Sarah presenting at the lecturn

Mentoring the next wave of female developers

This article is an adaptation of a DDD by Night presentation from September 2022 about what we can do to support and encourage female developers to thrive in the Australian tech industry.

Sarah Dam

By Sarah Dam, 15 September 20227 minute read

Before we get into talking about what can be done to encourage, champion and support existing, new, and even potential, female developers to progress their careers and ultimately build inclusive and diverse leadership teams through mentoring, let’s take a look at some sobering facts about why we still need to have this discussion…

The current state of play

On August 29 we acknowledged Equal Pay Day. Why this date? Our financial year finishes on 30 June, but for women to earn the same amount of money as men in a single financial year, they would need to work until 29 August. The current gender pay gap between women and men, working full-time, in Australia is 14.1 percent (Source:, August 2022). This means that a woman would have to work 14 months a year to earn what a man earns in 12. Or, to put it another way, the average Australian man working full-time earns $263 more per week than his female counterpart.

In the professional, scientific and technical sector, the gap is even wider. A woman in this sector would have to work 16 months to earn the same as a man’s 12 months. That works out to an alarming $585 more every single week

In essence, it’s the ‘Ginger Rogers Syndrome’. Women have to work harder and accomplish more, yet still don’t get the recognition that men get. 

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

“After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” — Ann Richards

At present, only five percent of ASX200 companies have a female CEO. By contrast, 7.7 percent of ASX CEOs are named Andrew, and 5.5 percent are named Michael. There are more ASX200 CEOs called Michael than there are female CEOs.

A higher number of women than men graduate in Australia every year, however men are offered grad positions that pay nearly 9.5 percent more. There’s a drop in pay and opportunities at every step in a woman's career path. 

This is due to discrimination and bias in hiring, promotion, pay decisions and blind spots in company leadership. Women also tend to be primary carers for family and others, which often leads to women dropping down to part-time work and taking career breaks which can cause long-term career damage. 

These factors prevent many women from rising beyond mid levels. In fact, only 50 percent of women in tech remain in their jobs by the age of 35. Of these, 20 percent are in junior roles, compared with just five percent of men. We are already starting with a lower percentage of female graduates, with only 20 percent of tech graduates being women.

We need to ask why – where do women see themselves and who do they aspire to be? To some extent it comes down to a lack of female role models in leadership positions.

At present, only five percent of ASX200 companies have a female CEO. By contrast, 7.7 percent of ASX CEOs are named Andrew and 5.5 percent are named Michael. There are more ASX200 CEOs called Michael than there are female CEOs. In the tech sector, Kate Quirke is the Managing Director of Alcidion and she is the only female CEO in the 46 companies that make up the All Tech Index. 

Not everyone wants to be a CEO, but these are the people who make the news and the people we see when we are making career choices, especially early on. 

What can we do to change this? 

These are the results of a broad systemic issue – but what can we do on a local or business level to offset this? 

The Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company, and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) developed a 10-step recipe for getting more women into leadership: 

  1. Build a strong case for change
  2. Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners
  3. Redesign roles and work to enable flexible work and normalise uptake across levels and genders
  4. Actively sponsor rising women
  5. Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
  6. Support talent through life transitions
  7. Ensure the infrastructure is in place to support a more inclusive and flexible workplace
  8. Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
  9. Invest in frontline leader capabilities to drive cultural change
  10. Develop rising women and ensure experience in key roles.

Many companies, at least in theory, support more women in leadership roles, offer flexible hours, and equal pay for equal roles, but in addition to that, mentorship can help with over half of these steps. 

A mentorship program focussed on nurturing existing female talent, from within your company as well as graduates and interns, can role model a commitment to diversity, actively sponsor female talent, support them through career choices and changes, improve biassed views of what it takes to be a leader, drive cultural change, and grow female representation through exposure and experience in key roles.

Sponsorship over mentorship

Traditional mentorship is seen as the relationship between a more experienced and perhaps older mentor and a younger and inexperienced mentee, providing psychosocial support that is not necessarily specific to the role or even the industry. This alone has actually been shown to have limited effect in retaining women or promoting anyone but men to leadership levels.

Career-related mentorship – or what is increasingly becoming known as sponsorship – expands on traditional mentorship. It’s more directive, supports individuals in their growth by focusing on mentees’ tech expertise, and is generally used to pick out talent that already exists within the company, to become their advocate or champion.

Mentorship v sponsorship

Benefits of sponsorship

For the sponsored, there are objective, positive career outcomes, such as pay increases and promotion by ensuring that high performers are visible and supported within the organisation regardless of gender. Sponsorship increases knowledge, skills, experience and opportunities, and, importantly, provides connections with powerful individuals who can assist in career progression – something that is often missing in traditional mentorship. 

Meanwhile, the sponsor can develop their leadership skills and organisational knowledge, enabling them to build the best team of motivated and high performing individuals around them while learning about their company on all levels and discovering blockers to inclusion and diversity.

The organisation also stands to gain from the relationship. Companies lose a lot of great talent through the attrition of women beyond mid-level roles and career based mentorship is effective in increasing female representation at senior levels. There is plenty of research that shows that companies that aim to achieve higher gender diversity achieve better results. They outperform the market by 28 percent on average, have better talent attraction, stronger employee engagement and an increased competitive edge in addressing market needs (after all, women make up half the world’s population and account for up to 85 percent of purchase decisions).

And if that isn’t enough to convince you to support greater gender diversity, perhaps the groundswell of movement in this direction might sway you? Things are changing, and if you don’t move soon, you are likely to get left behind.  

Despite the dire numbers above, there is now only one ASX200 company with an all-male board. The higher up the ASX200 you get, the more female representation there is. If your company is not already growing its base of aspiring females, who will be moving into the senior and leadership positions in the future?

It is a win-win-win situation! 

Photos of the women of Luminary

The women of Luminary.

So what can you do right now?

If you are a junior developer, or want to be a developer, seek out someone you admire and talk to them about being your mentor. This could either be someone in your workplace, or outside of work. If your company has a formal sponsorship program, talk to the relevant person about getting involved. There are also other organisations that champion women in technology and offer peer mentorship. A quick search will find some in your area or online options. There are also a few listed at the bottom of this article.

If you’re mid-level or above, seek out female colleagues, interns or graduates who are already doing well and see if they’re interested in being mentored. Speak to your company leadership team about creating a formalised sponsorship program.

If you are at corporate leadership level or above, think about your blind spots and what you can do to gain insight, speak to your people, get an external audit on your diversity and inclusivity, or check out the tools at WGEA, such as the gender strategy scorecard. Find out more about what sponsorship within your organisation could help you achieve. Most importantly, be proactive about noticing upcoming talent – don’t wait for them to come to you and ask to move up a level. Champion them and take them under your wing!

Handy resources 

Tech Leading Ladies 

Women Who Code 

She Codes

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (

The next DDD by Night event is on Wednesday 9 November

Find out more

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