Taking advantage of true diversity

James Riley
Editorial Director

At local finance software and services company MYOB, workplace diversity is not only a human rights issue – it also makes good business sense, with team diversity producing ‘breakthroughs’ that lead to happier clients.

The company is engaged in a decade long program to improve diverse gender representation in all areas of its business.

The most challenging area at MYOB is in software engineering. The company has about 500 people in software development, an area that is heavy on STEM skills and traditionally male dominated. Women only make up about 16 per cent of the STEM qualified workforce and the level of women female graduates from Australian computer science courses sits at about 20 per cent.

Tim Reed: Focusing on gender diversity is delivering competitive advantage at MYOB

The company was hiring female developers at 20 pervcent of the yearly intake, but decided to double that figure. In the year since deciding to dramatically increase the female intake, it has exceeded its own target and women now make up 50 per cent of new hires.

As well as hiring more female software engineers, the company also used a program called DevelopHer, which offers women interested a in a change of career a paid internship program that leads to a software developer role.

Equality of opportunity is a human rights issue that comes down to an organisational level for Tim Reed, who has been MYOB managing director since 2008 after first coming aboard the company in 2003.

“I just want people entering MYOB to all have the same opportunity to succeed and thrive,” says Mr Reed.

He points out that if an organisation takes in males and females in roughly equal numbers with roughly equal raw talent then logically, over time, the career results of men and women in that intake should be similar.

But statistics point to systemic failure on gender equality in Australian business.

“At the end when you look at ASX CEOs, where just eight per cent are women and you look at senior executive ranks across the board and its 20 per cent, that system is doing something where the chances were never really equal for everybody who walked in the door that day,” he says. “I don’t think that’s a system I want to perpetuate.”

“For me, if diversity didn’t drive better outcomes there’s definitely a human rights issue there.”

But in practice, Mr Reed has found increased diversity does lift his company’s performance in everything from software programming to sales.

More gender diverse programming teams tend to be better able to articulate business needs and processes into code.

“I believe that having a diverse range of thoughts and opinions brought to any situation is likely to lead to a better, more rigorous outcome,” says Mr Reed.

“It is through challenging one another and the reflection of different experiences and different perspectives that any group of people are likely to have the raw ingredients available to them to make better decisions.”

He has seen a lift in collaboration at the company as it has boosted diversity.

“Teams tend to be tighter units where they engage more frequently. I can hear it in the software engineering teams where they have become more vocal and are having more discussions. That drives a better and broader appreciation of the customer problem they are actually trying to solve.”

“That means at times they can make incredible breakthroughs with quite simple insights leading to a relatively small amount of work that has a big impact for our clients.”

They way sales teams engage with clients has also shifted for the better, with the teams coming better prepared to sales meetings because of the different perspectives involved in hatching a sales pitch.

Mr Reed believes that a diversity-oriented business culture must be backed up with a strong policy of inclusiveness.

“If you don’t have inclusiveness, a diversity policy can actually slow things down and not lead to any improvement,” he says.

Getting inclusivity working in a company requires awareness training, especially in bringing to light unconscious biases.

“People have to respect each other’s differences and understand the inherent unconscious biases that everybody has. Your experience by definition is your experience and it’s different from mine and you will start to draw conclusions from your own experiences in life and that will lead to unconscious bias.”

Inclusion is helped by listening to differences and exploring them instead of arguing about them and shutting them down.

Getting inclusiveness working within a company “starts by training people that they are not inclusive.”

“It’s quite an eye opener for the teams that I have seen go through this that the penny actually drops. We all have unconscious biases and frequently they are stronger than what we believe. It doesn’t mean we are bad people, it simply means that need to build our own self awareness so we can do a better job in those areas,” says Mr Reed.

The company has tackled the problem of gender pay inequality by carrying out an audit and fixing any inconsistencies that arose.

The exercise was so successful that Mr Reed decided to carry out the gender pay inequality audit every year.

Mr Reed is a practitioner of the management guideline of “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”, a statement made famous by former Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison.

As an example he recounts the story of how he heard an employee refer to eating a pastry tart and charging the phrasing with sexual innuendo.

After considering censoring the man in public he decided on calling him aside in private and then explained that the employee had just offended a number of people who heard his comment. The man went back to the group and apologised for his behaviour.

As well as participating in DevelopHer, the company has also joined the Male Champions of Change STEM group, a group of Australian business and government male leaders in STEM that aims to increase women’s representation in STEM leadership roles.

“Being a part of Male Champions of Change STEM has been a real privilege for me and something that has both inspired and challenged me,” Mr Reed said.

“Just hearing stories from other Male Champions of Change and the brave steps they are taking to try and change the status quo has been inspiring for me.”

MYOB has partnered with InnovationAus.com to present the second annual Women in VC forum on February 27.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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