Victorian Innovation Minister Philip Dalidakis has drawn a line in the sand on gender diversity, saying the issue is a core priority for the government this year and will be a part of the state’s competitive advantage on the world stage.
Mr Dalidakis became the first politician to take the panel pledge, a promise to only participate in conferences and panels with an equal gender split, late last year. And he has provided government assistance to a number of diversity-focused projects, including the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia and Girls in Tech.
Overseeing the tech and startup industries in Victoria, which are heavily dominated by men, Mr Dalidakis said closing this gap is a “massive” focus this year.
“When we try to promote Melbourne and Victoria to the world, we need to have a value proposition – a competitive advantage – so from my perspective, our inclusivity and diversity is what I’m wanting to champion both locally and overseas,” Mr Dalidakis told InnovationAus.com.
“That means that of course we can strengthen our offering and what we’re best known for, and to do that we need to unashamedly increase the number of women in the sector.”
It is estimated that women make up about 20 per cent of Australia’s tech workforce, and 15 per cent of panellists at industry events, and Victoria is “no better or worse” currently than the rest of the country.
“That doesn’t mean to say we should rest on our laurels – the average female participation in tech companies and the startup workforce in this day and age is not good enough,” he said.
Along with the clear social aspect, there’s also a proven economic advantage to closing the gender gap in the tech world.
“There’s a clear economic imperative to support them, and that doesn’t even take into account the social cohesiveness of what we’re trying to achieve,” Mr Dalidakis said.
“We need to get much better at including [women] and supporting them, and from my point of view we need to do that from an industry as well as societal point of view.”
As part of the panel pledge, if Mr Dalidakis is asked to speak at a conference without an equal representation of men and women he will refuse and suggest female speakers that can take his place.
It follows the Victorian government’s election pledge to ensure all government boards have an equal split of genders, reflected in the LaunchVic board, which is made up of 54 per cent women.
This is a basic matter of the government acting as an exemplar for the wider industry, Mr Dalidakis said.
“It’s so it’s not just a matter of people thinking we’re cynically talking about this, we’re actually walking it,” he said.
“You can’t compromise on some principles, you need to be able to work towards outcomes, and if that line in the sand provides impetus and support for people to change and for people to feel confident then that’s a great outcome.
The Victorian Government launched the inaugural Women’s Leadership Institute’ Australian Media and Panel Pledge Awards late last year to “recognise and celebrate individuals and organisations who achieve the greatest impact in their implementation of the panel pledge” and also provided assistance to Girls in Tech to establish a Melbourne presence.
Mr Dalidakis also pointed to LaunchVic’s latest round of funding as evidence of the government’s commitment to gender diversity, with grant winners including Girl Geek Academy, which will be bringing its female-focused hackathon SheHacks to Victoria.
“It’s really important to support the ecosystem in that very tangible way,” he said.
“We want to have an environment that young women are comfortable to participate in.”
The heavy focus on this has inevitably been met with some detractors, but Mr Dalidakis said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’m comforted by that, but I also understand that if we’re talking about a broader societal push there’ll be some people who think it’s tokenistic and that you’re trying to promote someone who might not be the best person for the job,” he said.
“From the community perspective I’d be chuffed that they jumped on board and understood that it’s a problem where the government needs to intervene,” he said.