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We've gone on a journey to make the Hi-Tech Awards more diverse – but it doesn't stop there

Following criticisms from earlier years, the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards have been on a journey to make the awards night a more diverse affair. This year, they succeeded, but Hi-Tech Awards trustee Helen Shorthouse says the job is far from over. Here, she recaps the awards night and explains the work the organisation is doing to ensure it continues to improve. 

Lasers lights, funky music and glasses of bubbles welcomed us at the 2018 Hi-Tech Awards held in Christchurch last month.

Glitz and glamour for 800 founders, creators, employees and supporters of the tech industry….so far, so normal. 

This year, however, something was different.  There was a different vibe and a very explicit focus on ‘diversity’ which seems to have been well received if the Tweets were anything to go by:

  • Massive diversity at the #HTANZ this year
  • Amazing night at NZ tech awards! So much te reo! Women tech experts cleaning up!
  • At no other tech awards in the world would we see such a celebration of indigenous heritage and talent.
  • #HTANZ rising influence of te reo and diversity.
  • There will be no complaining about the lack of women on stage tonight at #HTANZ. Good work team, you said you would do this. And our amazing women kind of made it easy for you
  • “It makes me emotional seeing how much te reo Māori & how many women are on stage.”
  • I complained for years about #htanz’s lack of diversity & stopped going - so I want to cheer tonight where so far more women than men have taken the stage, where te reo is the default not the exception. Thx to @jenrutherfordnz & team for finally creating something to be proud of.

“If diversity is your theme this year, what’s the focus for next year?”

I confess…. the Hi-Tech Trustees and Swaytech the event organisers have done a bit of congratulatory whooping this week, but this blog isn't about us saying how awesome we are….it’s actually about us being open that we are on a journey. 

We’ve got a mission, we have an action plan. We have tried some stuff that worked and some that didn’t and we know we are far from finished. 

Given that this journey is not dissimilar to the diversity journey for most companies, we thought it might just be good to share it. 

If there’s one message in this blog post, it’s just make a start.  

Isn't it about a party? Why diversity?

The NZ Hi-Tech Trust was established in 2009 to advance the growth and success of New Zealand's hi-tech industries through recognising and celebrating success and capability building. So why are we focusing on diversity?

Simply put – we recognise that strength within individual companies comes from having different perspectives, abilities, experience, and knowledge around the table and this makes better teams, companies and products, enabling NZ tech companies and entrepreneurs to be even more successful at home and globally.  There’s lots of evidence about business performance – check out the Champions for Change link on our website for a good overview.

Commitment

Before I go on however, I want to recognise the work of the previous all-male Trustees who led the ‘diversity discussion’ and realised they wanted to make change happen.  Not only did they search for a more diverse set of people to join as Trustees, but some of them stepped down to make room for new thinking and new people. 

That was the first step taken – commitment was made. 

Our Trust currently has 4 females and 6 males, including Ian Taylor who represents the Flying Kiwis and also brings an important tangata whenua perspective. I can also vouch for the fact that it isn't the women who dominate the discussions about diversity and our role, but others around the table are equally as vocal.

The second step was establishing a Diversity Sub-Committee to develop an action plan on behalf of the Trust.  This has led to a number of priorities which we are currently focusing on:

  1. Define what diversity meant to us and where to focus in the first instance.  Our definition is quite broad (diversity of thinking) and in the first instance we are focusing on increasing representation of the females, Maori, Pacifica and Non-Anglo/European people that are in our community  

  1. If you don't measure you can't manage – despite our grand ideas about measuring progress this year, we discovered we haven’t historically been capturing much data about diversity, meaning 2018 is year 1 for much of our benchmarking, other than for gender. 

Even for gender, we originally hit a hiccup and realised we were counting ‘female entrants’ based on who had filled in the actual entry form, this person wasn’t necessarily the CEO or founder, so we have now revised how we capture this data.

Pleasingly, we did see some improvements on last year, with more female judges (22 percent last year and 36 percent this year); an increase of 4.7 percent females in all entrants and an almost doubling of female finalists, up from 12 percent last year to 23 percent this year.

  1. A leadership role in raising awareness of diversity matters within the Hi-Tech Awards community

We chose to be very upfront and all-encompassing about this and it included:

  1. Reviewing our website and comms to ensure we were balanced in showcasing diversity
  2. Articulation of the why, including on our website, but also through the media
  3. Providing places for people to go for the ‘now what do I do?’  We know many businesses understand they need to take action, but haven’t been clear on where to start.  We’ve gathered some of the best resources in the Diversity section on our website
  4. Working with our amazing judges to change and update the judging criteria and entry form to include diversity  
  5. Working with our sponsors and supporters to ask them to consider showcasing diversity when giving out awards and bringing guests to the dinner
  6. Ensuring our MC and entertainment reflected our approach

The number of female finalists and the use of te reo were the most visible signs to many at the Gala Dinner that things have shifted, but it is much wider than that and we know there’s more to do, building on what we have started and ensuring we have really embedded our actions into ‘business as usual.’

I’d also like to thank our sponsor PwC who has been both “vocal” (read ‘critical’!) and exceptionally supportive of the Trust in this initiative.

I think the Trust is in good hands, with our Chair Jen Rutherford who continues to show real leadership to the industry about diversity.  Our Vice Chair Vaughan Rowsell is equally as supportive so I thought I would get his view on why he feels passionately about diversity, as a pale, stale, male (his words).

“I was raised by a strong inspirational woman, and having two daughters I want to make sure we are creating an environment for them to thrive in. My partner Zoe and I also run a charity inspiring kids into technology and we make sure half the kids attending our workshops are girls and overall the classes are culturally diverse. We see that every kid wants to do cool stuff with technology, so we need to make sure the industry is open to them joining in.”

“And so I have been supporting a more diverse industry in as many ways as I can over the recent years, always in a positive way. It’s not going to change overnight but there are things we all can do to help make gradual change. For example I don’t speak at conferences that are all guys, instead I recommend women entrepreneurs and leaders of organisations as speakers. I try to be aware of all the unconscious biases out there and use my position as an ally to spot the bias and point it out, and generally I help to support and mentor the next wave of future leaders who do not look like me.”

“It’s a tough change to make given the amount of history that got us here today, and you can throw shade on all the negative aspects of diversity in our industry, or you can positively support change, like what we have done at the awards this year. And what do you know, the diversity is out there. It is changing and with more positive support we can all make this an industry we are proud to have our daughters and their friends of every race, creed and colour join too.”

We know there is still much work to be done, but we can't do it alone.  The change isn't effortless, it’s actually part of a decisive leadership approach.  We’re a voluntary group of Trustees and acknowledge we are only just beginning.  We encourage everyone in our community to join us....take your first step!

We’d also love your feedback and reflections about what else you’d like to see us doing.

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