Data Corner #3: Gender representation in IT, 2014 vs 2018

Previously on Data Corner, we looked at the male-to-female ratio of Australian university staff and students in 2014 and 2018, with a focus on the discipline where we saw the biggest gender skew: engineering.

We found that at across all fields in both 2014 and 2018, from undergraduates to mid-career academics at Level C, women made up 40–60% of people at each level, which falls within the acceptable range for gender representation. However, in some specific disciplines such as engineering, the proportion of men never dropped below 75%. This paints a very different picture to the overall data.

In this edition, we are putting the spotlight on Information Technology (IT) in recognition of the 10th anniversary of Girls in ICT Day on the 22nd of April 2021. On this day, marked annually on the fourth Thursday in April, the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) highlights the need to promote technology career opportunities for girls and women in the world’s fastest growing sector.

Based on the scissor graph in Figure 1 below, it’s immediately obvious that IT is a male-dominated discipline, with the proportion of men never falling below 60%. There’s very little change between the 2014 and 2018 data, but we can see a slight improvement in female representation amongst postgraduates and at Level B, and a slight decline at Level C.

Interestingly, the proportion of women at Level A is double the proportion of female undergraduates, but there is a significant drop-off beyond these levels.

Scissor graph of male and female representation for university students and academic staff in IT.
Figure 1. Comparison of the gender distribution of Australian university staff and students in IT in 2014 and 2018. Source data: Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) Higher Education Statistics.

This decline is in line with the overall picture, where we see a decrease in female representation at Level B and above. However, when we compare the gender profile for IT with the gender profile in academia overall, a noticeable difference is the initial increase in female representation in IT between undergraduate and Level A, compared to the largely flat figures at these levels when looking at all disciplines (Figure 2).

Scissor graph of male and female representation for university students and academic staff.
Figure 2. Changes in gender distribution of Australian university staff and students between 2014 and 2018 across all Fields of Education (for students) and Academic Organisational Units (for staff). Source data: Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) Higher Education Statistics.

This suggests that female IT undergraduates are entering postgraduate study and early career academic roles in the field; however, when progressing to senior academic positions, there are challenges in career progression or workplace culture that disproportionately affect women. There is more work to be done to investigate why there is such a stark drop-off in the proportion of women between Levels A and B in IT.

While you’re here, check out our Q&A with Dr Arti Agrawal, Director of the UTS Women in Engineering and IT Program. In the interview, Arti talks about the program’s initiatives for girls and women at all stages in their trajectory – from primary school through high school and university, all the way to industry professionals and professors.

For more activities and ways to get girls involved in IT, take a look at ITU’s toolkit for organising a Girls in ICT event.