Battling the diversity problem in the tech sector

A Q & A with an industry insider: Deirdre Diamante talks barriers and diversity in the tech sector.

Deirdre Diamante is a co-founder of the #TechDiversity alliance, which is committed to increasing women and minority groups within the digital technology industry. She also creates industry programs that have had wide recognition from AusIndustry, Business Victoria and Swinburne University. In advance of the approaching TechDiversity Awards, run by the alliance, we spoke to Deirdre about why this subject is important to her.

It’s 2018. Do we really still have a diversity problem in the tech sector?

“Yes. In the 1980s, women accounted for more than 30 per cent of the tech industry. Now, it’s less than 24 per cent, and in some higher tech roles, such as network engineering, the figures are around 9 per cent. And female representation in the tech industry is only the tip of the iceberg. Also under-represented in the sector are those from diverse multicultural backgrounds, the LGBTI community and Indigenous Australians.”

What’s behind that diversity decline?

“Our philosophy in TechDiversity is that the diversity problem is a result of many issues that can be broadly categorised as educational (primary through to tertiary), business (recruitment, nurturing and promoting), government (including policy development and leadership) and media. And I want to dwell on media. The tech sector has a bad brand image. Think of the television series, The Big Bang Theory as an example. The engineers and scientists are cast as geeky or a bit different and the beautiful character is the actress-waitress. Advertising and media are so powerful in creating a new image of the tech sector and this will go a long way to addressing the diversity and skills problems that exist. The TechDiversity Awards was founded to address the diversity problem head on, aligned to the four industry segments of government, education, business and media.”

How can education help drive greater diversity (entry, progression and retention) in the tech space?

“Kids need to aspire to jobs in the tech sector. This is achieved through inspiring and interesting STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] programs in primary and secondary school, and through positive media images of workers in the tech sector.”

And in the workplace, too?

“Yes, we do also need to build inclusive places of work. The first stage is the recruitment process and there are some innovative practises around modifying job descriptions that encourage female applicants and culturally diverse applicants. The next stage is a work environment that supports workers of all backgrounds, that is sensitive to differences and that rewards effort and output – regardless of background. Workplaces also need to embrace technology and encourage flexible work practices.”

Turning to your own career. How did you arrive at this point?

“Firstly, I have a strong sense of equality. We should all be treated based on our capabilities and expertise, not on any perceived benefit (or otherwise) we receive through race, position or gender. My other strong passion is for industry development. We need to embrace the talents of all members of the community for Australia to take the lead in technology and to experience the diversity other countries enjoy. The fact that I’m a woman in an industry in which women continue to face an uphill battle for voice and recognition makes the establishment of TechDiversity deeply personal for me.”

What drives you?

“Making a difference to a handful of organisations every year drives me because it has a ripple effect.”