If I have learnt anything in my time writing about employment and careers, it is that I may have made a wrong decision at university.
Where I combined my journalism degree with a couple of arts majors, I should have been combining it with computer science.
So like a mother who regrets quitting ballet so forces her own daughter to sign up, I plead with young women to not repeat my mistake!
Back away from the gender studies major (unless you know very specifically the job you want from it at the end – I’m not here to crush any dreams) and consider a career in information and communication technology.
About 100,000 extra workers are forecast to be needed in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) roles by 2020 and women are currently woefully under-represented, Deloitte and Australian Computer Society (ACS) report Australia’s Digital Pulse finds.
They make up just 28 per cent of the sector compared to 43 per cent of professionals more broadly.
“ICT suffers from a terrible reputation of pizza, coke, middle-of-the-night coding, working in dark spaces and smelling,” ACS immediate past president Brenda Aynsley says.
“You only have to watch NCIS to see the two nerds that aren’t your regular NCIS agents.
“There was an institute in California that changed their Computer Science 101 course to be called The Joy and Beauty of Computing and their female enrolment was fantastic.
“Those who teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) have to think about how to market courses.”
She says the changes need to start from primary school.
“We need to break down the barriers that little girls in silly pink things can also write code, they don’t have to be a geek,” she says.
“Girls and women are natural problem-solvers and ICT is a perfect career that puts them in a career where they can solve problems across the whole economy, not just in IT – in health, in education, in the services.
“It’s a really good career and can last a woman their whole life as it will match their lifestyle and responsibilities. It’s so flexible.”
She says coding is a good basic skill as it teaches computational thinking (as in problem-solving! The skill that will stop you being replaced by a robot) and data science and analytics are increasingly prevalent (with roles currently paying about $200,000 a year) but ultimately, the types of jobs that will be in demand in five years might not even exist yet.
Aynsley, who graduated from both university and TAFE, says the main goal is for women to study an ICT degree or diploma so they are ready.
“There are not enough graduates coming out to fill the shortages,” she says.
“It’s the perfect time in 2016.”
Pixar Animation Studios director of photography-lighting Danielle Feinberg studied computer science before beginning a career in the film industry.
She says one of the biggest appeals of the ICT sector is the variety of job opportunities available.
“Learning to program, and some of the math and science that comes with that, opens up a lot of careers,” she says.
“If you study to be a teacher you will be a teacher, but if you can program you could work as a teacher or in a tech company making apps for social networking or apps about how to find clean water in some rural area… you can make movies, or you can solve massive medical problems.
“There are so many things you can do with it.”
Feinberg, who landed a job working on A Bug’s Life when she was just 22, says a lot of ICT jobs are also very social, despite common stereotypes.
“You’re generally working in big teams,” she says.
“One of the problems has been there is a stereotype of what a programmer is and what a tech job is and that’s done a disservice (to encouraging female participation).
“You don’t have to be a genius to code, you just have to work at it.”
Feinberg stars in a new film CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, about the reasons more girls and minority groups are not seeking careers in computer science and the effects of cultural mindsets, educational hurdles and sexism.
The film has been released in Australia via TUGG, which allows community groups to organise one-off screenings at their local cinema.
Read more employment news in the CareerOne section of Saturday’s News Corp Australia metropolitan newspapers.
CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap trailer129479
Watch the trailer for the film CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap.