Tuesday, 07 March 2017 19:17

Female CIO calls for more women in tech Featured


One of Australia's few female chief information officers is noncommittal about the idea of quotas for women in tech, but says that with current moves to boost the number of women in the industry not working, something else needs to be done.

Andrea Walsh, a 20-year veteran of the tech industry, is currently the CIO of media intelligence company Isentia.

In her current role, Walsh is responsible for delivering and managing the IT platforms providing media monitoring services to clients across 15 countries in the Asia Pacific region.

She has led large (100+) IT and digital teams in delivering high-profile, multi-million dollar business outcomes across the region as part of a global organisation.

Before Isentia, Walsh held international leadership roles with marketing and loyalty analytics company AIMIA, and before that with Carlson Marketing.

Deeply interested in increasing the number of women in technology, Walsh is a strong supporter of Females in IT and Telecommunications, a not-for-profit network which aims to inspire women to achieve their career aspirations in disciplines within ICT, by facilitating peer networking and support through its programmes.

Isentia has been operating since 1982 and has more than 1100 employees in 15 countries filtering information from more than 5500 print, radio and television media outlets and over 250 million online conversations per month.

Walsh spoke to iTWire to mark International Women's Day.

iTWire: You mentioned a report that shows women in technology are paid 8% less than men.

Andrea Walsh: Global tech recruitment site Hired, out of Silicon Valley, presented this report in late 2016. They analysed more than 10,000 offers made to approximately 3000 candidates. The report also found that the wage gap tended to be largest in mid-sized companies. Firms with between 201-1000 employees had a wage gap of 17%. 

Does it cover the US only, or Australia only or a number of countries?

The report finds that in the US, female salaries in the tech industry are 8% less; in the UK the gap was 9%; in Canada 7% and 5% in Australia.

You mention that a Gartner CIO survey shows that the percentage of women CIOs has been largely static since 2004. What is the percentage?

There hasn’t been an IT-specific report released. However, the annual Gender Equity Insights report published this month revealed the gap between men and women's salaries dropped from 23.9% in 2015 to 23.1% in 2016. The data, collected by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, looked at more than 12,000 employers and four million employees. This is promising, but it’s still not enough.

Why do you think there are no women coming through the ranks to join the tech industry?

We need to start by engaging future female CIOs now. We need to teach schoolgirls to code, we need to make sure coding is no longer relegated to the domain of boys. Digital literacy should be as important as any other form of literacy. We need to generate a movement like Michelle Obama’s #builtbygirls campaign in the US, where all young girls are encouraged to engage with technology early and stay "hooked".

Do you think something like the GNOME Outreach Programme for Women would help in Australia?

Yes, I think as much exposure we can give to young women about tech as a fantastic career opportunity with so much potential, the better.

If so, why are projects like this not being set up?

I think there are other great initiatives in Australia working hard to bridge this gap. FITT is a great example: a not-for-profit network whose purpose is to inspire women to achieve their career aspirations and potential at all levels and disciplines within ICT, by facilitating peer networking and support through their programmes.

Why is it that the topic of women in tech is only raised close to International Women's Day?

International Women’s Day is such a great platform for issues and opportunities centred around women, to be made. This day provides us with a voice. Over the years, IWD has become much more mainstream and media outlets are hungry for stories like this. It’s great – because topics like this are pushed out into consumer media, rather than traditional "trade" media.

Do you think we need quotas for women in tech?

What we are doing right now is clearly not working fast enough. I think if we are really serious about making a change we need to encourage girls to start to learn early and put programmes in place to support them through this process and entering the workforce.

What direct actions can companies take to boost the numbers of women in tech?

1. Work with both male and females to highlight the importance of diversity in the workplace. We know that in 2015 McKinsey published the Diversity dividend highlighting that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform others. Perhaps even more interesting to note is that half of the companies listed in the Fortune 10 are women.

2. Better publicise and celebrate, internally and externally females in tech within your business. Highlight the contribution, success and skills these women have, and the positive impact it’s having on business.

3. Ensure women in tech are remunerated properly. The good news is, as far as other industries go, the tech sector is faring considerably well. A 2016 report showed that women in technology are paid 8% less than their male counterparts. While parity is still yet to be achieved this is a significant milestone for the industry when across all sectors the national gender pay gap sits at around 16%.

In better news, the recent Gender Equity Insights report revealed the gap between men and women's salaries dropped from 23.9% in 2015 to 23.1% in 2016. The data was collected by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) from more than 12,000 employers and four million employees, then analysed by the Bankwest Curtin Economic Centre (BCEC). There is some speculation that this is mainly due to an economic downturn, but I remain optimistic it will continue.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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