22nd March, 2018
Just 23 percent of the NZ tech workforce is female – but grassroots action to get more women and girls interested in coding is underway.
MYOB’s Women in Tech report warns that while NZ has made great strides in gender equality in other industries, that’s not the case in tech.
MYOB NZ general manager Carolyn Luey recognised NZ’s efforts, but said the bar needs to be raised higher.
“While we fare better than many other countries, we’re a long way away from complete gender parity.”
And the statistics prove it.
The MYOB Women in Tech report shows men are twice as likely to study ICT at a tertiary level, and for every female studying engineering and related technologies, five men are studying those courses too.
The report argues that a big shake-up is needed to close the gender gap, but grassroots tech organisations are also rolling up their sleeves.
“If we don’t focus on closing the gender gap soon, we’re going to become truly divided, even more than we are now,” said OMG Tech! co-founder and manager Zoe Timbrell.
OMG Tech! began life in 2015 as a charity to teach the next generation of creative technologists.
Its classes are open to anybody between the ages of four and 24, but the organisation has also started putting on ‘girls only’ classes.
Timbrell said this is an effort to encourage more girls to take the leap into an area which is typically seen as ‘for the boys’.
“It’s essential that we create safe learning environments for girls and young women – especially as they get older,” she said.
The classes are designed to keep girls curious about tech, and keep them curious as they grow.
By the time girls reach high school, they’ve already made major decisions about the life direction – so it’s vital to foster an interest in tech from an early age.
Timbrell said while boys are taught about failure and curiosity, girls are taught to seek stability and mastery of skills over time. That’s an issue, she said, because risk-taking is essential in tech development.
“Technology needs failure; it’s about trial and error”.
If you peek inside tech firms, the women are usually in HR or marketing.
Timbrell said the key for more young women to embrace tech jobs was to paint an industry landscape that they can ‘see themselves’ in.
“When we think about what women are stereotypically good at, we tend to think co-operation and communication,” she explained. “As a result, girls often expect they won’t like technology because it’s just a bunch of men sitting around on computers with little to no interaction.”
Even the volunteers at OMG Tech! are a diverse crew to help paint this new picture. “We need to show them that there’s a place for women in tech,” said Timbrell.
“There’s no point telling young girls they should pursue a career in technology if we can’t show them a diverse industry.”