43 per cent of women experiencing some form of discrimination.
ACS spokesperson, Thomas Shanahan, said these findings are concerning, and the fact that male respondents to the survey significantly outweigh female respondents could show that there is still a long way to go in encouraging more women to pursue a career in ICT.
The ACS Statistical Compendium 2012 found women only make up 19.73 per cent of the total ICT-related occupation workforce, declining from 24.10 per cent in 2011.
"Given women make up approximately 50 per cent of the Australian population, gender discrimination is damning from an industry, education sector and government perspective," said Chris Skipper-Conway, Chairperson for Vic ICT for Women and 2013 Victorian iAwards Woman of the Year.
"Vic ICT for Women has been experiencing the same feedback from women in ICT through our events, and survey feedback from our member base. This is most definitely still happening and while it is inherent in the industry, both women and men alike need to develop strategies to overcome it.
"Most agree that little is done to highlight the opportunities available to girls within the ICT industry, nor are the benefits or the available outcomes to business highlighted in relation to a more balanced ICT workforce."
In addition, ACS’ 2012 Remuneration Survey found men in ICT earn, on average, 9.8 per cent more than women, even though women entering the industry start on comparable or slightly higher salaries.
"Women generally appear to seek to validate their claims regarding their abilities rather than confidently acknowledge their track record and experiences. This allows for doubt to arise in the decision makers mind," Skipper-Conway said.
"I think it’s still fairly common unfortunately for people to have an unconscious bias where they make assumptions about what women can and can’t do based on stereotypes, and so they potentially don’t look at women for particular types of roles or for promotion," said O'Brien.
"There are still elements of assuming women don’t have much flexibility around their work hours or aren’t as ambitious or career minded. But we know in the 21st century – not just in the IT industry but in all sorts of industries – women are just as career minded, ambitious and career driven as men."
Training and development
The ACS survey also found about 43 per cent of respondents take full responsibility for their training and development and 50 per cent do so in conjunction with their employer. Twenty-seven per cent of employers made no financial contribution to cost of training and development.
“ICT is a fast moving industry where it’s incredibly important to keep up with the trends,” O’Brien said.
“For example, BlackBerry, one of the strongest tech brands a handful of years ago, is in major financial difficulty. Things can go from hot to being on the scrap heap pretty quickly. So keeping your skills up-to-date is more important in the ICT industry than many others.”
In April this year, former Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan introduced a proposal to limit tax deductibles for work-related self-education expenses to $2000.
Chief executive of the Australian Information Industry Association, Suzanne Campbell, said at the time that the reform is “directly at odds” with the need to address the ICT skills shortage in Australia.
“We really need to be looking at approaches that encourage people to keep their skills up-to-date and to retrain them as necessary because ICT is constantly evolving,” she said.
However, in August, Treasurer Chris Bowen announced the deferral of the work-related self-education tax reform, which was heralded by several industry stakeholders.
"The cost of gaining formal recognition for personal efforts expended on self-training are largely in excess of the limits proposed and hence the proposal should be scrapped," said Skipper-Conway.
"The government's proposal seems to be targeted to limiting training options to very basic computer literacy capabilities rather than a formal ICT professional capability or subject."
Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett