Gender Inequality in the IT Sector and Why it’s Bad for Business and Society

Gender Inequality in the IT Sector and Why it’s Bad for Business and Society

This piece focuses on diversity from a gender perspective. It recognises that the term diversity encompasses many more social categories than gender, such as, race, nationality and sexuality. However, the piece limits its discussion to gender, and specifically, to women’s participation in the IT workplace. It explores the social and cultural history of women’s participation in the workforce, the current gender pay gap and how this influences women’s participation in the IT workplace in particular. Furthermore, it explores ways to increase diversity in the IT workplace and why this is important from not only a social equality perspective but financial and economic perspective.

As Sonja Bernhardt notes, women in technology have been present across history (Bernhardt 2014, p. 1). The first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, was a woman, as was Grace Hopper, who created the first compiler in 1952 (Bernhardt 2014, p. 2). These names have become increasingly well known due to the push to recognise female erasure from history and write women back into the pages of history. Yet it is the pervasive “social and cultural contexts” (Bernhardt 2014, p. 1) that act as “barriers against” (Bernhardt 2014, p. 1) women which not only hinder but also suppress female involvement (Bernhardt 2014, p. 1). What Bernhardt is addressing, is at once, the historical oppression of women in regards to access to education and their concomitant exclusion from traditionally male dominated fields, in this case, anything considered technical.

In Australia, we currently have a gender pay gap, that is, the gap between what men and women are paid for doing the same job. PriceWaterHouseCoopers Annual Women in Work Index (2016), which combines key indicators of female economic empowerment into a single comparable index for 33 OECD countries, found that Australia has continued to fall in the rankings as other countries have improved, falling back to pre-2007 performance in 20th place. Women are paid $83 for every $100 her male counterpart earns on average across the OECD (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2016, p. 3). Women who report being underemployed and unable to find more hours is also a significant issue with more than half a million women, or nearly a quarter of all part-time workers (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2016, p. 3) falling into this category. As the Workplace for Gender Equality Agency in Australia state, “women represent one half of the global population—they deserve equal access to health, education, earning power and political representation” (2016, pp. 1-2). In an ideal world, diversity in the IT workplace would be representative of women holding one half of IT positions and being paid the same wage for the same job.

In Australian IT workplaces in 2011, only 25 per cent of employed Information technology qualified workforce aged 15 years and over were female (Professionals Australia 2015, p. 4). This lack of gender equity is also found at Universities where the “gender gap in computing is getting worse” in both the United States (Accenture Research & Girls Who Code 2016, p. 2) and Australia. In Australia, domestic female enrolments in computing have declined” (Vivian 2015). While, in the U.S., the gap is not just low, it is lower than female participation in computer science majors in the 1980s. Statistically, in 1984, 37% of computer science majors were women, today, only 18% are (Accenture Research & Girls Who Code 2016, p. 3).

The aforementioned 2016 report by Accenture and Girls Who Code, found that universal access to computer science risks re-enforcing the prevailing gender imbalance in IT, and that exposure alone is “insufficient to increase the proportion of girls pursuing computer science” (Accenture Research & Girls Who Code 2016, p. 3). What they are highlighting is that the gender stereotypes around what kind of people study and then pursue careers in IT are so powerful that new ways of representing what IT is and how it can appeal specifically to girls and women need to be constructed. They suggest that the key to improving women’s participation rates are a three-fold education program which focuses on, “sparking the interest of girls in junior high school, sustaining their commitment in high school where early gains are often lost, and inspiring college undergraduates by reframing computer curriculums” (Accenture Research & Girls Who Code 2016, p. 3). They give an example of reframing curriculum with the University of California Berkeley, who renamed their ‘Introduction to Symbolic Programming’ course to, ‘Beauty and the Joy of Computing.’ This change of name resulted in women outnumbering men among the course attendees for the first time in 20 years (Accenture Research & Girls Who Code 2016, p. 14).

Societal representations of who does IT are critical, especially in younger women because if women and all categories of people for that matter, cannot see representations of themselves on TV and in the media at large, how can they aspire to become what they do not see? For example, in 2015, only 17% of the top grossing films had a female lead (Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media 2016). A further breakdown of this data to explore women’s representation in STEM fields, found between 2006 and 2011, women made up only 16.3% of characters in family films and 21.1% of characters in prime-time TV show’s (Smith et al. 2013) which is an improvement, and on par with women currently working in the sector.

Outside of the pursuit of equality being a reason to cultivate diversity in the IT workplace, there are also economic reasons to cultivate gender diversity. The 2016 Australian business case for gender equality report highlights that, workplace gender equality is associated with, improved national productivity and economic growth, increased organisational performance, enhanced ability of companies to attract talent and retain employees, and enhanced organisational reputation (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, p. 1). Goldman Sachs & JBWere calculated that the rise in female employment since 1974 has boosted Australian economic activity by 22% and that a 6% increase in the female participation rate would boost the level of GDP by 11% (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2016, p. 2). In a similar vein, the Grattan Institute estimates that increased access to childcare and tax benefits would act as incentives for women to enter the workforce and increase the size of the economy by $25 billion annually (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2016, p. 2). Thus, showcasing that there are also distinctively economic reasons for increasing workplace diversity.

