Today, the computer programming field is dominated by men. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for a long time, computer programming was a women’s field. At Gender News, Brenda D. Frink explains how “computer geek” overtook “computer girl” as the stereotype. She writes:
As late as the 1960s many people perceived computer programming as a natural career choice for savvy young women. Even the trend-spotters at Cosmopolitan Magazine urged their fashionable female readership to consider careers in programming. In an article titled “The Computer Girls,” the magazine described the field as offering better job opportunities for women than many other professional careers. As computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper told a reporter, programming was “just like planning a dinner. You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.” James Adams, the director of education for the Association for Computing Machinery, agreed: “I don’t know of any other field, outside of teaching, where there’s as much opportunity for a woman.”
Now, it’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now. They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better. (It turns out programming is hard, and women are actually just as good at it as men.)
What changed? Well, male programmers wanted to elevate their job out of the “women’s work” category. They created professional associations and discouraged the hiring of women. Ads began to connect women staffers with error and inefficiency. They instituted math puzzle tests for hiring purposes that gave men who had taken math classes an advantage, and personality tests that purported to find the ideal “programming type.” Frink writes:
According to test developers, successful programmers had most of the same personality traits as other white-collar professionals. The important distinction, however, was that programmers displayed “disinterest in people” and that they disliked “activities involving close personal interaction.” It is these personality profiles, says Ensmenger, that originated our modern stereotype of the anti-social computer geek.
And so here we are today, with a world computer programmers who are expected to be male, nerdy and antisocial—an odd, self-fulfilling prophecy that forgets the women that the entire field was built upon.
Lyndall Strazdins receives funding from The Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Huong Dinh and Jennifer Welsh do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Australian businesses need to adhere to a healthy work hour limit for the mental health of workers and to take into account the amount of caring work women do at home, our research shows.
More than 80 years ago, when most paid jobs were worked by men, the International Labour Organization (ILO) set the work week limit to 48 hours a week. This was based on evidence that long work hours are bad for health. Since then, the labour market has changed. Almost half of the workforce is made up of women and two-fifths of employed adults hold down a job while caring for children or elderly parents.
We modelled work hour limits and what happens to mental health when they are exceeded using data from 3,828 men and 4,062 women aged from 24 to 64, as part of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. Our findings showed that on average, the maximum number of hours that can be worked before mental health starts to suffer is 39 hours. We did this by looking at the reciprocal relationships between work time, mental health and wage in our modelling. This 39 hour threshold is a full nine hours less than the ILO’s 48-hour-week.
However, the average working hours in a week hides an important gender difference.
The differences between men’s and women’s working hours
Women are still working in a labour market that systematically disadvantages them in terms of pay, conditions and rewards. Women have less autonomy than men and they earn 17% or $277.70 less per week on average, full time. Hour for hour, women get less.
The playing field is not level and this affects work hour limits. When systematic differences in resources and rewards on and off the job are also taken into account, our study shows the work hour limit widens further to 34 hours for women compared to 47 hours for men.
This gives men a 13 hour time advantage on the job, largely because they spend much less time on care or domestic work than women. Only if women were to spend very little time on care or domestic work, and if they had the same resources and rewards on and off the job, would the work hour limits converge.
Under these assumptions men and women without care responsibilities can work up to 48 hours before their mental health is affected. However, anyone who spends significant time caring for others or doing domestic work is unable to work long hours without facing a likely health trade-off.
The hour glass ceiling is self perpetuating
Our study reveals that current limits and assumptions about how long Australians should work if they want a “good” full time job is systematically disadvantaging women’s health.
This is no longer feasible or fair for a majority of Australian households, both adults now need to work, locking women into short part time hours in order for households to manage. We show that if men were to do more of the caring then their work hour limit also lowers. So the way our job market is at the moment is a problem for men who want to contribute more to care and domestic activities.
Australian employers need to continue support women to be employed and to earn equal pay, for example with good quality childcare and reducing sex discrimination in the workplace and beyond. But employers also need to support men to give time to care without suffering a job or pay penalty.
Australia also needs to tackle the widespread belief that it is fair or feasible for people to work long hours without compromising either their health or gender equality.
Justine Greening, Britain’s minister for women and equalities, said, “Helping women to reach their full potential isn’t only the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense and is good for British business.”
Credit Geoff Caddick/European Pressphoto Agency
At the current rate of progress, it could take nearly a century before the gender pay gap is closed in Britain. So the government is trying to speed up the process.
