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Microsoft APC 2015: Women in IT Panel - Quotas, meritocracy and the diversity dividend

Allan Swann (ARN) | Sept. 2, 2015
Panel of female leaders spells out what is required to overcome unconscious bias of sexism.

The Microsoft APC 2015 Women In ICT Panel (From left): MC Adam Spencer, Pip Marlow (Microsoft), Nicki Page (MOQDigital), Tiffani Bova (Gartner Research), Bill Trestrail (Springboard)
The Microsoft APC 2015 Women In ICT Panel (From left): MC Adam Spencer, Pip Marlow (Microsoft), Nicki Page (MOQDigital), Tiffani Bova (Gartner Research), Bill Trestrail (Springboard).

Companies that have a higher ratio of female leaders tend to do much better in the workplace - diversity need not clash with meritocracy.

That was the general consensus of Microsoft APC 2015's Women In IT Breakfast, which saw Microsoft Australia MD, Pip Marlow; MOQDigital's CEO, Nicki Page, and Gartner distinguished analyst, Tiffani Bova, joined onstage by Bill Trestrail from Springboard Australia and MC Adam Spencer.

When describing the changes the IT industry has seen in the last few years, Page told the attendees that this had a lot to do with more women being involved - rather than them being left out.

Bova added that the reason IT is now broadening into the mainstream is because of the critical engagement in collaborative and disruptive initiatives by women.

"The new market is really giving women a chance to shine," she said.

Trestrail went further: "It'd be even better if there were more women involved already," he said.

Marlow believes that diversity is important because it produces a more diverse set of solutions to the market.

Page said that startups, that had a female head, had a 67 percent better chance of success.

Trestrail also raised some interesting statistics: 22 percent of start ups are begun by females, but only 4 percent of funding comes their way.

Marlow took this back further, and said a critical problem globally is getting more young women involved in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Maths) at an early age. Biases in the education system mean that boys are favoured in these subjects - not just in terms of attendance, but unconscious bias by teachers.

"The fact is, we've got to make science and maths more exciting for women," she said.

Raising children is also another problem - many women feel that they cannot support a career and raise children simultaneously. This isn't just a cultural divide, but a structural one. For example, women that leave the workforce for long periods of time are losing out on superannuation.

Bova agrees with the cultural aspect, particularly media bias against women in power.

"When Marissa Mayer announced she was having twins, it was global news. They kept asking: 'How can she continue her career?' A man would never be asked that," she said.


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