The long-term product and organisational benefits of Tech Diversity

Rachael Bolton

Tech bros are not known for their embrace of diversity. The software industry in particular is notorious for a culture of sexism and white monoculturalist. The rot, as it were, has been causing problems across the sector for years, be that sexual harassment lawsuits or bias in the code.

With diversity hiring considered a ‘top trend”’ in HR for 2022 and job vacancies abounding, this may be an opportune moment to reconsider your hiring policies and talent parameters to fill those gaps, improve your company’s diversity metrics, employee satisfaction and long-term retention.

REA Group’s Ali Wood and Rob Cumming

Ali Wood is a senior diversity, equity and inclusion specialist working to ensure scalable, diverse and future-skilled technology community at REA Group.

The Group has made a lot of effort over the last five or so years to build a robust diversity and inclusion policy. Ms Wood says that a lot of this work started under the leadership of former chief executive Tracey fellows.

REA formed a program called Springboard to Tech back in 2018 in order to try and address the gender disparity in their workforce.

The program consists of a 12-month paid placement with on-the-job and formal training and mentorship and is designed to attract women to transition into a technical career or get them back into the workforce after taking time out to raise kids.

“We also had a group of executives at the time that were incredibly passionate about gender equity,” Ms Wood told InnovationAus.

“That really endorsed and drove us as a business to start thinking about that through a different lens. Not just through the social sustainability lens – yes, it’s the right thing to do – but through the lens of ‘this actually will be a source of competitive advantage for us long term if we can do it well’.”

The research shows (and has shown for some time now) that diversity is not just about “doing the right thing”; there are clear and proven commercial benefits.

“I’ve come up through REA, as a leader,” added Rob Cumming, information security manager at REA Group. “We have in-built programs, which help support our leaders in inclusive thinking. I think it really comes from top down.”

Mr Cumming said that having a genuine commitment in diversity and inclusion from leadership infuses down through the rest of the organisation a culture that values those attributes.

He said focusing on really getting to know individual employees, ‘learning from failure’ and more generally just “adding vulnerability to the culture” are all things that can help to break down that typical “bro” culture so commonly associated with the sector.

Ms Wood agreed but she said that training, support and coaching are only part of the picture. “Yes, it’s around equipping leaders with the skills they need to have really great conversations and create that safety in teams,” she explained.

“But it’s all the other pieces that you put in place as an organization that mean there’s that psychological safety in place for people to raise things, to discuss those things that maybe sometimes are uncomfortable.”

By this she means space to not just learn the skills but practice those skills in real interactions in the workplace, notice what works and what could have been done better.

In this way, creating a safer and more inclusive workspace can take time and repetition but when everyone is onboarded into the process it can be done effectively.

Ms Wood said that the company has renewed its efforts around promoting the Springboard program this year and had received an overwhelming response.

“I think we had 220 or 230 applicants, which was a huge increase from what we’ve had in previous years,” she said. “And that’s allowed us to place more women into the program this year and to diversify the types of women that we’re also bringing into that program.”

And diversity is not just about gender, of course. The program is just one example of efforts to draw in talent from diverse cultural, socio-economic and corporate backgrounds. “The more perspectives you get, the better the quality of product,” said Mr Cumming.

“For example, we had somebody who was previously a mortgage broker in our team. REA recently purchased Mortgage Choice. There you have somebody who is empathetic to the ways of that business and that is really useful.

“Particularly in my team, where we do a lot of integrating of security products and tools into new businesses we buy or into the other parts of the business, being empathetic towards those teams and understanding their products and what they’re building.

“And being able to get that uplift in security, maturity through REA, through those sorts of collaborative conversations, really, really help my team achieve our goal, which is to improve the security maturity of our REA.”

TechDiversity is a member of the Editorial Leadership Council.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

Leave a Comment

Related stories