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21st Century women

By Kate Lundy - posted Wednesday, 15 September 1999

In an environment where the only constant is change, one would think existing at this point in time could be a little daunting. Is it our intuition, or perhaps a lifetime’s experience of doing a hundred things at once? Whatever the reasons, so many women at the threshold of the 21st century feel they are in their comfort zone.

The roles women create for themselves in vocations at the forefront of change, like information technology, will be significant determinants of the future direction of change. In this lies an incredible opportunity to progress a humanist agenda.

I have ridden the crest of the feminist wave, with the activities of those before me creating a realm of new opportunities. Now it is time to consolidate this remarkable progress as well as maintain pressure towards realisation of genuine gender equity. Within periods of rapid change there is a chance to break rules and make new ones, or in some cases just decide there are not going to be any!


For those not even directly involved in information technology, the Internet has facilitated a new level of global political activism and empowered a whole generation of young women in ways that mean little to the unconnected but represent a new way of life for those that embrace it.

The Internet is one of the most profound developments. For me it is just there, it is part of my reality and I live and think differently as a result of continual exploration of its role in my personal and professional life. For Australia it represents an opportunity to remove the shackles of geographic economic isolation.

Surely it is plain to see the incredible scope we have to export digital content, be it goods or services? Why is it damage to the lamb trade, worthy beast and issue though it is, attracts so much more political attention than Coalition-driven legislated damage to the operation of the Internet? Ironic, given that Australia’s farmers have found this new medium so crucial to their access to the internet that they now have one of the most impressive and fastest growing connectivity rates in the country.

The Internet gives decision-makers the opportunity to bypass the establishments’ pre-determined channels of communication. It will give a voice to human rights activists and environmentalists the world over and allow global movements to work co-operatively like never before. The new millennium is an opportunity to skip ahead in the attitude stakes and relegate sexism and misogyny to the 20th century ‘what’s out’ list.

In the past, new technologies have been the playground for men. The Internet is different. Statistically, women are using it in almost equal numbers. This is not surprising with many more women having the keyboard skills necessary to use computers. In this context it is ironic that studies show fewer women consider technical careers in IT because they associate computers with secretarial work and its perceived negative stereotypical sexist connotations.

With the widely acknowledged skills shortage in IT and the comparatively small number of women in IT related courses it is good to see many initiatives emerging to demolish the discriminatory barriers to women’s participation. Economic rationalists and misogynists out there, take heed. There are as many dry arguments for investing significant resources into ensuring more women choose IT as there are philosophical arguments of equity.


They include the fact that Australia’s trade deficit in Information and Communication technologies (ICT) is ballooning and will grow from $6b to $46b within five years if left unchecked. This means we need to support the Australian ICT industry and create jobs here. Even massive growth in the export of tasty morsels will never be enough to offset this trend in the trade figures. The challenge, as with all issues of great significance, are many.

It is not enough to market IT courses without ensuring the places are there. Universities need to be adequately resourced, and this will not happen until there is political recognition that our economic future is directly linked to the knowledge society. The clever people emerging through our education system then need to be able to get work here. Otherwise we will continue to lose our IT talent at the astounding rate of 1000 per month, which is the figure offered by Morgan and Banks recruitment director, James Morgan. No bitsy, half-baked approach will deal with this.

All of these issues traverse a multitude of government portfolios and affect all industries, because IT is an enabling tool for business as well as a critical industry sector in itself. None of what I am saying is new and the fact that these issues have become so familiar highlights the relative political inertia on them. Is Australia’s fate to be one of sluggish mediocrity, destined to forever link our future to others by default as much as active subscription?

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This is an edited extract from an address to Females in Information Technology & Telecommunications Luncheon meeting at Parliament House Sydney 14 July 1999.

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About the Author

Senator Kate Lundy is federal Shadow Minister for Information Technology, Sport and Recreation, and the Arts. She is a Senator for the ACT.

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