The Elephant in the room – why the struggle with diversity in tech?
What is the biggest problem in the Sydney tech market in 2018? Is it the rapidly changing technical landscape? Or maybe the lack of suitable candidates? No, the most obvious and sad problem in the Sydney tech community to date is the struggle with diversity.
Attending the last Code Chiefs event, I saw the problem myself – out of 35 Sydney technology leaders we only had 2 women. Scary, right?
On the 8th of April we held our 3rd Code Chiefs event and decided to discuss the elephant in the room. With two of the biggest advocates of diversity in tech – Roisin Parkes from Gumtree and Dan Draper from Expert360.
We had a rather heated discussion on the topic and some very important issues raised on the struggle with diversity. I’ve summarised a few of the key findings for you:
1. The HR manager is not responsible for diversity & inclusion
Roisin makes the fantastic point – The HR team is not responsible for inclusion in your team. It is on you as a technology leader to influence the environment within the team and make people feel included in group discussions. A lot of companies fall into the trap of positive discrimination and make diversity a KPI. This tactic might attract women to the industry, but without the right team structure and support, the chances of them leaving the development team or moving to a less technical role are incredibly high. It is essential for technology managers to ensure that diversity and inclusion is not a % sign on a spreadsheet – it is something that is nurtured and cultivated within the team
2. Diversity works because it makes us feel uncomfortable
As Dan mentioned, homogenous teams feel easier and more comfortable. And comfortable is usually bad for performance. Divergent thinking and multiple perspectives make your team perform better. When culture is stagnant people feel comfortable and, hence, reluctant to change. Creating constructive conflict within a team encourages thinking and brings new ideas. That is why creating a diverse team is not only good for the organisation’s morale, but it actually boosts performance and increases cognitive flexibility.
3. Perks of a Dev job are not table tennis, beer pong and paintball
In my three years in recruitment I’ve seen countless adverts highlighting perks of the job like Playstation room, beer pong, etc. As much as I love a good PS4 game, it is apparent that most of the benefits listed in tech job adverts are very skewed to the male population. I rarely saw options to leave your child for day care, or strong maternity leave packages listed as added benefits, and, I have to say, things like this are usually very important for women. Traditional “masculine” advertising is one of the reasons many women don’t even apply to some of the technical roles. Switching the focus of your job advert may just change that.
4. Team structures matter
It might seem very simple, but team structures matter. You might feel tempted recruiting 5 women and putting them into 5 scrum teams full of men and, as stated in point 1, hit that “diversity KPI”, but think about this: Every time you are a sole representative of a minority group in a team, I bet you feel uncomfortable. And this is the most common thing for women in development. They’d be lucky to work alongside another woman. But usually, in an attempt to hit diversity targets, female candidates are placed in homogenous teams that consist only of men. And this can create a lot of stress and tension, forcing women to leave the job.
The struggle with diversity is not as simple as the man and woman ratio in the workplace. Roisin and Dan demonstrated this in the examples above. With a few simple steps behind the scenes and from the leaders of your business- you too can have a high performing diverse team. But the change comes from the top.