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IWD 2024: Bridging gender gaps in the tech sector and startups
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

As we approach International Women's Day (IWD), I’m contemplating what “Count Her In” means to me and the sectors I work in. The growth of IWD social media campaigns plays a role in raising awareness. Yet, do they overshadow the concrete action needed to drive change? Two recent statistics have hit home.

Firstly, the release last month of new data revealing a national average remuneration gap of 19% with at least two thirds of workplaces having pay gaps that favour men significantly, The Information Technology Sector, while not alone, lags below this average. The figures suggest continued unconscious bias in hiring and salary negotiation practices.

Secondly, the latest report of the Australian Startup Funding Report found that in 2023, 26% of startup funding went to rounds with at least one female founder (dropped to 4% for all female teams). This was an increase of 18% in the year prior. At the same time, two-thirds of new businesses created in Australia in the past decade have been founded by women. While many factors impact on the viability of a target for investment, the raw data suggests something is out of sync.

What then to do? 

It's a reminder that deeper change will not happen by awareness alone. It is the micro-steps of many that will together move the dial and raise the bar for others to follow. 

The CyberWomen NSW initiative from the Australian Women’s Security Network is a case in point. They offer bootcamp style learning, and career workshops for women to move into, or develop careers in cybersecurity. 

Another is the Women Speak Cyber organisation that raises the visibility of women as cybersecurity speakers and delivers programs to increase the number of women who are ‘conference ready’ with tools, storytelling, and presenter polish. 

Tangible, practical, with real impact on professional careers. 

And it makes commercial sense to do so. 

Modelling by the Australian Computer Society has shown that increasing gender diversity in the tech workforce would grow Australia’s economy by over 11 billion over the next two decades and create almost 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs, including in the startup ecosystem.

And speaking of startups and investment, let’s celebrate initiatives such as the Alice Anderson Fund, a $10 million LaunchVic sidecar fund offering matched investments to women led startups. Let’s also applaud Private Equity firms like Adamantem Capital who now include analysis of indicators of inclusion and diversity as part of their investment due diligence process, as a marker of employee engagement and workplace culture. Once companies enter their portfolio, Adamantem also supports those companies to create more inclusive and diverse workplaces, eg in 2022, they increased the percentage of female CEOS in portfolio companies from 22.2% to 55.6.%.  
When we look at professional careers, often it is company culture where inclusion can come unstuck. 

As we start to scale at CTO Labs, where our focus is technology due diligence for investors and private equity firms, we are prioritising gender balance and pay parity where we can. Scarcity of talent and client demand makes this challenging for a small team with niche specialisms, so we’ve put processes in place to deliberately consider gender diversity in our hiring and HR practices, alongside a flexible and inclusive workplace culture. That makes it a culture worth investing individual professional capital in.

Back then to the theme of IWD – what does it mean as a woman ‘counted in’? 

Part of the answer lies in what it feels like to be invisible. My early career in government was characterised by very few women in leadership roles. Being asked to ‘go get the coffee’ happened more often than for male peers. But also there were leaders taking steps towards change.

In my mid-20s, a senior leader opened the door to a business sector secondment. It was significant, not just because it was out of the ordinary. I spent 12 months at an industry body, and when I returned, I brought with me a new set of skills, outlook, and focus. My being ‘counted in’ also fostered a mindset of going after unconventional opportunities and being willing to step forward, take risks, and ask for a yes (rather than wait for one) – they are values that underpin my leadership style today.

This IWD I am celebrating my peers in my immediate and extended network, those making a tangible difference in the professional lives of others. 

Because together, we can drive meaningful change and build a more equitable future.