Putting pressure on employers to tackle the nation’s gender pay gap, new rules taking effect on Thursday will require large companies to publish the average salaries of the men and the women they employ.
The regulation affects companies with 250 or more employees. The figures must reveal information like salary differences between men and women, differences in average bonuses and the proportion of men and women who received those bonuses.
The rules give the companies until April 2018 to report the information to the government and publish it on their websites and on a government website.
“Helping women to reach their full potential isn’t only the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense and is good for British business,” Justine Greening, the minister for women and equalities, said in a statement.
Under British law, men and women should receive equal pay for the same job, but there is still a gap between average wages when it comes to gender.
The gender pay gap in Britain was 18.1 percent in 2016, dropping from 27.5 percent in 1997, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Sources: Office for National Statistics, PwC, Government Equalities Office
In Britain, many hope the regulations will prompt companies to examine why the gender pay gap exists.
“It puts such a spotlight on the issue,” Mr. Terry said. “It’s easier to see whether an organization is taking this seriously.”
Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s rights and equality, said the new regulation, passed by the British government in February, was the most significant legal change since the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
“It’s the first time we require employers to look at their pay and report on that, so that is significant change,” Ms. Smethers said.
There are doubts about how effective the regulation will be.
“There is no penalty for noncompliance,” Ms. Smethers noted. “Not requiring an action is a real weakness. It’s not just about the numbers; it’s about engaging with the problem you’ve got.”
Some companies say the numbers do not matter in the big scheme of things. Over a quarter of senior personnel interviewed for a survey in March by the consulting firm NGA Human Resources said the gender gap was not an issue for businesses.
And about 10 percent of the people interviewed said a plan was not necessary to address gender pay gap challenges in their organizations.
Even if these companies do not have a gender pay gap, it was surprising that they did not have a plan in place, said Geoff Pearce, a managing consultant at NGA.
“Businesses need to look at what the implications are,” he said. “If it creates an issue, that can affect their ability to recruit and retain talent, and studies have shown that the more diverse a work force is, the more productive it is.”
Still, the British regulation was likely to speed up change, Mr. Terry of PwC said; companies that do not grasp the value of reporting the salary information may be persuaded to take it seriously if their reputations are at stake and they are named and shamed.
“The gender pay reporting really smacks them in the face,” he said. “If they have a pay gap of 18 percent, they will get a lot of negative press.”
One weekday morning in 2007, Bethanye Blount came into work early to interview a job applicant. A veteran software engineer then in her 30s, Blount held a senior position at the company that runs Second Life, the online virtual world. Good-natured and self-confident, she typically wore the kind of outfit—jeans, hoodie, sneakers—that signals coding gravitas. That day, she might even have been wearing what’s known as the “full-in start-up twin set”: a Second Life T-shirt paired with a Second Life hoodie.
In short, everything about her indicated that she was a serious technical person. So she was taken aback when the job applicant barely gave her the time of day. He knew her job title. He knew she would play a key role in deciding whether he got hired. Yet every time Blount asked him a question about his skills or tried to steer the conversation to the scope of the job, he blew her off with a flippant comment. Afterward, Blount spoke to another top woman—a vice president—who said he’d treated her the same way.
Obviously Second Life wasn’t going to hire this bozo. But what the heck: He was here, and they had a new employee, a man, who needed practice giving interviews, so they sent him in. When the employee emerged, he had an odd look on his face. “I don’t know what just happened,” he said. “I went in there and told him I was new, and all he said was he was so glad I was there: ‘Finally, somebody who knows what’s going on!’ ”
All Blount could do was laugh—even now, as she looks back on the incident. In the hierarchy of sexist encounters, it didn’t rank very high. Still, it was a reminder that as a woman in tech, she should be prepared to have her authority questioned at any moment, even by some guy trying to get a job at her company.
One reason her career had gone so well, she thinks, is that she’d made a point of ignoring slights and oafish comments. Awkward silences, too. Over the years, she’s experienced—many times—the sensation of walking up to a group of male colleagues and noticing that they fell quiet, as though they’d been talking about something they didn’t want her to hear. She’s been asked to take notes in meetings. She’s found herself standing in elevators at tech conferences late at night when a guy would decide to get, as she puts it, handsy. When she and a male partner started a company, potential investors almost always directed their questions to him—even when the subject clearly fell in Blount’s area of expertise. It drove him crazy, and Blount had to urge him to curb his irritation. “I didn’t have time to be pissed,” she says.
