4 March 2021

We Can Do IT Better

We Can Do IT Better

Exploring the IT industry’s problem with gender equality. Any professional worth their salt plays well with others. But when it comes to the IT industry, there’s an issue. It turns out it’s a bit of a boy’s club.

And it’s our fault, which makes it our responsibility to challenge.

Our industry has a reputation. Historically, IT was for back-of-house nerds who, eventually, stepped out of the shadows to make cool things happen. But at their worst, IT was seen as the domain of irate tech-goblins who hoarded coding wisdom and hissed at anyone who challenged their authority. And while it’s easy to say: ‘not all workplaces,’ the fact remains that a career in IT can be a troubling prospect for anyone looking to avoid harassing behaviours.

Especially when it comes to harassment borne of gender stereotypes.

So, what’s happening?

Let’s take a look at the stats.

In Australia:
  • Women’s average full-time weekly earnings were 86% of that of men (1).
  • The gender pay gap in Australia has hovered between 15~19% for over 20 years (2).
  • Managerial roles favour men (61.4%) over women (38.6%) (1).
  • Employed women aged 20-74 years are almost three times more likely than men to be working part-time (1).
  • Australia’s workforce is highly gender-segregated (3).
  • 60% of Australian workers don’t know what it is like to work in an industry with balanced gender representation (4).
  • A woman working in a female-dominated industry would, on average, earn almost $40,000 less in total remuneration than a man in a male-dominated industry (4).
  • Australia hasn’t actively set national targets for gender equality (3).
  • Australia has fallen from 15th to 44th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index over the last 14 years (5)

Now, the gender pay gap is attributable, at least in part, to the fact that roles that employ a higher percentage of women tend to attract less pay. This stat by itself isn’t great.

Women make up half of our society. Why, in the IT industry, aren’t our offices filled with technically minded boys and girls in equal measure?

And why is there a gender pay gap in computing industries?

Here’s a clue for the first one.

IT careers by gender

According to the narrative, women are in high demand in the IT industry. From the outside, that’s an understandable drive – it’s worth paying a premium for diversity. But there’s a large gap between this alleged demand and the experiences of women in ICT roles.

  • The Australian information, media, and telecommunications industry features a gender pay gap of between 4.1% and 17.2% (6).
  • Over half (56.5%) of female ICT workers interviewed said they had experienced bias or discrimination on the basis of gender since 2019 (6).
  • 20.1% of female ICT employees reported experiencing sexual harassment during their career (6).

There is also a large gender gap when examining the number of women who have been interested enough to enrol in IT.

  • Population between 15-65 enrolled in IT: 2.3% women vs 6.1% men (1).
  • Women make up just 26% of university qualified Information Technology graduates (7).

The following flowchart shows the point of failure.

So that helps to answer one part. The disparity may start with the decision to enrol in IT.
And if fewer women are studying IT or related fields, it stands to reason that there would be fewer women graduating in IT and seeking jobs in the industry.

But it doesn’t tell us why IT is not a clear and obvious choice in the first place. And this is why we have to choose to challenge these figures.

The gendered experience

To this end, we interviewed some of our colleagues on their experiences working in the IT industry. We have removed all personal details, and interviewees have checked the comments included for accuracy.

Here are some of their responses.

Studying IT

“I was sexually harassed during university studies by my IT tutor. He applied mark-ups on multiple assignments until I turned him down for a date. The tutor then began badmouthing to multiple staff members, impacting my grades. I dropped out shortly after and went into full-time work.”

Gaining employment

“When I was first offered a role to manage a large IT support team consisting of 95% males, I was having second thoughts about taking the job. Growing up in a female-dominated family, I wasn’t confident that I could build a good relationship with the team.”

Workplace harassment

“One staff member would harass me by invading my personal space while working and by making contact outside of business hours. My direct report supervisor claimed he could no longer offer management or mentorship services as he was “in love with” me. My responses to harassment frequently resulted in office nicknames like “Ice Queen”. I didn’t report these incidents due to a fear of workplace backlash.”


“There is a strong cultural belief that men have superior technical skills and can troubleshoot complex issues better than women. Some companies think being a working woman is a challenge that involves handling multiple personal and work-related tasks and that this ‘multitasking’ results in inferior work. I didn’t have opportunities to access personalised training and support from the company or my peers. Training and exam fees are costly, and the company didn’t want to invest in what they saw as my ‘personal’ development.”

Unclear values

“Women tend to undervalue themselves, and men tend to overvalue themselves. There’s also significant research into why men are more likely to ask for larger raises more often. In contrast, women on average ask for 30% less.”

Professional jealousy

“A client liked our team so much they offered access to a leadership workshop in thanks. The operations manager saw this as a “threat” and engaged in a months-long gaslighting campaign. The continued harassment saw me leave the project, then the client, and only ended when I left the company. I made no formal complaint due to fear of backlash.”

Work interpreted ‘sorry I can’t stay any later. I have to go home to my child’ to mean I wasn’t interested in career progression.


“I worked in a male-dominated technical environment and made a point of being socially active with my colleagues to show I was a team player. After the birth of my child, I started missing a lot of social events. I started feeling like I was losing my team-player status. Then I started missing promotion opportunities. Work interpreted ‘sorry I can’t stay any later. I have to go home to my child’ to mean I wasn’t interested in career progression. They couldn’t see how it’d be possible for me to fulfil the role of a manager AND be a mother. I passed every test, delivered on every outcome. I worked harder than those I competed with to prove myself. But the roles always went to the socially-active “team players,” and my inquiries did not get answers.”

