Australian women regularly outperform their male peers at school and are more likely than men their age to hold a bachelor degree but despite their academic success, equal pay and progression in the workforce continue to elude them, according to a new report from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
But at UTS, a successful project now in its fourth year is giving young women who want to pursue a career in engineering or IT a head start by pairing them with experienced female professionals in their fields.
Second-year undergraduates in engineering and IT “shadow” their mentors for four months, gaining invaluable insight and inspiration for their future careers.
This year, 37 female students have graduated from the UTS Lucy mentoring program. With their mentors, who hail from 18 companies and organisations, the students explore a range of work environments and discuss business and technology specialities and services.
The program is just one of the many gender equity activities connected to the long-standing Women in Engineering & IT Program at UTS.
Women's experience in the IT and engineering professions has been captured also in two reports by the Australian Computer Society and Women and Engineers Australia, which included surveys of some 7,000 professionals. Those surveys identified a number of dimensions that continue to affect women's ability to progress in their chosen field, including a lack of flexible working conditions, pay inequity and a lack of career development, said Program Director for the Women in Engineering & IT Program at UTS, Bronwyn Holland.
“This too familiar story underscores the importance of industry experience for students in engineering and IT,” said Ms Holland.
“UTS students earn Diplomas in Practice from their industry internships and related study. The Lucy program complements this for women students with an extra 35 hours of guided project work with a senior professional mentor.”
This type of program is essential in providing female role models for the next generation of IT professionals, said Westpac Chief Information Officer Product and Enterprise Services, Tina Conlon. Westpac is a major supporter of the program.
“The Westpac Group is delighted to be involved in the Lucy Program because it not only gives young women a chance to interact with industry and work environments but it also provides our female leaders with the opportunity to nurture and lead the next generation of technologists,” said Ms Conlon.
“Mentors and their organisations deliver programs for mentees to build their confidence, familiarise them with pathways to recruitment and engage them in team and individual tasks that may align with their aptitude and interests,” she said.
IT and Business student Livia Lam, who is being mentored by UTS Chief Information Officer Chrissie Burns, said she found that IT projects were discussed, prioritised and funded differently because of the non-commercial focus of UTS.
“I found that people used different vocabulary. I had expected that IT would be roughly the same across all organisations but shadowing my mentor showed me that IT is completely different, depending on the organisation, and that I would need to be able to quickly adapt to those differences.”
Shae Howard, Partner Business Consultant for Services at worldwide leader in IT, Cisco, designed an innovative program for Lucy participants that coupled individual coaching with group mentoring experiences.
“This was a fantastic opportunity for the volunteer Cisco mentors to complement the academic learnings of the mentees by sharing practical career advice and the breadth of career paths that are available in the IT industry,” said Ms Howard.