​How Google is trying to close the tech gender gap

​How Google is trying to close the tech gender gap

"Technology isn't just a place for people studying computer science." - Google for Work's Renee Gamble

Google for Work's Renee Gamble

Google for Work's Renee Gamble

In 2015, a Deloitte and Australian Computer Society (ACS) report found that only 28 per cent of IT workers in Australia are women. Like most female senior IT execs, Google for Work’s country manager, Renee Gamble, wants that number to rise.

“For me, the flat out statistics around [female] representation in the workforce are one facet,” Gamble tells CIO Australia. It’s about the percentage of women in leadership and things like pay equality, and the support women feel when they come in and out of the workforce.”

Around 30 per cent of Google’s staff globally are women – Australia is on par with that figure – but a mere 22 per cent across the organisation are in leadership positions. This number is even lower in technology leadership, Gamble says.

Perhaps a generational change is needed to close the gap. In 2013, slightly more than half of students studying IT at the University of New South Wales were female.

Gamble says she doesn’t have an answer for why there’s still such a gender disparity but she believes vocationally, people have different career paths to the ones their parents had in generations past.

“I think people taking a much more winding path rather than that very vertical trajectory,” she says. “Technology isn’t just a place for people studying computer science; the technology sector is somewhere where you can have such a diverse range of skills, qualifications and backgrounds. It’s a great industry for lawyers to work in, designers, marketers and sales people."

“We need to make sure that women off all walks of life and career aspirations focus on technology as a possible path because the entry ticket is having a passion for technology and fast moving change. If you have that, then a career in IT could be for you.”

Google has an internal and external strategy to encourage diversity. Internally, the company is casting a wider net and is thinking differently about the way it hires staff.

“As an example, historically, we really focused on looking at the top elite colleges and universities for our graduate hires … because we are trying to hire the best. But those institutions have their own diversity challenges too,” Gamble says.

“We are also looking at different universities that might be more representative and more diverse in Australia and globally. For instance, we are looking at the University of Western Sydney as a great talent source.”

Gamble is also part of a group at Google that works with women and men to increase opportunities for women and create a workplace where they can thrive.

“More programmatically, a really foundational piece around that is training that we do around unconscious bias and trying to elevate thinking across our workforce,” says Gamble.

“The unconscious biases we bring can be the way we behave with others, the way we include or exclude people subconsciously. We’re pretty good with data at Google so we do track and monitor this (staff use training tools) because we think it’s very important. It’s part of our on-boarding program and there are ongoing refreshers,” Gamble says.

Externally, Google also has a focus on encouraging K-12 students to think about careers in technology working at a curricular level globally to put the focus on computer science.

Last year, Google committed $1 million in grants to three organisations – Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, FIRST Robotics Australia, and Engineers Without Borders Australia – to reach 10,000 underrepresented students.

Personally, Gamble says some of the key challenges she has faced through her career in IT are also the same things she has found most stimulating about it.

“The [tech industry] is inherently fast paced; technology is always changing and the pressure and challenge that you are constantly under to stay ahead of that change is massive and that’s what makes it exciting,” she says.

These are bigger challenges than simply being a woman in IT, she says.

“Anyone who has a family or caring responsibilities or other significant priorities in their life, those are going to be a constant challenge to battle, particularly given the 'always on' culture these days.It’s not easy but the reward is there, " she says.

“At the end of the week when I have balanced a lot on the home front (Gamble has two kids), and on the work front, then I can have the simple pleasures of home life and those simple things around time with my family at the end of the week. The reward is pretty rich for me.”

Renee Gamble is speaking about how to optimise opportunity, overcome challenges and reach the top in the tech sector at the Women in Tech conference in Sydney on June 15.

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