Further to this, the business case for gender equality report found that, “more gender balanced teams are better in promoting an environment where innovation can flourish compared to teams of one particular gender” (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2016, p. 3). In an increasingly global world, innovation is crucial to remaining competitive both locally and internationally. This recognition has prompted an effort to get more women on company boards both in Australia and globally. A report by MSCI found that, companies who had strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1% per year versus 7.4% for those without (MSCI 2015, p. 4). Interestingly though, a 2014 global survey of 21,980 firms headquartered in 91 countries, found that the presence of female CEOs has no noticeable effect on firm performance (Noland, Moran & Kotschwar 2016, p. 3) unless there are women in positions of power throughout the organisation, and not just one lone woman at the top. This survey also found that a transition from no female leaders to 30 per cent representation is associated with a 15 per cent increase in the net revenue margin (Noland, Moran & Kotschwar 2016, p. 16). Thus, highlighting the importance of gender diverse workplaces when it comes to creating innovation and overall performance.

However, this research is critiqued by Sonja Bernhardt, who argues that theories about a leaky pipeline (Bernhardt 2014, p. 75), in other words, women not having access to positions of power across organisations, and the idea that once women reach a critical mass things will change, are outdated. Bernhardt, highlights that “if 30% is the critical mass figure for women in ICT professions, then it is close to being reached in user support and operation technician occupations, and there should be evidence of culture change in these occupations” (Bernhardt 2014, p. 75). This culture change, as I have discussed has not occurred. As a result, she argues that these theories “ought to be cast aside” (Bernhardt 2014, p. 85) and we should instead focus on what individuals want. Despite this assertion, and the merit of an individual approach, I suggest we cannot simply separate the individual from the larger cultural and social contexts that they exist within, especially when it comes to gender diversity and the context of an IT workplace.

Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 report reminds us that “that today’s female university students in developed markets could be the first generation in history to see the gender pay gap close in their professional lifetimes” (Accenture 2017, p. 2). To ensure this happens however, they must makes strategic choices and learn more digital skills (Accenture 2017, p. 2). In addition to this, businesses, governments and academia must also provide crucial support. The report identifies three powerful equalisers to closing the pay gap and the IT workplace is integral to addressing the issue. These are the cultivation of digital literacy, having a career strategy and having opportunities to be immersed in tech and therefore advance their careers as quickly as men (Accenture 2017, p. 3).

As this report has shown, gender diversity in the IT workplace is undoubtedly a current challenge facing IT professionals and the nation at large. However, multiple solutions and strategies to meet the challenge head on are at hand. These include, targeted curriculum, female role models, deconstructing gender stereotypes around men and women’s work and opportunities for women to become more digitally literate. After all, if IT workplaces are equally appealing to men and women, organisations have access to a larger pool of talent (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2016) and the individual, organisation and economy all benefit.

Reference List

Accenture 2017, Getting to Equal 2017: Closing the Gender Pay Gap, Accenture, New York.

Accenture Research & Girls Who Code 2016, Cracking the Gender Code, Accenture, New York.

Bernhardt, S 2014, Women in IT in the New Social Era: A Critical Evidence-Based Review of Gender Inequality and the Potential for Change, Advances in human and social aspects of technology (AHSAT) book series, Hershey.

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media 2016, ‘The Reel Truth: Women Aren’t Seen or Heard’, viewed 24 March 2017, <https://seejane.org/research-informs-empowers/data/>.

MSCI 2015, Women on Boards, MSCI, New York.

Noland, M, Moran, T & Kotschwar, B 2016, Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington.

PricewaterhouseCoopers 2016, International Women’s Day PwC’s Women in Work Index, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sydney.

Professionals Australia 2015, Women in STEM position paper, Professionals Australia, Melbourne.

Smith, SL, Choueiti, M, Prescott, A & Pieper, K 2013, ‘Gender Roles & Occupations: A Look at Character Attributes and Job-Related  Aspirations in Film and Television’, viewed 25 March 2017, <https://seejane.org/wp-content/uploads/key-findings-gender-roles-2013.pdf>.

Vivian, R 2015, A Look at IT and Engineering Enrolments in Australia, The University of Adelaide, viewed 24 March 2017, <https://blogs.adelaide.edu.au/cser/2015/07/03/a-look-at-it-and-engineering-enrolments-in-australia/>.

Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2016, The business case for gender equality, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Sydney.

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Online harassment of LGBTI people: A Crime by Any Other Name

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Online harassment of LGBTI people: A Crime by Any Other Name

Online harassment of LGBTI people: A Crime by Any Other Name

Policymakers need to commit funding to studying online harassment of LGBTI people and how to respond to it.

