Technological advancements are spawning new employment opportunities globally. As the knowledge-based economy takes shape in New Zealand (NZ), the number of jobs in the Information Technology (IT) sector rapidly increases. Today, NZ is experiencing severe shortages in qualified IT professionals required to anchor and sustain the industry’s growth. While NZ desperately attempts to attract human capital from abroad to fill the labour gap, increasing kiwi women’s participation in the IT field may also help alleviate the skills shortage issue. According to Stats NZ (2018), women make up only 20% of people employed in IT-related roles in NZ. Evidently, there remains a gender imbalance despite significant growth in the IT industry.
NZ has come a long way in terms of women’s rights and participation in the workforce. Based on the most recent statistics, women make up almost half of NZ’s paid workforce (Stats NZ, 2019). So why are there so few women in NZ’s IT field?
- Environmental factors can inhibit women’s participation in the field
- Society shapes people’s identities and feelings of either acceptance or alienation within the IT field
- Professional challenges can include power relations and discrimination
- Culture can impact one’s education attainment, professional development, daily work life, and career progression
- Family members can influence education and career choices —“supportive” versus “conservative”
- Lack of support for parents/mothers —women leave jobs due to motherhood.
- History can shape societal perceptions on women (especially married women with kids) and work
- Culture shapes one’s perception of “what is normal” —women in IT is not considered normal in some, if not many, cultures
- Prevailing attitudes about women in IT can either encourage or discourage their participation
- With regards to institutional influences, gender segregation in courses of study can be observed
- Where males are more likely to choose IT/science subjects in schools, females can become less likely to join a field where they are outnumbered and feel they don’t belong.
- Lack of women role models in IT
- Constantly receiving strong messages about “male domains”, such as sports and IT, can impact one’s career choice
- There are numerous ways to define one’s gender identity, though society tends to view gender via a narrow binary —the reproductive arena. With the formation of gender stereotypes, people who violate traditional masculine or feminine ideals are likely to experience disapproval.
- “Brogrammer” culture —an unwelcoming and aggressive male dominance that drive women away from the industry
IT has been socially constructed as a male domain for far too long, and it does not benefit anyone in the long run. We all contribute to social shaping, including governments, schools, families, and employers. Women are increasingly prominent in medicine, law, business, police, and defence —roles that were once dominated by men. Isn’t it ironic that the IT industry — a constantly evolving industry requiring constant adaptation to changes — is still far behind in catching up with gender parity as compared to many other industries?
Why women CAN, and should go into IT:
- Gender does not define one’s intellectual capacity
- IT is a knowledge-based industry —gender does not define one’s ability to acquire knowledge
- Inherent interests and capability in IT spanning across the gender continuum is a false assumption lacking supporting evidence
- Gender disparity in IT professions isn’t the natural order of things
- There are numerous advantages of having diverse perspectives, including having more approaches to a problem, and broader creative inputs
- Diversity enables the company to serve the interests of the larger community
- As more women occupy positions in IT, more women are likely to consider the industry and won’t feel like the odd one out. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, which will help balance out the gender ratio. Women can then focus on doing their job well, rather than concentrate on fitting in the male dominated space.
To sum up, IT profession is not limited to a particular group of people. Women can have a successful IT career. With adequate education and training, local Kiwi women are a promising group to meet labour demands.
Stats NZ. (2018). Women in the workforce 2017. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.stats.govt.nz/infographics/women-in-the-workforce-2017
Stats NZ. (2019). Women in paid work. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/women-in-paid-work