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What I learnt from the NZTech Developing Diversity event

What I learnt from the NZTech Developing Diversity event

Gender diversity in tech is a key issue playing out in discussion circles at the moment, but how do companies best implement action around it? Rush founder and CTO Danu Abeysuriya is keen to take steps towards more diversity within the company, and so headed along to the NZTech Women Developing Diversity event held earlier this month. Here are his key gleanings. 

Recently Rush Digital has been trying to establish a plan to improve its gender diversity. I decided to go to the NZTech Women Developing Diversity event earlier this month. I had a few ideas in my head around what we were doing and planning on doing, and thought the event might be able to give me a bit of guidance and validation for our plans. The panel of speakers:

● Rhonda Koroheke, head of diversity and Inclusion, Spark New Zealand

● Lesley Elvidge, HR director, Russell McVeagh

● Andrew Weston, director, Propellerhead

● Gerard Graham, COO, Technology Bank of New Zealand

It was really helpful to hear how a wide range of businesses (and business leaders) are thinking about and actioning the issue of diversity in the NZ Tech sector. Throughout the talk, there were several overarching themes that stood out to me as common grounds for building a diversity protocol in business.

1. All the speakers, though differing in their fields and natures of business, highlighted passion for their staff at all levels as the forefront/key players in the success and attractiveness of their businesses. Diversity WorksNZ puts it simply: employees that feel valued and included in a team, make a higher discretionary effort at work, so in abasic form — there is a mutual benefit from placing a high value on your staff.

2. Equally, the highest value was placed on asking staff for feedback on how the organisation is doing with its diversity and ways in which to improve or correct. The main point being to test assumptions that you (or management) are making related to the problem and its possible solution. The primary focus here was on inclusion, aptly describing diversity as more about broadening the view you have on who is suitable for the role. Providing opportunities to everyone is not only good for corporate citizenship, it also enhances your reputation as a good employer — giving you greater access to top talent pools. Taking this approach widens the catch net of applicants you may then consider for the role.

3. An extension to (2) was that this process is part of the wider axiom of checking your biases at the door, and that regardless of how well intentioned one might be, we all have biases that we are unaware of so getting a 2nd opinion can really help you identify those and proactively make change.

4. A common theme emerged among all speakers that there is a country-wide, and by extension, worldwide issue of unequal pay even in non-hierarchical organisations. This shouldn’t seem like a profound statement, but it does need to be stated: there should not be a switch between the pay for a female vs. how much a male in the same position would be paid or vice versa — It was noted that strategies for businesses to notice these discrepancies remedy need to be proactively implemented, one such strategy is pay transparency. It was noted that there are several tools out there for checking pay parity like PayScale.com

Good managers encourage every employee to reach their potential and to feel safe and valued anyway, so it was heartening to see that the changes that need to be made are simply extensions of this philosophy and while not necessarily easy to implement, should certainly come naturally to a healthy organisation. Rush Digital is pushing to be a part of the evolution in workplace policy and culture, fostering equality and difference and personally taking a stand to reject bias and to further seek out diversity.As a business leader or even as an employee you have the capability to improve your organisation, improve its range of thinking, improve the quality of its output, improve the culture, all simply by treating people more fairly - so why wouldn't you?

Photo taken at NZ Diversity Event, IBM NZ. Original source: Ministry of Women Study, Annual Report 2016.




Danu Abeysuriya is the CTO and founder of Rush Digital, an Auckland based digital engineering studio which counts Heineken, TVNZ and BBC among its clients. Read our profile on him here