When I first began recruiting technology staff I was placing large teams of contractors into businesses who were busily preparing for Y2K and then GST.
The stereotypical technology worker was an introverted 30 to 50 year old male, usually Caucasian, occasionally Indian. The representation of any other minority groups was just about non-existent.
And to my recollection, women represented less than 5 per cent of this army of programmers and engineers trying to save us from a pending apocalypse.
Changes in female participation has been slow and steady until recent years, and has not been a deliberate agenda item for governments, industry, organisations or education providers. This has changed.
If I had to list the consistent issues that technology leaders regularly raise with me in our discussions, ‘diversity’ is right up there with ‘people performance’, ‘project delivery’ and ‘digital transformation’ as agenda items.
Diversity is not just an issue for technology executives; it’s a societal issue. Only now are we developing enough data to fully understand the economic benefits that a deliberate and well executed diversity program can offer.
The 2016 Davidson Technology DiversIT report indicated only 31 per cent of technology (IT and digital) workers are female, and only 14 per cent are technology executives. This report offers organisations hard data that they can now develop strategies and targets against.
Today’s technology industry has a number shining examples, these organisations are more than talking about diversity as a marketing slogan.
There are some organisations in the technology industry who are putting the ‘rubber on the road’ with programs that address the issues of diversity and inclusions across the full spectrum, whether that be gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.
Four technology organisations leading the way in this area include MYOB, REA Group, Envato and Atlassian. I spoke with each of these organisations to find out what they are doing about diversity.
James Law, HR director at Envato recommends that the first step in the process of creating a working diversity program is to acknowledge there is a problem.
“Once we publically acknowledged the problem with our people, and talked about the diversity challenge, they started to come forward with suggestions,” he said.
Nick Di’Lodovico, senior manager, talent development and diversity at REA Group, said his main recommendation is to take a holistic, long term approach.
Be clear about why you are doing it and what value it brings,” he said.
Atlassian’s global head of diversity and inclusion, Aubrey Blanche suggests that organisations should get started and collect data on the benefits of diversity and make their programs locally relevant.
Meanwhile, John Sullivan, head of delivery at MYOB recommended that a company’s diversity program needs to connect with the ‘why.’
“Diversity and inclusion statements are useless without a ‘why’, he says. “MYOB’s ‘why’ is connected with its values, ensuring happy, better functioning teams, providing opportunities for people to grow all underpinned by sound commercial benefit.”
At Envato, the diversity challenge was driven by its people, with the full support of the executive and board. Lack of diversity is problem is not solved by organisations stealing female developers from one another, says Envato’s James.
Envato’s co-founder Cyan Ta’eed, created a program called “League of Extraordinary Inclusiveness.” This would help the organisation understand which working environment would promote inclusiveness and ‘flexibility’ was identified as paramount, James said.
Today Envato operate core hours of 10am to 4pm, where people can work remotely anytime as long as they are ‘available’.
Envato also offer 18 weeks’ paid maternity leave and they have a program that assists females returning to work from maternity leave.
Ta’eed is also one of a few notable female technology leaders sharing their stories with young females to promote technology as a career and encouraging female enrolments into STEM undergraduate studies.
Policies and words are one thing, action is another. MYOB has recently implemented its DevelopHER program and Envato has its ‘Apprentice Program.’ Both initiatives are aimed at providing opportunities for females to become programmers.
Targeting those females with an interest in technology rather than skills and experience. The MYOB DevelopHER program is a 360 hour paid internship, designed to kick start careers.
Benefits beyond female participation
MYOB’s Sullivan talked about how the DevelopHER program has opportunities for MYOB beyond addressing female participation.
“This is a program that can have application across other minority groups and creating greater diversity across the fin-tech industry,” he says.
Team diversity translates to a better design and user interface and the way a team is designed will reflect the final product, says Sullivan.
“Diversity of thought is essential in designing systems for a wider market, 50 per cent of MYOB users are female so we need to design to suit that market.”
Atlassian has built significant programs focused on promoting its brand and the benefits that fit with female employees as well as promoting stories of successful Atlassian females in their ‘Women at Atlassian’ program.
Complementing this, staff have undertaken action-oriented ‘unconscious bias’ training and changes to the candidate evaluation process focussing on ‘value fit’ rather than ‘culture fit’.
As a result Atlassian is able to boast that 47 per cent of current interns and 50 per cent of the incoming graduate class are females.
During the past year, REA Group has created targeted programs to support increased workforce participation, particularly of women in leadership and technology and the LGBTI community.
Nick Di’Lodovico at REA Group explained: “We want to have an impact which extends beyond the four walls of REA Group. A lot of the work we are doing in the diversity and inclusion space is intended to benefit the community, such as our White Ribbon Accreditation or the work we are doing to be more inclusive of transgender and intersex employees.”
Envato is also focussed on supporting the LBGTI community with its program known as “Out Envato” which provides education to its people on what language is appropriate and preferred, and business policies and guidelines are written with this very much in mind. Envato is also a regular participant in the ‘Australian workforce equality index’.
Envato’s program was created by people within the business and supported by the executive team and board.
“The benefits are not just commercially sound, it’s also the right thing to do” says Envato’s Law.
He says commercial benefits are “often anecdotal, however we have seen a spike in staff engagement since our diversity programs have been launched’.
REA Group’s Di’Lodovico echoed this, saying the company had seen a 20 per cent uplift in ‘parents feeling supported in the workplace‘ and a 10 per cent jump in people feeling like we are ‘investing in a diverse & inclusive culture.’
REA Group has specific gender targets of their senior leadership team being 50 per cent women by 2018, achieving this would certainly make them an industry leader given the recent Davidson DiversIT report indicating the current industry average being a miserly 14 per cent.
Neither MYOB nor Envato have hard targets in mind for female workforce participation. Their primary reason for this is that they feel all candidates should feel they are awarded roles by merit rather than the possibility of thinking they are appointed in order to meet a company quota.
Aubrey Blanche says Atlassian do not mandate quotas but it has internal targets, and the company’s performance in this area is published on its website.
“If we truly want to make a dent in the issue we need to refocus the conversation on more meaningful indicators like team diversity and inclusiveness,” said Blanche. “That wider diversity lens needs to be met with investment in initiatives that can move those needles,” she says.
The Atlassian focus is largely on the diversity of teams rather than the entire organisation, with a specific focus in its Sydney headquarters on the distribution of women across various divisions and locations.
I am proud to be part of a technology industry that has come a long way and often leads the discussion on this issue. We have a long way to go, no doubt. However these are some excellent examples of organisations within the tech industry that other organisations and indeed other industries can learn from.
I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead, and seeing the tangible benefits that diversity will bring to our technology industry in Australia.
Damien Ross is director, executive engagement at Davidson Technology.