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  • Athina Mallis

Nicola Steel on why diversity in the technology sector matters

Globally, diversity in the technology sector is progressing, but in many countries like Australia, there's a long way to go. In the Australian workforce, only 29% of the Australian tech workforce are women and only 26% of Australian co-founders are women. You're more likely to be a CEO, if you named John or David than if you're a woman, says Nicola Steel, Founder of JJP Talent Solutions, an IT and digital recruitment company based in Brisbane.

A prolific speaker and mentor, Nicola has a passion for improving diversity in the world of tech especially getting more women into the workforce. She spoke on AZK Media's podcast, Target Market about how to improve diversity within the technology workforce, how to attract and retain a diverse talent pool and the key things holding women back.

You have spoken extensively on the need for women to be better represented in the technology sector, why do you think there is still such a gender gap?

That is a really interesting question, I did a presentation last week for River City Labs, up here in Brisbane. Now, when we look back in history, we have some incredible women in technology. We've got Ada Lovelace, for example, Hedy Lamarr, Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, who did some really incredible things. The reason why we don't have that many women in tech is not down to their ability. When we look at the current statistics, in the Australian workforce, only 29% of the Australian tech workforce are women. This is based on the ACS Deloitte Digital Pulse reports earlier this year.

On top of this, only 26% of Australian co-founders are women. Also, you're more likely to be a CEO, if you named John or David than if you're a woman, which is quite scary, really. I was recently studying a graph on the number of students entering university to major in computer science. The number of females who are studying computer science is actually going down. So we've got quite a difficult road ahead.

What do you think are some of the factors holding women back in the industry?

I think there are three main reasons. The first one is very much a 'bro' culture. This starts at university, which already has a predominantly male student cohort in tech. I've spoken to quite a lot of men who say, when they are at university, out of 100 men, there'd be one woman doing computer science. 'Bro culture' that's created quite early on, that then moves forwards as they develop their own tech companies. They're bringing in their own networks, which of course, are men. That creates that lack of diversity there. Then when they bring in HR and recruitment policies, that bro culture is already ingrained in that.

Also, when I've spoken to women in tech, they find that they encounter quite a lot of conscious and unconscious bias and bullying, as well. Like, why are you here? Why do you want to do this? I did read an interesting statistic the other day that men dominate 75% of business meetings, which only leaves 25%, obviously, for women to contribute. But those factors are kind of outside of women's control.

But one that is really important as well is actually women themselves. Women need to be more confident. They need to value themselves more. For example, if there's a job advertised, a woman will only apply if she ticks 90% of the boxes, a man will apply when he takes about 60%. There have been many studies with regards to this, I'm not just making it up. Women need to be bolder, women need to stand up more and be counted. Women tend to follow the rules, it's very much brought up in the female psyche, to be a "good girl".

They don't want to break the rules when they're applying for roles. Hence that statistic with regards to only applying when they take nine out of 10 of the boxes. It comes back to women themselves as well as being more confident, realising their value.

What can be done to create more diversity in technology?

There are three different ways that we need to look at this. And I've touched on the initial parts, we need to go back and look at little girls and how we're talking to them. For example, not saying to a five-year-old girl, "you're very bossy", say "you show great leadership skills".

The other thing as well is really demystifying the world of tech, that it's not just the boys world out there. There are some really great organisations. For example, my daughter's part of a group called Girl Shaped Flames. I'm one of the 'patrons of fire' for them, which really empowers teenage girls and takes them to different tech companies to show them all the different roles that you can do in tech. It's not just about coding, you could work in product management, for example, there are so many different avenues that you could look at. There's also this Girl led World as well, which is great about empowering girls and also Girls of Impact.

These are some really great organisations that are really bringing girls into the world of tech and empowering them they're having more female role models. There needs to be more female role models in tech, having more women in leadership roles that girls can look up to.

