NSW innovation precincts unprecedented push on diversity

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

New South Wales innovation precincts aims to have best practice policies for women’s economic participation under a plan launched by the state government on Monday. Success would be a world-first turn-around for places and industries historically dominated by men.

Of 12 sectors being targeted by the state’s innovation precincts, only one is currently close to gender parity, and one other employs more women than men. The other ten lean towards employing men, with some like defence, mining, and aerospace overwhelming so.

Sydney’s Tech Central district. Image: Investment NSW

No innovation precinct program anywhere in the world has emerged as a leader in women’s economic participation, according to a Women in Innovation Precincts (WIIP) discussion paper launched by the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade.

But places like Tech Central, Westmead Health and Innovation District, and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis could be, the paper said.

“The WIIP will form the basis for NSW to be a world leader in having innovation precincts that champion equality, diversity, and women’s economic participation, while continuing to be the home to globally competitive industries.”

The diversity challenge is widespread in the state, with working-age women in New South Wales having a labour force participation rate of 74 per cent last year, compared to 82 per cent for men. These employed women are more than twice as likely to work in part-time or casual roles.

In the startup ecosystem seen as crucial to the success of innovation precincts, less than a quarter of funded startups had at least one female founder while only four per cent had solely female founders.

Several of the industries targeted by the New South Wales precincts skew heavily to employing men, including  defence (86 per cent), clean energy (61 per cent), advanced manufacturing (66 per cent) and scientific research services (58 per cent).

In May, the boss of Tech Central Annie Parker pledged to make the inner city precinct the world’s most inclusive in a move away from “overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male” innovation precincts elsewhere.

The new issues paper, developed by an inter agency working group and accepting submissions for the next two weeks, will inform an official strategy and toolkit to improve women’s participation at the precincts.

The strategy will be used to design and develop the precincts and act as a guide for precinct coordinators to “build and share culture and standards”.

The strategy is expected to have four pillars and a further four enablers.

The pillars include the built environment for things like safe lighting in precincts, services like early childcare, skills like subsidised training for women to upskill, and culture through networking, collaborating and mentoring.

The enablers include using data to track performance, branding to promote the precincts to women, best practice, and governance.

The proposed guiding goal for the strategy is “to maximise women’s economic participation across NSW precincts and display best practice over maturity levels of precincts.”

Feedback can be provided until Sunday August 28.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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