The Internet was once considered the domain of the unreal, a kind of pseudo-utopia where anything goes and anything can be said or posted, at least for young, middle-class, white heterosexual men. Yet just as society at large is called to acknowledge the ways in which privilege operates to silence all those who are not born white, into upwardly-mobile families, gendered male and also heterosexual, so too must the online world be called to acknowledge the ways in which it operates as a breeding ground for inequity and abuse.

A recent study by La Trobe University’s Dr Bianca Fileborn found that street harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is alarmingly high. We know homophobia lives on the streets, in our workplaces, and in our political debates over marriage equality. What we really don’t know is whether this kind of harassment extends to the online worlds many of us only leave to sleep.

A huge percentage of the LGBTI population are active online. In the US, according to a 2013 survey of LGBTI people conducted by the PEW Research centre, 80 per cent of LGBTI respondents participate in social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, compared to just 58 per cent of the general public. For me and many others in the LGBTI community, the Internet serves as a place of connection in a world that is so often hostile to particular manifestations of desire. Whether it’s for dates, information, or merely feeling seen, the net offers a space that can foster social inclusion. But, like all things, there is a flip side to this experience.

Increasing attention has been focused on digital abuse and cyberbullying, particularly around young people. The experiences of adult LGBTI people, however, have been scarcely studied, particularly in Australia. Here’s what we do know.

In 2011 MTV and the Associated Press surveyed 1,986 people between the ages of 14 and 24 in the United States. They found that that 51 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people were frequently discriminated online, second only to overweight people. The most prevalent slurs were “that’s so gay” (65 per cent), “slut” (55 per cent) and “fag” (53 per cent). It’s a reminder that classroom barbs seep into the digital worlds we inhabit with seeming ease.

A year later in 2012, Queensland University of Technology surveyed 528 first year Australian university students. The study found that non-heterosexual men were more likely to be cyber-bullied than non-heterosexual women. Interestingly though, the experiences of heterosexual and non-heterosexuals online regarding abuse was actually very similar. The study’s authors reminded us that the impact of cyberbullying may outweigh the effects of traditional bullying due to the limitless audience and ability for comments, pictures and videos to go viral and therefore never have an end, either in time or location.

Perhaps the most well-known case of cyberbullying against a member of the LGBTI community is that of 18-year-old Rutgers university student, Tyler Clementi. Clementi’s roommate captured him having sex with another man by secretly using his webcam without his consent. Dharun Ravi went on Twitter to announce Clementi was “making out with a dude” which he watched with a friend and then live streamed to his 150 twitter followers. A day later Clementi committed suicide in what the media called cyberbullying but what the US courts declined to label as a hate crime. Academic Jessica S Henry calls it bias-based cyberbullying, citing anecdotal evidence that in the month of September 2010 alone, the same month that Clementi committed suicide, at least nine other men also committed suicide after being harassed online because of their sexuality.

In 2015, UK’s Stonewall found that 5 per cent of LGBT adults and 23 per cent of LGBT pupils reported that they had been the target of homophobic abuse or behaviour online in the past year. This research prompted the UK Government to launch a website to help victims of online abuse.

Closer to home, Amy Middleton and her team at Archer Magazine were recently the subject of online abuse. Archer is pitched at telling the stories of the LGBTI community in Australia that mainstream media doesn’t address and does it so well they won a UN Human Rights Media Award. But still they were attacked by a prominent blogger for their appearance, work, bios,  and identities.

More recently, Melbourne’s LGBTI community radio station JOY 94.9 FM received a bomb threat via email. I was recently told via twitter that I need God to turn me away from my “animalistic and evil lust.”

We know harassment and marginalisation leads to increased risk of mental health problems including drug and alcohol misuse, reduced social participation, economic disengagement, even suicide. This affects every single one of us, LGBTI-identified or not.

What is needed is a specific Australian response, but in order to create it, we need more research. Not $7.5 million dollars proposed as part of the plebiscite for advertising against the push for marriage equality that will further marginalise LGBTI people, but dollars to create a safer Australia, no matter one’s desire or gender identity.

This response needs to include research into current statistics so we know the breadth of the problem, analysis of existing responses like the website the UK funded as a result of addressing their online harassment issue, assessing whether such an approach worked and whether it would work in Australia, as well as involving police, policymakers, organisations and community members so a collaborative approach is employed.

If you or someone that you know is feeling overwhelmed or is affected by sexuality or gender-identity harassment, support is available. Call QLife: 1800 184 527 or visit www.qlife.org.au, KidsHelpLine: 1800 55 1800 (for teens and young adults), or Beyond Blue (24/7): 1300 22 4636.


Brigitte Lewis

This piece was first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion. Read the original here: http://www.policyforum.net/a-crime-by-any-other-name/#republish

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Online harassment of LGBTI people: A Crime by Any Other Name

  Policymakers need to commit funding to studying online harassment of LGBTI people and how to respond to it. The Internet was once considered the domain of the unreal, a kind of pseudo-utopia where anything goes and anything can be said or posted, at least for young,...