But at some point, something inside her broke. Maybe it was being at tech conferences and hearing herself, the “elder stateswoman,” warning younger women to cover their drinks, because such conferences—known for alcohol, after-parties, and hot women at product booths—have been breeding grounds for unwanted sexual advances and assaults, and you never knew whether some jerk might put something in your cocktail. She couldn’t believe that women still had to worry about such things; that they still got asked to fetch coffee; that she still heard talk about how hiring women or people of color entailed “lowering the bar”; that women still, often, felt silenced or attacked when expressing opinions online.
“I am angry that things are no better for a 22-year-old at the beginning of her career than they were for me 25 years ago when I was just starting out,” Blount says. “I made decisions along the way that were easier for me and helped me succeed—don’t bring attention to being a woman, never talk about gender, never talk about ‘these things’ with men,” unless the behavior was particularly egregious. “It helped me get through. But in retrospect I feel I should have done more.”
Blount decided it was never too late to start speaking out, and teamed up with other women who had undergone a similar awakening. This past May, they formed a group called Project Include, which aims to provide companies and investors with a template for how to be better. One of her collaborators on the effort, Susan Wu, an entrepreneur and investor, says that when she was teaching herself to code as a teenager, she was too naive to perceive the sexism of internet culture. But as she advanced in her career and moved into investing and big-money venture capitalism, she came to see the elaborate jiu-jitsu it takes for a woman to hold her own. At one party, the founder of a start-up told Wu she’d need to spend “intimate time” with him to get in on his deal. An angel investor leading a different deal told her something similar. She became a master of warm, but firm, self-extrication.
Looking back, Wu is struck by “the countless times I’ve had to move a man’s hand from my thigh (or back or shoulder or hair or arm) during a meeting (or networking event or professional lunch or brainstorming session or pitch meeting) without seeming confrontational (or bitchy or rejecting or demanding or aggressive).” In a land of grand ideas and grander funding proposals, she found that the ability to neatly reject a man’s advances without injuring his ego is “a pretty important skill that I would bet most successful women in our industry have.”
Wu learned how to calibrate the temperature of her demeanor: friendly and approachable, neither too intimate nor too distant. She learned the fine art of the three-quarters smile, as well as how to deflect conversation away from her personal life and return it to topics like sports and market strategy. She learned to distinguish between actual predators and well-meaning guys who were just a bit clueless. And yet to not be overly wary, because that, too, can affect career prospects.
The dozens of women I interviewed for this article love working in tech. They love the problem-solving, the camaraderie, the opportunity for swift advancement and high salaries, the fun of working with the technology itself. They appreciate their many male colleagues who are considerate and supportive. Yet all of them had stories about incidents that, no matter how quick or glancing, chipped away at their sense of belonging and expertise. Indeed, a recent survey called “Elephant in the Valley” found that nearly all of the 200-plus senior women in tech who responded had experienced sexist interactions. (And just as the print version of this article went to press, a former Uber engineer added to the evidence of Silicon Valley’s gender problem when she wrote a blog post detailing what she said was a pattern of sexist behavior at the company.)
As Bethanye Blount’s and Susan Wu’s examples show, succeeding in tech as a woman requires something more treacherous than the old adage about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. It’s more like doing everything backwards and in heels while some guy is trying to yank at your dress, and another is telling you that a woman can’t dance as well as a man, oh, and could you stop dancing for a moment and bring him something to drink?
Such undermining is one reason women today hold only about a quarter of U.S. computing and mathematical jobs—a fraction that has actually fallen slightly over the past 15 years, even as women have made big strides in other fields. Women not only are hired in lower numbers than men are; they also leave tech at more than twice the rate men do. It’s not hard to see why. Studies show that women who work in tech are interrupted in meetings more often than men. They are evaluated on their personality in a way that men are not. They are less likely to get funding from venture capitalists, who, studies also show, find pitches delivered by men—especially handsome men—more persuasive. And in a particularly cruel irony, women’s contributions to open-source software are accepted more often than men’s are, but only if their gender is unknown.
Stephanie Lampkin, founder and CEO, Blendoor (Jason Madara)
For women of color, the cumulative effect of these slights is compounded by a striking lack of racial diversity—and all that attends it. Stephanie Lampkin, who was a full-stack developer (meaning she had mastered both front-end and back-end systems) by age 15 and majored in engineering at Stanford, has been told when applying for a job that she’s “not technical enough” and should consider sales or marketing—an experience many white women in the field can relate to. But she has also, for instance, been told by a white woman at a conference that her name ought to be Ebony because of the color of her skin.
