ICT and Digital is at the forefront of innovation and we know that diverse teams are far more innovative, more productive… so why is diversity in tech so hard to win?

Men and women from the ICT & Digital sector gathered this week at Darling Harbour to discuss the move toward more diverse ICT leadership teams. 

Some of these leaders sit within businesses that are starting to get close to equal numbers of men and women in their executive leadership teams. And yet, when you look more closely, even within those businesses, the IT leadership teams are very dominantly male. The whole IT workforce is 75% male and that number is consistent globally. Even Facebook has only 22% women in tech and 30% women in tech leadership.

Diversity in Tech

How do we get more women into tech?

I’m going to show you some quotable moments from the ICT & Digital Leaders Conference this week. But first, the key resounding theme:

Women in tech is not a tech problem. It’s a society issue. Without diversity in tech, we get solutions tainted with bias or simply catering to one part of the market. 

What can we do about it? What’s working and what’s not?

Wendy Bryant, CIO at Transport for NSW shared IBM video ‘Dear Tech’ along with many other tangible pieces of advice for inclusion… see it HERE, I’m passing it on.

We need so many more conversations with young girls and all types of boys, about how tech can change the world, if we’re to get more diversity in tech.

With stereotyping in society, by age 6, girls are saying “that’s tech, that’s not me”.

Tech plays such a big part in our lives, it’s critical that ALL of us are represented in it’s creation. Only 25% of IT professionals are women and only 12% of AI researchers. How do we remove bias from AI solutions if the creators have such limited diversity?

Tech is driving our future, it’s driving our now.

Talk up the wonder of STEM to all kinds of kids, not just the natural gamers – how it connects us, keeps us safe, cures disease, protects our most vulnerable, shapes the world we live in.

 

Here are the most tweetable moments from these ICT and Digital leaders:

 

Wendy Bryant, CIO, Transport for NSW shared a powerful personal journey with plenty of data and signposts for diversity and inclusion opportunities.

“Girls are turned off tech at a very young age and we’re not getting the girls in. Women also leave tech at a much higher pace”

Wendy said “We made some progress, removed workplace barriers, but realised by 13-14 years of age, girls lose interest in tech”

“We can do some things at an organisational level, in my team, removing bias from hiring, looking at pay gaps, policies like parental leave and flex. Look closely at the words. One of my team was hiring. I got them to edit the words: ‘Release change engineer’ was changed to ‘release change specialist’, to attract more women.”

“12% of AI researchers globally are women, 6% of AI software developers globally are women. They need to be aware of their bias, or they’ll just bake their bias into the solutions.”

Wendy called out the aborted Amazon AI software that was created to filter resumes. The software used historical indicators that men were more likely to win the roles, so it produced a bias in the shortlists it recommended. By building in historical bias, AI has the potential to perpetuate bias and continue the problem.

 

 

Advice on leadership

Joanne Murray, Program Manager Transformation and Innovation at Boral, advocated taking time to consider what your brand is and to foster a leadership mindset. 

 

 

Chris Locke, Chief Information Officer at Flight Centre told of his career and this, his 4th stint with the Flight Centre business.

Chris said “Don’t be afraid to try different things”.

I asked if his career rise would have been as rapid, had he stayed within Flight Centre. Chris said not. He wouldn’t have had the same breadth of experience to add to the next stage and the next, had he always been within the one business. 

Deb Assheton of The Amplify Group showed above-the-line and below-the-line behaviours that saw furious note-taking among delegates.

Deb spoke of using what happens in the world to add to our levels of confidence, rather than allowing it to smash our confidence. 

 

Where are the women?

 

Jade Carson, Director of School Investments at the NSW Dept Education and Training told the stories of STEM pioneers like Grace Hopper and Margaret Hamilton.

Encouraging others to find ways to change the current story, Jade said we need to start with young girls and communicate the social impact that IT can have. 

Find Harmony between Work and Life Commitments

As chair, I got to ask these ladies how they find harmony between work and life commitments.

Katie Payten, Director of Technology Assurance and Governance at ASIC spoke of a very full and dynamic schedule and shifting over time so that the important things were taken care of, not just the logistics. 

Jade Carson, Director of School Investments at the NSW Dept Education and Training also described a burgeoning schedule, both with kids and work commitments, saying “relying on my partner is really important.”

Jo Murray of Boral said that she’d learnt not to over-commit. In any opportunity decision she considers how it will feed her intellectually, professionally and how it works with what her family needs. Walking her talk, she then stepped out briefly to feed her beautiful 11 week old Sophie.

I asked Kirsty McKay, Group Manager Program Delivery & Digital Transformation at Coates Hire about encouraging teams to find that harmony. Kirsty said “We ran a ‘bring your daughter to work day’. We ran a coding club, set up python exercises. The girls could see their parents at work, got a sense of what they do. It had so many benefits as well as more exposure for young girls to see what they might be interested in.”

