Australia is beating Silicon Valley on women in tech

Nathan ElveryIn this guest post Nathan Elvery argues  Australian tech companies lead the way in breaking the glass ceiling for women in the sector.

A recent media narrative has slammed tech companies for their appalling record on women and demonstrated how Australia takes more than its fair share of this problem. What’s been missed altogether from the narrative is the Australian tech companies that are world-leaders in this space, which provides a cause for optimism amongst the understandable hand-wringing.

First, though, the problem. Last week, Claire Connelly wrote for Fairfax Media about the tech industry’s ‘woeful’ record on women. She argued that the endless ‘car-crash’ women in tech panels are all style over substance and the industry needs to ‘put its money where its mouth is’ to improve.

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Just 28% of Australian ICT employees are women and, of those, 40.7% are in admin and support roles.

This is, indeed, woeful. But it isn’t true of all tech companies. Change.org, the petition platform that allows Australians to create the change they want to see, has been operating in Australia since 2011 under the leadership of a woman, Karen Skinner. The fact that Karen is currently on maternity leave under one of the most generous parental leave policies in the tech industry (18 weeks for all parents – male and female, biological and nonbiological) is a solid example of a tech brand putting its money where its mouth is. She isn’t the only Karen to lead an Australian tech company – Karen Stocks is the first MD of Twitter Australia.

Women are in leadership positions at Microsoft (Pip Marlow is Country Manager), Google (Maile Carnegie is MD for Australia and New Zealand) and Intel (Kate Burleigh General Manager of Australia and New Zealand.) Women in leadership positions equate to great working practices – for example, Pip Marlow is a strong advocate for flexible work at Microsoft, which has a ‘work from anywhere’ policy.

If Australia wants to have a technology hub to rival San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Roosevelt Island, it’s time other Australian tech companies did far more than just tokenistic panels for women where they get asked insulting questions. A recent example was when YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki was asked if her five children were all from the same father.

Scott Farquhar, co-founder and co-CEO of tech company Atlassian, laid out six tips to make Australia rival Silicon Valley and number two on the list was “encourage more women and girls into the field” – starting with better education in schools. Gone are the days that women studied cooking and it was patronisingly called ‘home economics’ – and amen to that. Now an opportunity exists for girls to learn coding, ICT and STEM subjects (science, tech, engineerings, maths) that’ll make them highly employable.

But the tech companies need to actually start employing them in roles beyond admin. 70% of Change.org Australia’s employees are women and 30% are men. The two most senior employees in Australia are women. The fact that that we offer a sector-leading maternity package has enabled us to attract the very best talent. It’s more crucial than ever, after a worrying report this year found that the number of women in computing jobs has fallen over the last 23 years from 35% to 26%. As a global company in twenty countries, Change.org has one of the best track records on women in tech.

Our global Chief Operating Officer is female (Jennifer Dulski); women make up more than half of all employees, 40% of executives and 30% of technical roles. That’s double the number of women in tech roles at Facebook (15%), almost double the number at Google (17%) and three times more than Twitter (10%). And we’re just getting started.

Sydney Start Ups are currently pushing for the New South Wales government to save Redfern’s Australian Technology Park. In their Change.org petition on the topic, they describe the hub as a “physical manifestation of the country’s commitment to technology” and a place where innovation can thrive by tech companies, in close proximity, learning from each other. There are currently 100 tech companies in the Australian Technology Park and tech companies such as Atlassian have offered to re-locate if the site is saved from being bought by property developers.

Clearly, one of the first things on the list if the hub is saved should be for the companies to address the women in tech problem – with something more than just another panel. It’s a golden opportunity for start-ups to follow the example of an Australian companies that are producing some of the country’s leading women in tech.

If Australia is to be globally competitive within the technology industry, we need to start championing our companies that are doing better on women than Silicone Valley, Shoreditch and Roosevelt Island.

At Change.org we know, as the world’s biggest social change platform, that real change starts at home.

  • Nathan Elvery is interim country lead of Change.org Australia

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