In the past several years, Silicon Valley has begun to grapple with these problems, or at least to quantify them. In 2014, Google released data on the number of women and minorities it employed. Other companies followed, including LinkedIn, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, eBay, and Apple. The numbers were not good, and neither was the resulting news coverage, but the companies pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars changing their work climates, altering the composition of their leadership, and refining their hiring practices.
At long last, the industry that has transformed how we learn, think, buy, travel, cook, socialize, live, love, and work seemed ready to turn its disruptive instincts to its own gender inequities—and in the process develop tools and best practices that other, less forward-looking industries could copy, thus improving the lives of working women everywhere.
Three years in, Silicon Valley diversity conferences and training sessions abound; a cottage industry of consultants and software makers has sprung up to offer solutions. Some of those fixes have already started filtering out to workplaces beyond the tech world, because Silicon Valley is nothing if not evangelical. But the transformation hasn’t yet materialized: The industry’s diversity numbers have barely budged, and many women say that while sexism has become somewhat less overt, it’s just as pernicious as ever. Even so, there may be reason for hope as companies begin to figure out what works—and what doesn’t.
When Silicon Valley was emerging, after World War II, software programming was considered rote and unglamorous, somewhat secretarial—and therefore suitable for women. The glittering future, it was thought, lay in hardware. But once software revealed its potential—and profitability—the guys flooded in and coding became a male realm.
The advent of the home computer may have hastened this shift. Early models like the Commodore 64 and the Apple IIc were often marketed as toys. According to Jane Margolis, a researcher at UCLA, families bought them and put them in their sons’ rooms, even when they had technologically inclined daughters. By the time the children of the ’80s and ’90s reached college, many of the boys already knew how to code. Fewer girls did.
But that was a long time ago. Consider where we are today. More than half of college and university students are women, and the percentage of women entering many stem fields has risen. Computer science is a glaring exception: The percentage of female computer- and information-science majors peaked in 1984, at about 37 percent. It has declined, more or less steadily, ever since. Today it stands at 18 percent.
“Workplace conditions, a lack of access to key creative roles, and a sense of feeling stalled” are the main reasons women leave tech.
“I knew it was important,” she told me recently. “That’s why I was trying to flag it.”
For Chou, even the open-office floor plan was stressful: It meant there was no way to escape a male co-worker who liked to pop up behind her and find fault with her work. She was called “emotional” when she raised technical concerns and was expected to be nice and never complain, even as people around her made excuses for male engineers who were difficult to work with. The company’s one other female engineer felt the same way Chou did—as if they were held to a different standard. It wasn’t overt sexism; it was more like being dismissed and disrespected, “not feeling like we were good enough to be there—even though, objectively speaking, we were.”
That the tech industry would prove so hostile to women is more than a little counterintuitive. Silicon Valley is populated with progressive, hyper-educated people who talk a lot about making the world better. It’s also a young field, with none of the history of, say, law or medicine, where women were long denied spots in graduate schools intended for “breadwinning men.”
“We don’t have the same histories of exclusion,” says Joelle Emerson, the founder and CEO of Paradigm, a firm in San Francisco that advises companies on diversity and inclusion. But being new comes with its own problems: Because Silicon Valley is a place where a newcomer can unseat the most established player, many people there believe—despite evidence everywhere to the contrary—that tech is a meritocracy. Ironically enough, this very belief can perpetuate inequality. A 2010 study, “The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations,” found that in cultures that espouse meritocracy, managers may in fact “show greater bias in favor of men over equally performing women.” In a series of three experiments, the researchers presented participants with profiles of similarly performing individuals of both genders, and asked them to award bonuses. The researchers found that telling participants that their company valued merit-based decisions only increased the likelihood of their giving higher bonuses to the men.
Such bias may be particularly rife in Silicon Valley because of another of its foundational beliefs: that success in tech depends almost entirely on innate genius. Nobody thinks that of lawyers or accountants or even brain surgeons; while some people clearly have more aptitude than others, it’s accepted that law school is where you learn law and that preparing for and passing the CPA exam is how you become a certified accountant. Surgeons are trained, not born. In contrast, a 2015 study published in Science confirmed that computer science and certain other fields, including physics, math, and philosophy, fetishize “brilliance,” cultivating the idea that potential is inborn. The report concluded that these fields tend to be problematic for women, owing to a stubborn assumption that genius is a male trait.
