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IWD 2024: The data behind the drive for gender equality in technology
Thu, 7th Mar 2024

This Friday is the 49th International Women's Day (IWD). As a female leader of the Australian and New Zealand division of a global technology, I can vouch for the importance of IWD as an annual reminder for us all to review and reset where we are on not only women's participation in traditionally male industry such as IT, and where Australia stands around Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) in general.

IWD is not window dressing. It is widely covered in the Australian media and discussed at the highest levels of policy making.

Yet, at a time of high cost of living pressures, figures such as those reported last week by the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency (AWGE) around the ongoing gender pay gaps across Australian industries should give us pause to think about what kind of workforce we are trying to create. It should also push Australian lawmakers, company boards and the superannuation industry, which invests in them, to reconsider their strategies around Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in general.

Let's look closely at the data – we are a data-led industry, after all
Not surprisingly, the analysis from AWGE agency showed that the pay gap between men and women in the technology' sectors' was, on a median basis, well above that of the general population.

While the gap has narrowed in the past few years (I wouldn't even guess what it was in 1975 when IWD started), it remains one of the biggest barriers to implementing DEI.

According to data released last week by the AWGE agency, the "Information, Media and Telecommunications" industry (which takes in some of our industry) had a median gender pay gap of 24.2% in 2022-23. That's a slight improvement from the 26% indicated the year before, but it's still large, and obviously, it's a disincentive for women to join an industry which already has a reputation for remaining male-dominated - unlike some other careers, such as politics, which have seen more gender equality in the past 10 years or so in Australia. In comparison, across all industries, the media gap was 19%, down from 19.8% last year.

Worse, the analysis demonstrates that when it comes to who's making higher incomes in the 'upper quartile' of remuneration (more senior roles, which play key roles in strategy and employment of women and men across their companies), the average pay gap is a staggering 28.5%.

The other industry that we should consider from the Equality report is "Professional, Scientific and Technical Services," and there, the data is just as bad. In those industries, the median pay gap was 26.1% in 2022-23, compared with 28% the previous year.

For those who argue that pay is only one aspect which people take into account in choosing careers, I somewhat facetiously ask them to think about the cost of living in Australia. Pay rates matter. Not just in the immediate timeframe but as vital factors that young people consider when looking at careers. Add to that the reality that while improvements have been made in technology employment rates for women, it remains that women still represent less than one third of all technology workers in Australia.

There is, of course, more to DEI than pay - board representation, fair maternity and paternity leave, promotion opportunities, and a wide range of initiatives collectively represent appropriate 2024 levels of DEI. But it's unequal pay which really exposes tokenism in an industry. In other words, our company boards and the super annulation firms that invest in them are still not doing enough to improve DEI, including taking proactive action to improve pay quality.

So, what steps can be taken now?
Firstly, I would concede that no one can force organizations to simply change their pay rates tomorrow to remove the gender pay gap. There will always be a role for good old supply and demand in role allocation, and it takes months usually for HR and other elements of senior management to find a suitable candidate for the job.

But management can, starting today, change their environment for improving DEI. And believe it not, there are small but important steps to be taken. Making these changes highly visible will make a difference.

For example, it seems that many companies are genuinely seeking to build a diverse and inclusive workforce but may not be executing effectively against their DEI plans, so there may be the appearance of tokenism in some places.

To add safeguards to ensure tokenism doesn't become a common practice within an organization, establishing DEI goals and objectives with measurable outcomes will help drive accountability and transparency.

To ensure companies are not only hiring women into professional and technical roles but also supporting them once they're there, organizations should:

● Partner with local universities to build talent pipelines from their early education STEM programs directly into a company's Early Career program, capturing female talent at the start and nurturing growth and opportunities early on.
● Establish clear policies and cultural practices that enable women to overcome barriers that their male counterparts may not face (i.e. flexibility, anti-discrimination, family paid leave and protection, etc.)
● Review their remuneration practices for senior roles and publish some form of report annually to explain their analysis and their plans for improving equality.
● Investors, such as superannuation funds, must account for DEI in the companies they invest in.

This would be difficult, I know, but the reality is that creating an inclusive place to work starts with hiring – both with the recruiters and hiring managers.

I would go as far to say that a company's ability to create a diverse workforce lies within the partnership between recruiters and hiring managers to bring in talent that represents the organization's DEI priorities.

At Pure Storage, our training is designed to teach all employees, but specifically hiring managers and recruiters, how to effectively evaluate for the whole individual and account for unconscious bias to ensure we're bringing forward a diverse slate for every open role.

Creating space for women at the top requires a few critical things:

  1. Organizations should get serious about the diversity of their executive staff; actions speak louder than words. Set measurable targets over a 3-to-5-year period, and be transparent about your progress.
  2. Sponsorship – Female talent should be mentored and supported by an organization's senior staff. Building pipelines and succession plans with diversity in mind is necessary. For example, we have an employee resource group at Pure Storage called Women@Pure, which is dedicated to raising awareness of the challenges women face in the workplace and providing an open forum where women and their allies can aspire, develop, and collaborate to reach their full potential. As the executive sponsor of Women@Pure, I make no apologies about stating that I take this responsibility highly seriously as part of my role.
  3. Create opportunities for talent to shine. Rising talent needs the chance to showcase their leadership capabilities, expertise and overall ability to lead the business.

Don't worry about AI. It's happening. Worry about improving the here and now and that starts with continuously focusing on DEI. It's not – or shouldn't be – about tokenism. DEI drives innovation, productivity, higher standards of living and competitive advantage. Let's get on with it.