Restricting women's job opportunities costs the Asia Pacific region up to $47 billion each year.
This startling figure was revealed in a report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, released in April, which also suggests that, as a nation's female employment rate rises, so does its GDP.
With that in mind, Australia's ICT industry has a golden opportunity to increase our productivity by increasing the participation rate of women. Currently, less than 18 percent of all ICT employees are women -- and this number is falling.
For many women, the male-dominated culture in the ICT industry goes hand-in-hand with a "glass ceiling", and they feel they have to work harder than male colleagues to achieve success. The "old boys club" approach in some parts of the industry -- with its informal male networking -- also contributes to the perceived or real exclusion of women from many high-technology job opportunities.
So, what can we do to turn the tide?
One of the AIIA activities I am involved in is a program, Set Up for Success, dedicated to providing women with the skills to succeed in a male-dominated working environment, and the main skills we are trying to impart are:
(1) Negotiation. Women employees across Australia's economy earn just 83 cents for every dollar their male counterpart earns, so clearly, women can benefit from enhanced skills to enable them to negotiate salary packages and working conditions.
(2) Self-promotion. Women often take the modest approach where they believe they will be rewarded for good work without self-promotion. Instead, they need to learn to not just "stand there" but "stand out".
(3) Work/life balance. The fast pace of life has become frantic for many women. We need to provide skills and training to help women gain and maintain work/life balance.
Is all this effort designed to get women into IT just for the sake of getting women into IT?
No, as the aforementioned study shows, women are extremely valuable contributors to growth. As we confront rapidly changing patterns of paid work opportunities and work time arrangements, it is often those companies and industries perceived to care about the "people" aspect of business -- such as work/life issues -- that attract and retain the best talent.