The study authors considered several alternative explanations for the low numbers of women in those fields—including that women might not want to work long hours and that there might be more men at the high end of the aptitude spectrum, an idea notoriously put forward in 2005 by then–Harvard President Larry Summers.
But the data did not support these other theories.
“The more a field valued giftedness, the fewer the female PhDs,” the study found, pointing out that the same pattern held for African Americans. Because both groups still tend to be “stereotyped as lacking innate intellectual talent,” the study concluded, “the extent to which practitioners of a discipline believe that success depends on sheer brilliance is a strong predictor of women’s and African Americans’ representation.”
Women leave tech at more than twice the rate men do. It’s not hard to see why.
IN a world first, Australia will lead an all female group of scientists to the South Pole in a bid to research climate change.
By Elizabeth Daoud September 8, 20165:46pm Taken from:news.com.au
The all-women group is believed to be a world-first.
IN LESS than three months, a boat full of some of the world’s best female scientists will take off from Ushuaia, Argentina on a 20-day expedition.
Their destination: Antarctica.
In an Australian-led initiative, Homeward Bound will take the group on a leadership and research journey to the South Pole.
Astronomer Dr Sarah Brough is one of 76 women preparing for the expedition.
Attracting women into the fields of science is something Dr Brough aims to do through her work and hopes women don’t have to look to the future without visible role models in the field as she did.
“When I was a high school student, I was studying physics and I got people saying ‘Would you like to do a physics degree?’ and I couldn’t see why I would do a physics degree. I had no idea what a woman would do with a physics degree.”
Australian scientists make up almost half the team of the expedition, with the other half accommodating scientists from the UK, US, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Norway and Canada.
“[It’s] so exciting to be involved in and to meet 75 other women in science,” Dr Brough said.
She explained there will be women from all ages joining the expedition — from PhD students to retirees.
“I’m really excited about encouraging the younger ones and then learning from the older women.”
The expedition will include education on leadership, climate change science and the application of strategies to implement global change.
“As far as we are aware, it’s a world first,” co-founder of the Homeward Bound project, Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas said.
“It’s about the learning, not the implementation of the research, and if we are facing a crisis point in terms of what is happening to the environmental landscape, then having a better balance of women at the leadership table is a useful approach to addressing that.”
Being the Chair of the team for Australian female astronomers, Dr Brough looks forward to sharing successes and failures with other female scientists.
“There’s a lot about bringing our own leadership and strategic skills up to the absolute top notch level so that we can come back and, not only be leaders as women in science, but also try and bring along the next cohort,” Dr Brough said.
And as for the dangers of the expedition?
“I’m a terrible person that I cannot think about [the dangers] until probably my foot gets on the boat and leaves the dock and I’ll be like ‘oh actually this probably isn’t that safe’,” she laughed.
But with Greg Mortimer, who’s led almost 100 expeditions to Antarctica, leading the way, it seems like they’ll be in good hands.
From left to right standing: Diane Smith-Gander, John Lydon, Andy Penn, Kathryn Fagg, Dr Martin Parkinson, Meredith Hellicar, Alan Joyce, Elizabeth Broderick, Shayne Elliott. Sitting from left: Jayne Hrdlicka, Ian Narev and Cindy Hook.
In their joint report In the Eye of the Beholder – Avoiding the Merit Trap they say merit must be redefined to include broader leadership skills and potential.
In a spirited roundtable discussion, ASX20 CEOs, top directors and the nation’s top bureaucrat, Martin Parkinson, revealed how they are dealing with the pushback and promoting diversity to help their businesses navigate disruption.
Roundtable attendees: Shayne Elliott, CEO ANZ; Alan Joyce, CEO Qantas; Dr Martin Parkinson, Secretary Department Prime Minister and Cabinet; Andy Penn, CEO Telstra; Kevin McCann, NED; Ian Narev, CEO CBA; John Lydon, CEO McKinsey & Company; Elizabeth Broderick, Convener, Male Champions of Change; Kathryn Fagg, NED Reserve Bank; Meredith Hellicar, CEO Merryck & Co; Cindy Hook, CEO Deloitte; Jayne Hrdlicka, CEO Jetstar; Diane Smith-Gander, Chairman Broadspectrum, President CEW; Tony Boyd, Chanticleer, AFR and Joanne Gray, Editor BOSS, Leadership AFR.