Keli Saville, Regional Head of Data, AsiaPac at Vanguard said that with so many commitments both personally,. professionally and to ongoing learning, adding anything else in right now seems impossible. “I can’t do it now, but I schedule it. I’m known for having 3 holidays booked in advance. Some of them might just be long weekends. 

If it’s important, I recognise the experiences I get from it, I spread it out and commit to it.”

I asked Niamh Collins, General Manager, Digital At HCF about saying no, pushing back. Niamh advocates stepping back and breathing, for clarity “I step out of it. Step back for clarity so you can see what to say no to, or outsource or delegate.”

 

 

Kylie McLean, Chief Digital Officer for Australia and New Zealand at IBM spoke of the increasing importance of interaction as more of our tasks become automated.

Advocating for psych tools to help build team understanding and cohesion, Kylie spoke of the challenges and benefits of working with team members as individuals while also finding a single purpose they could all get behind, so she could inspire and lead toward that. 

An inspirational powerhouse, oozing passion for her team and business, Kylie said “Encourage the heart. Making people feel like heroes, people will want to walk where you want them to walk.”

 

 

Megan James, CEO Australian Data Centres and President, Women in IT & Communications shared her own hard-won journey to career success. 

“Know what you value most and stay in your lane. Don’t be compromised.”

Technology, jobs and the Future of Work

 

Panel discussion on Technology, Jobs & The Future of Work

Joyce Harness, CIO at Avant Mutual Group spoke about the need to build trust with client groups, around tech solutions. 

Brendan Mills, CIO at NIB Health Funds spoke of the significant tailoring of solutions for team members. “The effort and tools we put into different groups is very different. They want different things.”

“we’re seeing an increased demand from job-seekers for multiple concurrent employers”

Kirsten Murray, Director International, Faculty of Engineering & IT, University of Technology Sydney said global teams can miss the water cooler conversations and that it’s something they continue to get better at. Kirsten said another challenge with global teams is the extended holiday periods in different locations “the European summer is 2 months, Chinese New Year is a month and our Christmas is a one month shut down.”

I asked Kathryn Porter, Director of Customer Experience at Cisco, about the tools that help regionally spread teams to gel and grow. “We use our own tech. We have high resolution screens that sit across the table from you. The image is so real, so it feels like you’re in the room with them. We used to fly everywhere. 75,000 employees and everyne was allowed to fly. That was a huge carbon footprint and a huge cost. This is far better.

We use Webex and Webex Teams – they’re taking huge leaps into AI and will recognise you through the room.”

Brendan said NIB Health Funds has been using Workplace by Facebook for about a month with great results. “Initially I was skeptical because we’re a really diverse workforce. The take-up has been phenomenal. 1600 out of 1700 users have registered in the first few weeks. 30-40 people have interacted directly with the CEO today, about an article in todays paper. That wouldn’t have happened before this platform.”

Sarah McCullogh is the Acting CIO at Essential Energy has a team with a big regional footprint. Asked about the tools of choice for communication, Sarah said “we use Slack, Teams, Skype, Zoom, Facetime, mobile phones. They still said we didn’t communicate. I asked what?? They said it was too much information. So we asked which teams wanted which medium and we’re working to that.”

I asked Sarah what problems are facing tech. Her response ” We’re always on. If I’m working Saturday afternoon I don’t want my team to feel pressure to do the same.”

 

Simon Noonan, Chief Information Officer at Sportsbet talked about the value of culture. He said “recognise people in tech like to be recognised and rewarded but they don’t like the spotlight”.

Simon’s team built a bot, using emojis to represent Sportsbet’s 6 corporate values. Team members can shout out kudos to each other at any time on their social media channel, on Slack. Rather than ‘like, love cry, angry face’ emoji at the news, other users click on the custom emojis that represent ‘Customer 1st & last’, ‘our fun their fun’, ‘stay curious’ , ‘licence to drive’, ‘reflect learn improve’ or ‘we’ve got your back’. What started as tech shout-outs has now been adopted by HR and finance, becoming ‘Sportsbet shout-outs’.

 

Stuart Harrison, Chief Information Security Officer at Medibank said the most effective leaders are those who operate on a people-centric level. He advised to make space for creative thought and advocates proactivity with both continual learning and fun. 

 

Cath Nolan, MD CathNolan.com

Cath Nolan has worked in organisational and professional development for over 15 years. Creator of The Diversity Collective and founder of Gender Gap Gone, Cath is combining her coaching skills and consulting experience to deliver a strategy workshop, Advancing Your Inclusion Strategy, around NSW. The workshop has previously been run in Victoria with stellar feedback by participants from both D&I roles and more general operational roles. For more information, follow THIS LINK.