We shouldn't forget about the role of men in all of this. When I speak to men in the tech world, so many of them want more women and more diversity in their teams. They don't want a one-dimensional product that's just designed by men, white men aged 25 to 35. Because their customers are much more diverse than that. There are some great organisations, like Men Championing Change. But we really need to bring the men on board as well, and they want to be involved. I don't think I've spoken to any man in the tech world but doesn't want to have more females on the team.

There is a lot of support there. That was from a more general perspective. Then from a more general from a more individual, , be more confident not being the last priority. Think of yourself more as Wonder Woman doing the power poses. I don't know whether you've seen the TED Talk with Amy Cuddy, but that is brilliant. Before you go into a meeting, do the power pose. I don't know whether you can see me doing It now but watching Amy Cuddy is an amazing, awesome TED Talk brings me to tears, and also really empowers me as well.

Then finally, I think we need to look at it from an organisational perspective. So bringing more women into leadership roles. Now I'm in Brisbane in Queensland and the Queensland Government is an extremely good example of having more women in leadership roles. Not obviously all tech, but 53% of the workforce in the Queensland Government in leadership roles are women, which is an amazing statistic. Also using those quotas, so more women are able to be involved. Providing a company where there is that psychological safety as well, where there isn't the bullying. And then there are some really great advisory boards as well.

There are three main ways, firstly, looking at the solutions from a more general perspective, secondly looking at yourself individually as a woman, and then thirdly, from an organisational perspective. An example from an organisational perspective is Netflix, where 43% of the total workforce are women, and 41% are in leadership jobs, which is obviously a really great stat there.

What excites you most about attracting and retaining a diverse pool of talent in the technology sector?

Tech is a great place to be. I referred to the ACS Deloitte Digital Pulse report earlier this year. There was some really great news despite COVID as well. That by 2025, we'll need over an additional 150,000 workers in the tech workforce, which is great. But where are we going to find them?

Historically, we found them through migration, and obviously graduates, but migration is probably going to reduce because of COVID, because of the border closures and so forth. We'll be looking more at graduates and also people moving across from other careers in technology as well. This is a really great chance for more women to become involved because we need you. The tech workforce needs you, they don't just want you, they need you as well. It's a really great opportunity.

The other thing is, when COVID first hit back in March, the tech workforce numbers dropped, it was around 35,000. That's coming back again quite quickly, it is a fairly buoyant market. Tech, generally I've been doing this since 1999, which is a really long time. But what I love about tech is it's constantly changing. So when I was recruiting 21 plus years ago, it was COBOL, and then it was C and C++, then it was Java and Dotnet and mobile and everything and there were so many different new things to look at. It's an ever-changing world, which is amazing.

I really love people so talking to people, hearing their stories. I have a podcast and video series as well. I really love hearing people's stories and finding out not just about their tech skills, but also what motivates them, where they want to be, what would really get them up in the morning. That's what really excites me about this industry.

The opposite of that, what frustrates you most about attracting and retaining a diverse pool of talent in the technology sector?

Diversity is key here. I think that lack of diversity is something I find quite frustrating. There's a reluctance for people to leave their roles, which I understand there is a level of uncertainty. Of course, we've had COVID to deal with in 2020. JobKeeper coming to an end, so people are concerned that the old adage of last in first out. There's that reluctance to move there, which can be a little bit frustrating when you go, "you are so perfect for this role, you would love this organisation, it's everything you really want". That it's that fear of tech jumping out because what happens if the company should make people redundant.

I always think if you don't discover more about them, then you'll never know. In fact, the biggest regrets most people have are when they don't do things, rather than when they do things. I remember my late father-in-law saying that to me when we were deciding to move from the UK to Australia at the end of 2011. He said to me, 'I don't want you to go to Australia'. But then he also said 'you only regret the things you don't do'. I really listened to him and I'd say that as well. When you see a great opportunity. Don't go for the safe option, go for the exciting option.

Tune into the full episode here.

Target Market, a podcast series by AZK Media, where the world’s most premium thought leaders across technology, marketing and data come together to share their insights. Hosted by Athina Mallis


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