Dr Martin Parkinson said that understanding an organisation’s culture and contextualising arguments is crucial in the push for diversity.
Diane Smith–Gander: Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change share a common goal. We want to see an increase in women’s representation in the leadership in Australia. The problem that I’m seeing at the moment is that as we take those actions we’re getting some push back. And the push back that we’re getting is this concept of merit. It’s the people that say “Look, all of that’s fantastic. But really isn’t it about just the best person for the job?” We need to expect that everybody in business should be judged on their merit. We don’t want it to be a factor of ethnicity or gender that people are being judged on. The research shows us that the more an organisation describes itself as a meritocracy, the greater the gender bias in that organisation actually is.
There’s a fantastic story with Jetstar and Qantas about how you’ve moved to address gender balance and the concept of merit in senior technical roles.
Jayne Hrdlicka: Our Chief Pilot was retiring. We had an opportunity then to rethink what we were going to do from a leadership standpoint. The names that were coming up were the same old names that had been in leadership ranks for the pilot community forever. It just struck me that there was more to the story.
As I looked at the job description, I realised that there was no chance anybody other than the same people that have been in leadership in the past would ever be leaders in the future. So we started thinking about what we needed for this point in our history. And what we needed actually was great leadership skills, once you’d met the technical qualifications for the role.
Of the top two candidates, one man, one woman … the woman [Georgina Sutton] was streets ahead. So the lesson for us clearly was technical skills were absolutely critical … But gee, what leadership looks like is not really that much different in those technical roles compared to the business roles or the finance roles.
Andy Penn pointed out that Telstra has significantly lifted the number of female technical engineering graduates it employs.
Diane Smith-Gander: Shayne, you’ve made three appointments in the not too distant past that have all been people that haven’t come necessarily a traditional pathway to the role… Catriona Noble [former ceo of McDonalds] and Maile Carnegie [former CEO of Google Australia]. How did you think about what defined merit to bring those people through?
Shayne Elliott: They passed the test of merit in the sense they’re enormously capable of doing the jobs. The fundamental nature of what we’re doing is changing so fast … mobile banking didn’t exist six years ago. Now it’s one of our biggest channels. What we need done in the future is not what we’ve done in the past. What we really need are people who are agile and people who can analyse situations and think of new ways forward. I spend a lot of time writing job descriptions myself, not getting what was the old job description and tidying that up, but starting with a blank piece of paper and thinking about what do I really want.
I didn’t appoint Catriona, but it’s an enormously relevant appointment. Here’s a person who has massive experience in the business of retailing, of attracting customers to a business. Banking is relatively simple, what we do is not rocket science. We can teach people that. What we need are people with the creativity and the ability to kind of analyse situations, competitive structures, thinking new ways of doing business.
Jo Gray: How do you manage the backlash and push back. How you deal with that redefinition of what merit is, and whether you make that an explicit thing?
Shayne Elliott noted that creativity and the ability to analyse situations are skills that are crucial to the banking sector
Shayne Elliott: There is an absolute backlash of middle management males who, and who write all the comments, who resent the fact that in their mind we are choosing diversity candidates over merit. Now they may not use that word ‘merit’ but it is absolutely apparent. And it’s quite a strongly held view.
Part of that, in my opinion, in reading some of the comments also reflects there’s a general fear in the economy about loss of jobs. Whether it’s about robotics or about offshoring, whatever it is. And of course that typically is more impacting that, and it’s a cliché, but that 45-year-old kind of white male. What’s interesting about that is it’s not the people in manufacturing, it’s people in professional jobs. That’s quite confronting for those people. What we have to do is just really step up our communication and explain why we choose people … right across the whole country in terms of how we rethink appointments, rethink what good performance is defined as.
Cindy Hook: If you don’t manage that transition in a very fair and transparent way, you’re going to set that leader up for a really hard go. So [you must take] an incredible amount of time up front, what’s the process going to be, what input are you going to take, why are you doing it? And then afterwards managing the fallout, and an inordinate amount of time going into the people who didn’t get the role, what do they see as their career paths? If you don’t take that time I fear that these women that you’re giving real opportunity won’t be as successful.
