The tech industry in Australia is growing at a healthy rate with 1 in 16 Australians working in technology jobs, making it Australia’s seventh biggest employer. Although these numbers are healthy, they aren’t high enough for our increasingly, digitised world. The skill shortage in Australia is hitting industries hard and tech is no exception, with the vacancy rate being 60% higher than the national average. There are multiple barriers limiting the job growth in tech, one barrier being women are majorly underrepresented within the industry. Yes, Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies do exist within majority of tech companies, but they are failing to dismantle the institutional barriers and biases that are resulting in not enough people from these underrepresented groups joining tech where they are needed. It is time the leadership in tech drive accountability in reaching DEI objectives and remove the hope that meaningful results will come from anything but a long-term and collective effort. It is programs which redesign systems with the specific objective to attract and retain talent that will help Australian companies escape the tech talent shortage. Sponsorship is one of them.
It is no secret that the number of female leaders in STEM industries are lower than they should be, with women making up 27% of the STEM workforce, with the highest proportion of women in senior STEM positions are in key management and other management roles at 24%. In tech specifically, it is a similar story, where globally women account for only 17% of managers in the information technology industry. It is these statistics which show that the current gender equity policies and strategies are failing, despite 85% of tech companies having some sort of a policy in place. At the Jobs and Skills Summit held in September, the government set a target of creating 1.2 million tech jobs by 2030 which means Australia needs to employ 653,000 additional tech workers. The question is, where will these workers come from? Prioritising DEI just like any other business strategy when it comes to spending and supplying effective policies, will not only attract talent into the industry but ensure they stay, through supporting and accelerating their career progression.
Sponsorship directly addresses these pipeline issues which effects a woman’s advancement into leadership roles. While companies complain of “only a small talent pool of people who have the skills and experience needed to work in these leadership roles”, they often don’t consider workers which are right in front of them. Through building a strategic relationship between one of these high potential employees (sponsees) and a senior leader (sponsors), it allows the sponsor to use their social capital to actively cultivate opportunities for their sponsee and ensures that those opportunities are spread evenly among different groups. Current DEI strategies and policies in tech see a huge focus on mentorship programs, but according to research conducted by the NCWIT, women are being over-mentored and under-sponsored, while mentorship helps employees navigate the organisational maze, sponsorship will help change it.
While tech industries should innovate their DEI strategies and policies to be faster in addressing these gender disparity issues, there has been movement to speed up these solutions. Apple CEO, Tim Cook spoke of the need to have “more women at the table” as he released Apple’s UK -based App Store Foundations Program, which aims to address the gender imbalance within tech and coding, by specifically supporting all-female founders. “Technology is a great thing that will accomplish many things, but unless you have diverse views at the table that are working on it, you don’t wind up with great solutions.”
Improving diversity and inclusion within any industry, starts at the top. Leadership must be held accountable for progress towards DEI results just like any other. Employees who do offer themselves, to play these vitally, important roles, such as sponsors, should be recognized and rewarded also, as they are the ones who are helping make the most difference. Through integrating programs like sponsorship, it will ensure companies are providing up-skilling opportunities which will help tech companies avoid the severely high vacancy rates heading their way.
The tech industry is paving the way to a new digitised world of innovation and progress. But in order to grow, tech companies need to be able to compete for talent to accommodate this growth. These jobs can be filled with people who are already in the industry that are overlooked and undervalued. Sponsorship reduces gender disparities yes, but it also allows organisations to recognise and support high potential employees through using their own senior leaders, in order to fill the gaps that need to be filled.
The CS gender 3000 in 2021: Broadening the diversity discussion. Credit Suisse Research Institute.