The Australian ICT sector is generally acknowledged to pay its workers well - but male pay packets are still on average 18.1 percent better than those of women.

Addressing that gap - first raised in a Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) report last month - is also a topic of a new report by the ACS and Deloitte Access Economics, entitled Australia's Digital Pulse.

The report notes that women are "significantly underrepresented in the Australian ICT sector compared to the wider professional workforce, comprising around one quarter of all ICT workers".

One reason for this could be income inequality, it states.

Although such "inequality among ICT workers is lower than income inequality across the entire Australian workforce, where females on average earn 34 percent less than their male counterparts … an earnings differential of [almost] 20 percent is a significant gap," the ACS-Deloitte report said.

"The ICT sector has some way to go with respect to improving income equality for women."

Of course, no organisation purposely sets out to pay women less: rather, it is accepted to be the result of unconscious bias.

"It's not an inherent problem where we believe organisations act consciously in doing this," Women in Technology president Fiona Hayes told Information Age.

"A lot of our male colleagues are mortified when they realise," added ACS Women Board deputy director Helen McHugh.

Peoplebank CEO Peter Acheson believed the "heavy gender skew" in ICT - where 72 percent of workers are male - was a key contributor to the formation of unconscious bias.

Another contributor is likely to be the assertiveness of individuals when it comes to pay.

"We know from research that males are much more willing to be assertive when it comes to talking about remuneration and to talking about pay increases - females are not as assertive," Acheson said.

"So once again, over time, guess what happens? The first thing you've got to do is be conscious of it, and reports like this are raising awareness of the issue."

Hayes concurred: "I think you would find that men typically would think nothing about going and having the conversation with their employer or their manager about what they were worth and telling them what they thought they were worth."

"It's no different to what I think females can do within the organisation."

Hayes said WIT focused on mentoring, board readiness and 'step up' programs to "empower women in the workforce" to have the same conversation about pay.

"We believe that part of the role we play is to empower women to go and have the conversation," she said.

"We think that we are going to start to see a difference within the workforce around this equality piece because women are becoming more empowered, are taking on more mentoring and personal development, and are learning about branding themselves and having that conversation.

"The gap will start to change."

One of the goals of WIT's programs was to ensure such conversations with employers became "about you personally, what your goals are and what you want out of your career, rather than the fact that you're a female working in the ICT industry".

Raising participation

As the ICT industry continues to battle skills shortages - it's estimated Australia will need to find 100,000 more workers before 2020 to keep pace with demand - the ACS-Deloitte report questions what impact raising female participation levels in ICT could have.

"Bringing the number of women employed in the ICT workforce up to the number of men currently working in ICT occupations would result in around 270,000 additional ICT workers," the report said.

When asked if this was realistic, Hayes said: "Anything's realistic".

"But I think we need to look at how organisations are expecting their employees to work - providing flexible arrangements for people to be able to work," she said.

"We work within an ICT industry but when you look at how a lot of organisations expect their employees to work, it hasn't moved or changed based on how people need to have that work-life balance, and how people need to move forward.

"When we're talking about flexible work arrangements that could be anything from job sharing or people to be able to work remotely for travel.

"All of those considerations I think would raise participation as a whole of people working in the ICT industry and potentially bring people back into the workforce."

McHugh agreed that retaining women in the ICT workforce - not just attracting them in the first place - was key to satisfying the demand for ICT resources as well as addressing the ICT gender issue.

"We're in the midst of developing some strong policy statements around attraction, participation and retention," McHugh said.

"We have a body of academic knowledge about this issue and what the differences are between genders, so now we're forming hard policies.

"Out of these policies we're going to come up with strategies on what to do, which we will share and coordinate with our cohort groups."