04 Mar CODE Debugging the Gender Gap – Film Screening & Panel Q&A: Why we must harness the power of diversity in tech
In her opening remarks as sponsor of the event, Rania Tannous Senior Manager & General Counsel at Clearpoint Counsel observed in joining the company which services mainly tech & social startups, that she was working predominantly with male founders, investors, and lawyers. It was a stark contrast to the in-house corporate experience she had come from. The question she rightly posed was why?
CODE is an award-winning film tackling head on the systematic and cultural barriers women & girls face in the tech & computer science industries: from early learning to participation in the workforce, to founding startups and to becoming leaders. In a time where more than ever the US is facing a major skills shortage in this arena, the film aims to inspire change in mindsets, in the educational system, in startup culture and in the way women see themselves in the field of coding, unpacking the gender and diversity gap, which is resulting in a colossal waste of human potential.
“For the Digital Revolution to be truly great, it can’t just be for a certain set of people” – Code
Much has been written in tech trade & business journals about the gender diversity problem, which by and large is experienced universally across the world. What’s clear is that this is a world issue not a “women’s issue”. A recent report released this year entitled When Women Thrive is the most comprehensive, analytical and predictive research on women in the workforce globally with surveys done in 42 countries, nearly 600 submissions, and 3.2 million employees, including 1.3 million women.1 The results were clear: women represent a US$12 trillion opportunity worldwide, and companies failing to grasp this opportunity will miss the competitive advantage, by simply not have enough talent in their pipelines.
“Women represent a US$12 trillion opportunity worldwide”
The Q&A Panel discussion consisting of Ren Butler, Melbourne Startup Manager Blue Chilli, Atlanta Daniel CoFounder, Signal Ventures a new seed startup fund for Australian Startups, Jessica Glenn Coder & Founder My Work Phone, Blake Mizzi CoFounder League of Geeks, and Ahmed Salama CoFounder That Startup Show, sought to unpack the themes and the unique issues in Australia. We began by canvassing the good, bad and the ugly of the Australian landscape to localise the issues brought up in the film:
THE GOOD – Startup culture is igniting a shift
Startup culture is inspiring more women into the tech sector. We have awesome women coders in Australia and it’s growing, thanks to networks such as General Assembly, Girl Geek Academy, Coder Academy and Code Like a Girl, One Roof, Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine and recent US import Girls in Tech who just set up a chapter in Melbourne. 2
We have a government whose innovation package included $14 to encourage women and girls into STEM and the sector.3
We have actual laws to address gender equality. Remember the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 ? This requires non-public sector employers with 100 or more staff (relevant employers) to submit a report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on gender composition, equal pay scales and terms & conditions of employment reflecting flexibility for those with family or caring responsibilities. 4
We have some great role models getting funding & creating cutting edge research. Examples include: Professor Michelle Simmons who received $45 million for Qantum Computing Prototype from the government innovation initiative, Jodie Fox CEO of Shoes of Prey and CANVA co Founder Melanie Perkins, both closed large funding rounds for their companies. 5
Male leaders are actively joining the conversation in business via organisations such as Male Champions of Change.
THE BAD – There’s still lots to do.
We still have a 17.5 % pay gap between the sexes, with the gap at the top positions in the workforce. 6. In other words, women are under represented & under utilised in our workforce.
We are losing our women from tech positions. 28% of tech roles are filled by women, yet 45% of them are likely to leave in the first year. 7
We still don’t have enough women at senior level. In reports from late last year, women make up 15.4% of CEOs. Simply, the higher up the ladder the less of them there are, and this impacts on leadership and company culture.8
Women aren’t enrolling in IT & computer science at university level. At the other end of the pipeline, women enrolling in IT was at record lows, however hopefully this will shift with the Government’s Innovation package. 9
THE UGLY – Cultural barriers are probably our biggest challenge
“Why would you want to go into an industry, which doesn’t fund you and exposes you to sexual harassment” – Code
The ugliest part of the picture is our culture. From a young age the attitudes about our genders, ethnicity and these traits, capabilities and roles form our unconscious biases. In fact “by the age of 10, young Australian boys are downplaying and excusing sexist outbursts, and girls are already blaming themselves for this behaviour”. 10
This persists throughout all cultural, educational, corporate and government institutions and those who are affected by it in the form of discrimination – see it everyday in the most subtle ways. Those who aren’t affected, often cannot see it unless it is pointed out to them, often in the worst cases, via a lawsuit. If bad behaviour (harrassment or vilification) is not called out, it becomes “normalised” , making it harder for those who question it to speak out. A recent study this year showed that even when code is assessed, bias still exists when the identity of the coder is known, even though the code quality may be better.11
The biases then continue play out systematically, leading to the loss of potentially talented and valuable contributors. In the Australian tech startup world for example, 96% of tech investors are men and only 4% of tech funded startups are female-led.12 Many women comment, male investors do not always understand industries they are disrupting, so see no value in investing them, even with proven market opportunity. This leads to a loss of confidence, so is it any wonder many do not step up for the hackathons, and conference prizes?
Hacking the Solution
Such a huge issue requires a multi-faceted human centric design approach: from the way we educate and socialise our children in schools about tech & computer science, to creating safe, balanced workplaces to formal legal changes, and most importantly the necessary pathways to culture change in the tech/startup industry.
Change can be uncomfortable, but nothing consistent awareness, education & unconscious bias training can’t address over time, and through talent pipelines. The bottom line is, as our Panel pointed out, if we want to be globally competitive – we can’t be recruiting from only 50% of the population.
Often the most challenging issue is having the courage to have day to day conversations with people who can’t see a problem, mostly because it hasn’t or has never affected them. One audience member – a woman in a software company of 35 men – asked: how do I even start a conversation in a room about the benefits of a diversity opportunity, when I’m not even seen as it is? Supporting her and her collegues on this journey is a shared responsibility.
It will take a truly collaborative, united effort. We need voices from government, tech leaders, the entire tech community itself, to extend ourselves beyond simply changing the optics on tech panels. We need a culture change and action. That can only happen if we’re made aware of the once in a lifetime opportunity that diversity represents, and actively work toward it.
One thing is certain – when gender parity is achieved anywhere, everyone benefits, and many other problems course correct.
By Anna Reeves, CEO That Startup Show, & Program Director, B Ready Better Business Program