Australian industry need women leaders
Today is a day to reflect on the progress made towards equality for women, but it is also a day to consider the road ahead.
We know that women are innovators who are increasingly making a serious impact in industry and in business.
This is backed up by findings of the first national survey of women business owners and female entrepreneurs released this week.
The report by the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry shows that the number of women who run their own business has doubled in the last five years. This groundbreaking piece of research challenges assumptions about industry and business.
There are now more than 700,000 women running a business in Australia. The stats don’t lie: female entrepreneurs are seizing opportunities and contributing immensely to our economy.
Studies in Australia and overseas have continually demonstrated that companies with more women directors on their boards perform better financially – they are more creative, more innovative and more flexible.
Yet some industries could be doing a lot better. One close to my heart is the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Females accounted for just 23.3 per cent of all full-time ICT professionals in February 2010.
This International Women’s Day, let’s seize the opportunity to reassert our commitment to improving women’s participation in the very industries that will drive our economy in the future.
Australia’s future lies in creating a high productivity, innovative and digitally enabled economy. But the use and development of ICT is the key driver of industry innovation and the best indicator of our future competitiveness.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is the economic infrastructure of the 21st century and will be a primary driver of productivity gains this century.
But like tracks without trains, it’s only half the story.
The engine is ICT innovation and how well we build this industry will determine how fast we travel. There are multiple policy levers; governments are both the largest ICT consumer and the biggest investor in research and development.
As the Prime Minister has said, the NBN is not about faster emails. It is about shifting the way we work, new services, living where we choose, evolving systems to manage global networks – it is about reaching new markets and creating new industries.
Australian industry couldn’t have a better advocate in Minister Combet and I am heartened by his strong record on gender equality. He understands that successful industry policy must recognise that women account for over half the population. Yet ICT is missing out on a share of 51 per cent of our greatest national asset.
Female participation in ICT starts with our universities and research training engines. Yet in 2009, men represented 78.6 per cent of IT graduates, and women only 21.4 per cent. So where are all the women?
If we want women in Engineering and ICT, we need to encourage women to choose ICT and address the high levels of attrition among postdoctoral women. We’re losing them. We need to be persistent and build on our efforts to date to boost the number of women in leadership roles in the science and technology sector.
Having women trailblazers to look up to counts.Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng is leading the way for young women in engineering. We need to do more to encourage the Maritas’ of the world.
I want to use this International Women’s Day to call for a renewed focus on women in information and communication technology - in business, as technologists and as leaders.
I am used to working in industries where female participation is in the single digits. My first job was as a labourer removing asbestos. But I loved the building industry and I know many women who have successfully forged their careers there.
Women are audacious and determined; women are pioneers and leaders. Their skills need to be recognised and fostered, in leadership in business and particularly across the broad technology sectors.
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