Women are still hugely underrepresented in the technology industry and the war for female tech talent is raging. We speak to Daniella Di Santo, a Senior Manager in Accenture Technology about increasing female representation in the technology sector.
What are some of the reasons so few women are entering the technology sector?
One reason is, if we look at it from a young girls’ perspective, the age they seem to be steering away from STEAM is between 12 and 15 years of age. Very often this is because they get labelled with the “nerd” banner if they are interested in computer sciences. This kind of teasing or reaction to girls interested in science or maths still happens and can turn girls away from STEAM subjects.
Another reason is gender bias and unequal growth opportunities compared to men. Girls very often question whether they’ll succeed in this area and be afforded the same opportunities as men.
What can we do to encourage young girls to choose a career in tech?
It’s about educating girls about what a career in tech looks like. We need to show them that tech can be cool, that there are female role models doing great things and show them some of these achievements.
It’s important to invite school girls into the tech organisations to show them what we do and give them a hands-on play with some of the technology.
From an Accenture perspective, we are striving to set examples and create roles models to show these young girls that there are women in the industry who are having a fun and interesting career and have many career opportunities. That a tech career is not just sitting in front of a computer coding – there are so many elements such as design thinking, problem solving and understanding what the customer wants and client-facing roles.
Tech Girls are Superheroes Mother/Daughter afternoon is coming up - what’s the aim of the afternoon?
Accenture is a sponsor this year of the Tech Girls Movement, which supports young women in tech (ages 7-17), going through the STEAM subjects. We're co-ordinating an afternoon tea at the new Accenture office in Sydney as a launch event for the Technovation Challenge. The invite goes out to all those who have signed up for the challenge this year and it's an opportunity for the girls to meet role models from Accenture, other teams, hear from the CEO of Tech Girls and meet some potential mentors from Industry. It's a fun afternoon a week before mother's day and an opportunity to shows girls inside a Tech organisation – to show them that we're a fun and exciting company. As an added bonus, as we are an innovation partner of the Australian Youth Orchestra, we are lucky to have a young quartet attending who will play music for the afternoon.
Tell me about the Technovation challenge?
Tech Girls Movement is the overall not-for-profit organisation. Tech Girls Are Superheroes and the Technovation Challenge sit under that. It’s a 12-week program from May to July where girls between the ages of 7 and 17 form a group of 3 to 5 with a coach who is a teacher from their school. Each group is then assigned a mentor from the industry. What they have to do is come up with an idea that impacts something within the community. Then over 12 weeks, they’re guided along the way to come up with a business plan, detail the design, look at any challenges and costings etc and then build an app to support it.
Do you think it’s important for girls to have a separate arena to learn about tech?
In 2018 yes, there are still challenges for some girls to feel comfortable in a tech environment. As we’ve seen the number of girls graduating in computer science is still low, so we still need to encourage them more to consider a career in tech. These “girls only” tech competitions give them a safe environment to explore what they like and don’t like without the risk of being embarrassed or teased.
Why is it so important for more women to play a part in tech? From a business perspective?
Women often have a different perspective on the way things might work and function and this can impact dealings and outcomes with clients. For example, we're currently working on a banking solution and one of the women working on the project said she had a goal which was "to make sure that everyone likes the bank." She has a target to make you feel happy when you walk into or interact with the bank and have a seamless end-to-end experience. And the experience of going into a bank is going to be perceived differently by a woman to a man. Therefore, these different perspectives yield positive commercial results.
Policies have been introduced in tech companies to try and address the gender disparity – such as egg-freezing and extended paternity leave. Is that a solution do you think?
My personal opinion is I don’t believe egg-freezing is a solution. I had my first daughter at 32 and I wish I’d had her earlier, but this was not due to career, just personal timing. So I would not have wanted to be encouraged to wait longer by my workplace.
Extended paternity leave is great. I definitely think organisations need to spend more time encouraging fathers to take that leave. At Accenture – men have the same entitlements to women. One of our male MDs recently took almost 12 months off to look after his son and he wrote a couple of blogs about it. He encouraged any dads who have the opportunity to take paternity leave, to do so. It was really refreshing to see.
What are the benefits of being a woman in tech?
I think women can build unique lasting relationships which can help your career down the track. Women are known for being better listeners and take an interest in people’s personal lives which can help develop connections on a different level. Once you’ve established relationships they can stick and very often you can rely on them down the track. Also Technology can be a complex area and clients’ issues can be tough. Women strive to understand the client issue and strive to solve that problem by listening and building lasting relationships.