Martin Parkinson: It’s really important to understand the culture of your organisation, to contextualise how you put the argument. At Treasury, you have a bunch of people who are highly analytical, the way you start off is by posing the question: Do we believe that the distribution of skills, innate skills, is uniform distribution across economy, or uniform across gender? You say okay, give me a hypothesis that explains why if women are equally as skilled as men they’re not equally distributed in leadership positions across the ASX 200. I said “I’m very open for you to give me a hypothesis that explains these numbers, and while you’re at it, here’s all of our data, tear our data apart and give me a hypothesis that explains our results”. You put the challenge to people, they actually convince themselves.
Kathryn Fagg commented that the performance of teams as well as individuals matters.
Otherwise, I think we brought in two women who 12 months earlier from this discussion, they would have been slaughtered by the organisation. Because we’ve had that discussion, they came in, people gave them time, 12 months later if you went round and asked the organisation randomly who would be the top five people at this level, both of those women would have been mentioned in that group. And they would never have got in the door before we started that process.
John Lydon: I think the next stage is every evaluation, every performance report, every promotion essentially throughout the whole organisation being made on merit, which is incredibly hard. I just wondered if people can share in the experiences, how they’re going on that journey?
Ian Narev: You’ve got to be across the details. I mean, you see the aggregated data and we look at the performance management and the pay data at all levels, by gender, by a whole lot of other levels. And last year I just changed some recommendations. You could just see in certain areas numbers were skewed, and you ring a couple of people and you ask, and you actually say “Well, I’m changing the pay”, or “I’m changing the format, based on what you’ve said, I’m changing the assessment from A to B”. Even in huge organisations those sorts of interventions are going to make a big difference on changing the culture because it shows interest and it shows that the same level tools that are being applied here [that] you expect to be applied everywhere.
Martin Parkinson: We published the gender split on applications, interviews, success and promotion rounds, but we also did it on performance appraisals. At every level of performance by every level in the organisation the gender split was published.
Kevin McCann said it’s important to have access to a full talent pool.
Elizabeth Broderick: Transparency is absolutely critical to creating change, because most people don’t think there is a problem. Because normal looks like what I’ve got around me. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the stories that currently exist in the organisation. And many of them will be stories of exclusion, unintentional exclusion, as a result of how the current system is operating.
Ian Narev: I’m a big believer in having a discussion. But at a certain point if you’re a senior male and you genuinely believe that an appointment’s been made other than on merit, and you genuinely believe you won’t get a chance because you’re a male, you’re probably not a good fit anymore. If people are starting to whinge about “It’s getting tough here”, then boy, that’s not the top 10 list of tough things going on. And it’s kind of like, if you can’t adjust, there’s a bit of a selection process.
Alan Joyce: This definition of merit is not to in some way bias towards females getting a job, which I think maybe people interpret. Communication’s key on this. This is so that you get the right people in senior management, or management generally. And your organisations are changing, and the definition of what is needed to be a good manager has changed over a long period of time. And I think it’s really important here, because therefore we’re competing against other companies and we want the best people in the roles.
Kathryn Fagg: If you start saying at an institutional, organisational level it is really important that we have diversity. And it’s just not looking at the merit of the individual but the overall performance of the team, you can get people over the line.
Ian Narev: My team will now be half women when our General Council starts at the end of the year. And if you expect the team to work together, that does bring this whole question about organisational team diversity. And it does change the job description, because a candidate who’s adding diversity and other strengths to the team is going to have a string to her or his bow that somebody else may not have, which is a critical part of the criteria.
Cindy Hook: There’s a major shift happening that can actually transform and put forward this merit definition – moving away from performance ratings and having real career conversations on an ongoing basis. When you’re having a career conversation, you’re defining what you want in those leaders and how they can succeed in the future and you’re doing it over time. If organisations move away from ratings to career conversations the definitions of merit are going to come out really strongly in that, and we could see this fast tracked.
John Lydon: Our ratings were full of language like “cut through problem solving” and “sharpness” and “command an audience”. And I think the shift has been to really see “Well, what do clients need, what does our country need?” It’s about moving and inspiring people to action, building capabilities. We’ve got people at the top who have made it through the old way. And while they completely agree with support, and intellectually get the imperative to make the shift, there’s all sorts of history and unconscious biases that can come in.
Diane Smith-Gander: Kevin said to me once, “Diane, for God’s sake please stop calling it unconscious bias, just call it out for what it is. It’s bias.” This is what we’re talking about here. Because bias is the enemy of merit, clearly.
Andy Penn said technology innovation, and the internet in particular, are lowering barriers.
