Two of Australia's leading women in the
information and communications technology (ICT) industry today
disagreed as to whether identifying particularly "female" skills
and traits encourages stereotyping and simplification of what
women bring to the workplace.
The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and
the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, told a lunch to mark
International Women's Day that current management theory
threatens to pigeonhole women.
"In business today, management theory has embraced a
pronounced shift towards stereotyping the typical, traditional
skills of women -- those of embracing the views of others, of
nurturing people, of using persuasion and collaboration ... We
should not allow women to be packaged or simplified or
stereotyped," Senator Coonan said.
However, in a later address to the same event, National
Australia Bank chief information officer Michelle Tredenick
disagreed with the Senator's perspective that categorising skills
such as networking and relationship-building as "female"
"There is no doubt -- and this is where I part company with
Senator Coonan -- that women think differently from men in many
ways, and I'm not seeing any surprise or shock related to that
statement," she said.
Senator Coonan was quick to mention in her address that the
qualities she identified were attributes to technology roles,
"not because they're feminine attributes, but because they help
achieve a balance in the workplace, and take an important step
towards reflecting the diversity of our workforces".
Emphasising that she was speaking in generalities, Tredenick
noted that females tend to be better at forming networks, and
focus on collaboration rather than competition. She also spoke of
the different approaches taken by the sexes regarding the balance
between work and life.
"Women bring a more holistic picture of themselves to work,
and in a way that sometimes men -- who are better able to
separate work and life -- don't do," she said.
Both speakers agreed, however, on the need to attract females
to the ICT sector for practical rather than philosophical
reasons, citing the requirement for diverse approaches in the
"Attracting women into ICT-related professions is a business
imperative rather than any form of affirmative action," said
Coonan. "Women and girls represent a massive untapped resource
and a substantial pool of talent."
Women make up around 20 percent of the workforce in the ICT
sector, according to research conducted by the Australian Bureau
of Statistics. However, the number of females enrolled in
tertiary computing courses was found to have declined last year.
Recent initiatives for addressing the low participation and
retention rate of females in the ICT sector include the
Australian Computer Society's work/life balance policy
and the establishment of the Women in ICT Summit Advisory Group
in March last year.