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Tackling technology challenges and improving business through diversity

Telstra Vantage™

Posted on October 12, 2018

5 min read

A panel of female technology leaders at Telstra Vantage 2018 discussed the ideas, techniques and actions that will attract more women into the industry.

With a gender distribution of roughly 25 percent women to 75 percent men, the technology industry still has considerable work to do to be more diverse and inclusive. But Westpac CIO of consumer bank Anastasia Cammaroto said we’ve at least reached the point where it’s an accepted fact that diversity and inclusivity are the right thing to do.

The question now, then, is how to do it — how do we address this gender imbalance, at every seniority level, and reap the benefits of diverse teams and diverse leadership in technology organisations? And how do we navigate these challenges while also steering our way through the fourth big industrial revolution that’s underway right this minute, with 300 years of technology advancements crammed into just the next three years?

For panel moderator Katherine Boiciuc, enterprise operations executive at Telstra, it’s the technology businesses that achieve diversity and inclusivity that will thrive in this period of unprecedented transformation. And for Telstra COO Robyn Denholm, it’s precisely this transformation that should be the catalyst for the change we need to see in our workforce across the board.

Making tech careers more appealing to women and girls

Part of the solution for doing that, she added, is to leverage all this exciting new technology to add a cool factor to the industry so that more kids might then say “I want to be that nerd”, study STEM subjects and make their way into technology careers.

Cammaroto had much more to add on the long view. Westpac set a goal of 50 percent women across all roles, she said, and 10 years later they’ve made it. But achieving this goal took a serious look inwards.

Getting more women into technology and developing them into highly-skilled leaders is not as simple as saying you need them. It requires much greater inclusivity in the phrasing of job advertisements and workplace behaviours and biases, as well as a conscious effort to set role models for the types of values you have in your organisation.

It also means reaching out to girls about the technology pathways they could take in their careers. Westpac has started to run work experience programs for girls at underprivileged schools for this very purpose — because, as Elizabeth Hunter, chief HR officer and shared services at Incitec Pivot, explained, “if they can’t see it, they won’t be it.”

Hunter said that we need to make it clearer as an industry that there are many more kinds of jobs and roles than just being a coder sitting in a room and not talking to anybody all day.

Then once young women enter the field, she added, they need mentors and sponsors who will see their potential and be prepared to give them a go — to help them advance their career and to give them a voice to reframe their roles and step up.

Diversity improves business outcomes

Denholm noted the importance of empowering men to empower women as a practical way to address the gender imbalance. This has had “amazing” results for Telstra in a short period of time, she said, and more broadly the panel agreed that the results of having even a small amount of diversity in your technology teams will speak for themselves.

There’s considerable data to suggest that diverse teams are more profitable, more productive and better problem solvers than non-diverse teams. This goes for diverse leadership, too, with diverse executive teams 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than non-diverse teams.

The panel had plenty of anecdotal evidence to support these numbers. Denholm has been the only woman in many executive teams over the years, for instance, and the men on those teams have often commented that just having that one woman’s presence improved the team dynamics. Similarly, in a previous role in financial services, Hunter learnt that the most profitable team at the firm was also the most diverse.

But Eglantine Etiemble, the CIO of Dulux, cautioned that, for all the many benefits diversity provides, it is also harder to manage diverse teams. You need to work on yourself as an individual and a leader, she advised, to transform yourself and to understand your bias. Only then will the transformation follow.

Hunter echoed the sentiment. Assumptions are often wrong, she said, “So check your assumptions, find out if they’re true, and you might find that a whole new world opens up.”

Greater diversity to tackle the challenges ahead

Business is changing tremendously fast. A whopping 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 don’t exist yet. And these new jobs are likely to require diverse skill sets across our industry.

Christine Russo, technology sales executive at Telstra, said that the future of sales — and all professions — lies in softer skills like humility and empathy and abundance. For that, she said, we need to think about how to build teams where ego is left at the door.

Women leaders also need to think about and choose carefully how to “lean in” to create conditions for women to be successful, she added, while Boiciuc likened diversity to the high school dance. “You can invite everyone to the high school dance,” she said, “but there’s a difference between being at the school dance and being asked to dance at the school dance… So how many people are you inviting to dance?”