Work-life balance

“This industry tends to overwork people in a mentally damaging way. People are expected to take on tasks and saying “no” makes you unhelpful at best and “not a team player” at worst. This is multiplied infinitely for women as there are huge cultural issues with women who say “no”. Women are taught from a young age that saying no is not an option. So, women tend to say “yes” to extra tasks and projects and get overwhelmed faster.”

These experiences show that it’s not enough to say your IT workplace is equal. It’s not enough to enforce wage equality. It’s not enough to put up self-aware content pieces that discuss how you support women in the workplace. These activities help, but they don’t go far enough to encourage women to study IT.

Why does IT drive away women?

The experiences listed above help show why there might be fewer women interested in IT as a career when compared to the population. Our interviews also uncovered clear correlations between gender ratios, industry perception, and how power distribution influences these kinds of career decisions.

Gender ratios

One key driver for many career choices is the identification and adoration of heroes. When people see an individual they can relate to doing well at an activity, it reduces the mental gap between that career and the viewer. In this way, accessible idols help make career choices feel achievable.

Now, it’s no secret that IT has been a male-dominated industry. But the “mentrification” of computing did not require a massive conspiracy or coverup. A cultural desire to maintain a frame of reference that, while grossly unfair, was understood by the people involved helped to drive the process. What started with Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Jean Bartik, and Betty Holberton quickly became the focus for men. Female participation was hidden and erased, with each breakthrough attributed to male supervisors.

Today, figuring out who worked on what is difficult, as women’s contributions went mostly unrecorded. Or if they were, they were labelled as “unimportant” – for if they were important, a man would surely have been in charge.

The result – a historical lack of female role models. Figures that might otherwise help to drive female interest in computing and IT as a career are missing. And a gender ratio that is out of proportion with the population.

Industry perception

It’s known that the IT industry has a reputation. Especially when it comes to harassment borne of stereotypes. At the time of writing, it’s the 21st century – we have jetpacks and self-driving cars – but unhelpful tropes remain in play. And according to the American Association of University Women spokesperson Christianne Corbett, the number one thing “holding women back” today is stereotypes.

Corbett says the belief that girls and women are bad at maths and science is more a reflection of a cultural focus than an individual decision, as it starts in early childhood.

Corbett explains: “By first grade, most kids already associate math with boys.”

Economist at Per Capita Shirley Jackson says that this stereotype extends outside the classroom, spilling into boardrooms official offices alike: “We undervalue women socially, culturally and politically.”

In the workplace, this devaluation expresses itself in the considerations given to workers. In IT, many roles do not line up with the needs and interests of women. Long hours and arbitrary metrics fail to take into account the personal impacts of pregnancy and childbirth and the need for caregiving responsibilities (be it for children or elderly parents). Such vital tasks are seen to compete with work – or are considered the role of a dedicated spouse.

Provisions for these tasks are ignored, denigrated, or treated as an afterthought. People who work long shifts, avoid taking time off, and participate in social events are seen as “go-getters” and “team players”. These attitudes don’t just drive away women – they also serve to push away anyone in the role of being a caregiver.

Power distribution

An industry’s reputation is often closely tied to a few key individuals’ prestigious achievements. The individuals themselves become driving factors for recruitment.

But when these people get accused of hostile or harassing behaviour, they are more likely to have the accusations dismissed or minimised to help the organisation or the industry save face. While that has changed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, complaints were once rejected by those in power. And people still feel that bias in the collective consciousness.

This behaviour is not just prevalent in organisations with a high male ratio. Even in environments where women outnumber men and hold positions of authority, there is a tendency to dismiss or minimise harassment incidents where men are the culprits. Significantly, older men who might have some claim to fame.

The result is that numbers mean little when it comes to being taken seriously. If you work as hard as you can, only to have:

  • your efforts belittled.
  • your achievements stolen.
  • priority given to someone’s name rather than staff safety.

Then it’s easy to see why that might make for an undesirable career.

It all adds up

Microsoft’s Gavriella Schuster says that more women are considering working fewer hours or leaving the tech industry entirely due to caregiving responsibilities and workplace pressures.

“By percentage, there are fewer women entering technology, there are more jobs in technology, and more women are being displaced by the technology,” Schuster says.

This is really a recipe for disaster.

Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President, Commercial Partner at Microsoft

Being leered at, talked down to, or told to smile are distressingly common experiences. And the reactions to it – either reporting it or toughening up – can result in unpleasant nicknames at best and disciplinary action at worst.

If your business doesn’t stamp out these prejudices and behaviours – and the industry as a whole – it fosters a negative reputation. The same goes for training, promotions, and project assignment. If women are skipped over for consideration, that behaviour gets out, and no one wants to work with you. Or in that industry.

So, how do we fix this?

Check out some of the positive actions taken by the IT industry in our next post: “Positive progress in the IT industry”.


1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Gender Indicators, Australia. 2020.
2. Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Australia’s Gender Pay Gap Statistics. 2021.
3. Gender Segregation in Australia’s Workforce. 2019.
4. Parliament of Australia. Gender segregation in the workplace and its impact on women’s economic equality. 2017.
5. Emma Dawson, Tanja Kovac, Abigail Lewis. Measure For Measure – Gender Equality in Australia. s.l. : Per Capita, 2020.
7. Katherine Leigh, Annika Hellsing, Phillippa Smith, Natasha Josifovski, Ewan Johnston, Penny Leggett. AUSTRALIA’S STEM WORKFORCE. s.l. : Office of the Chief Scientist, 2020.