Garcia de la Banda: I have to admit these issues also appear in universities. In my faculty we're very lucky to have 30 per cent of female academics, many of them in leadership positions. But looking at the statistics of how many we have hired in the last few years, things are not looking good. This really concerns me.
We are actively trying to hire more women but it's very difficult when your pool of applicants is so male dominated. We have to train our panels very carefully against unperceived bias.
Collary: Before I came to ANZ, I was very involved in building education on this issue. You don't just have to be a developer - there are a number of roles and great careers in IT. Roles like business analyst or project manager tend to have higher percentages of women than traditional development roles.
The fact is we need to educate, encourage and support young women that are making choices in education and starting their career planning on what opportunities exist in technology.
We were generating interest by taking very successful senior women into high schools and talking about careers in IT, the type of salaries and advancement you could make in this profession. It got a lot of attention.
We saw four out of 100 girls that might have been interested in a technical job before the program rise to 30 per cent plus after. But once they get into university it was hard to get them interested.
Garcia de la Banda: I would go even lower – I think it needs to go right down to early schooling. Research shows females tend to choose what they want to do later but they choose what they don't want to do much earlier, which I find quite interesting.
The other thing you said which I completely agree with is we need to present IT in a way that makes it attractive to females. Women are just as capable as men for mathematical and computational skills but STEM does not seem to be as attractive to them initially.
Selling STEM as a tool for making a real impact in society, rather than as a theory with no purpose and a very 'nerdy' past, seems to work better.
Collary: Yeah, we had a quote from a girl early on that said “I don't want to be a geek or a gamer." That really was telling. So we built the program around “It's not about being a geek or a gamer."
We need to try to fill the pipeline and get more interest in this as a career. One way to do that is through good role models, through good mentoring and advocacy.
Our program put senior women leaders on stage and had them talk about their careers and what they were able to accomplish. You could see how inspired some of the girls were. We had hundreds apply for internships from just a week-long program. It was fantastic.
There's certainly no lack of capability. It's a lack of interest and I think awareness. How we get girls to see these opportunities are important because we are finding statistically across the industry fewer women are applying for roles and the conversations between mentor and mentee are different.
So we have to have these mentors because frankly, people are going to gravitate to roles where they see people like them succeeding. So when girls look up and see it's all men, I am sure that causes concern.
Garcia de la Banda: You cannot overemphasise the importance of having real women who have worked in the industry talking at schools. Their ability to eliminate stereotypes is just amazing.
The other important aspect about mentoring programs is when they are successful they benefit not just the mentee but also the mentor, which is really good for women already working in IT.
Collary: I would love to get more involved there. Certainly we have the same challenges. I think given the proximity of business and university in places like Melbourne, we have interest there.
I'd love to see more opportunity for women to get funding in start-ups. If you look at funding in start-ups, such a small percentage are started or founded by women. I think that would be a great opportunity to inspire younger girls.
Garcia de la Banda: That's a very good point. I think the concept of start-ups appeals a lot to women. That could be a fantastic avenue.
If you combine it with some of those we mentioned before – early introduction to IT in an attractive, impact-based way and regular exposure to technically strong female role models – things could change dramatically.
Whatever the solution is it has to be long term. Funnelling money into short-term programs is not particularly useful. You have to take the long-term view before things are really going to change.
Luckily, the figures showing the lack of women in IT are currently getting a lot of attention in the public. IT companies are looking at themselves and saying, “we really need to do something about diversity internally".
If we (schools, universities, companies and government) can all join forces to develop and implement an effective, long-term plan, we can fundamentally improve the diversity of the IT landscape and with it Australia's future.
Maria Garcia de la Banda is deputy dean of the faculty of information technology at Monash University. Scott Collary is group chief information officer at ANZ.