Andy Penn: We’ve lifted our level of technical engineering graduates, of which we recruit about 300 a year, from 29 per cent to 44 per cent female over the last three years. And I was having an interesting debate with my Head of Diversity last night about whether I could actually set a target for 65 per cent by 2020, and whether it’s acceptable to set a target up above 50 per cent.
Of course the technical competence is really important. But a lot of our engineers get very passionate about download speeds and gigabits per second and stuff like that, whereas actually what our customers care about is “How am I experiencing the service that I’m receiving?” and the two are not the same.
And so as we shift the emphasis on not just the technical competence, but actually what is the outcome that we’re really seeking to achieve, which is a complete transformation in the customer experience, you then bring in a different set of skills.
Kevin McCann: Most of the people around the table are CEOs, and they’re a very enlightened group of people. As a non-executive director out there in board land, it’s very different. In some very successful companies we have discussions of when you’re trying to interrogate merit, the CEO will push back and say “We’re a very successful organisation, and we only depend upon merit” … we have a variety of diversity programs, but nothing’s happened. The progress is glacial. And so the conversation then gets somewhat tense as there’s a discussion about what we mean by merit. And the push back is “Well, look, if you guys want to socially engineer you’re going to ruin the company”. And that’s the final statement by the CEO, and everyone packs their books and then goes home. The rest of Australia is a long way behind us.
And so I’m delighted I’ve got this template In the Eye of the Beholder: Avoiding the Merit Trap. I’m going to order about 50 copies, because there’s a lot of colleagues I’ve left behind at other companies who have had this debate, and we’re struggling with number two, [we haven’t seen a big increase in women in senior roles.]
It’s really important that we get the full talent pool.
Tony Boyd: So if we’re going to redefine merit and meritocracy … what is this new definition we’re going to use?
Meredith Hellicar: The old definition of merit is somebody that looks like me. The new definition is somebody that looks like what this company needs for the future.
Diane Smith-Gander: We use merit as shorthand for a package of admirable qualities that we innately recognise. And when we do it that way, that’s the devaluing of merit. I think it’s a constant re-evaluation each time. And that’s why it was really interesting Shayne in how you got to the Maile Carnegie appointment.
Shayne Elliott: The capability we needed wasn’t about how to do banking, it was about how to engage our customers, and increasingly they wanted to engage with us in a digital way, and so we need people who have capability, the ability to think in that world, as opposed to thinking in a banking world. So you know, deliberately wanting a changed perspective. When you then start scanning the market, actually funnily enough all the bankers drop off the list really fast, because they don’t have what you want.
Andy Penn: It’s also about what’s the strategically differentiating skill. Network engineering skills are readily available, and actually the strategically differentiating skill is that ability to connect with the customer, with those capabilities and competencies. If you put the customer at the heart of every single conversation you have, whether it’s a performance appraisal conversation, a job description conversation, a recruitment conversation, that will force you to look for a set of skills which are not necessarily about the technical competency.
Martin Parkinson: It’s not so much “what is merit”, but “what is leadership”. The new definition of merit is actually about understanding strategically the context of your organisation, what’s coming across the horizon, and knowing the known knowns, the known unknowns, and recognise the unknown unknowns, and asking yourself “What is the skill set that I need to operate in that really fluid dynamic environment?”. And the answer is almost certainly “Not these 27 technical skills that the last five people in this job have had”.
If your default is simply to leave the same skill requirements, or the same leadership requirements around the job, then you as a leader are at risk of having your organisation drop behind.
Ian Narev: I certainly am not necessarily appointing the person who’s going to be the best on day one. I’m appointing the person who with my help, the team’s help, the board’s help, over two to three years is going to be the best person. And that might be in some roles, I’ve taken a four to five-year view.
Alan Joyce: What is the potential of this person to the next role and maybe the role after that, because we’re taking a long-term plan to say where your gaps are going to be in the future.
Cindy Hook: Merit is evolving from the merits of that individual in a silo by themselves to that individual in combination with skills and capabilities of the people around them. I think a lot of time about teams. And this person doesn’t have the old definition of a job in a silo, but in combination with three or four other people, that team is going to be a powerhouse.
Diane Smith-Gander: The boardrooms are not up with where this conversation is at. And that’s going to be a real challenge for all of us. A lot of boards just don’t really actually know what to do with their CEO and their leadership team. How do we drag the boards kicking and screaming into this conversation?
Meredith Hellicar: Diverse groups of people are more inclined to admit to their uncertainties. And so in a world where everything is less certain, and we have to connect with the public more, and own errors, own mistakes, own whatever, you actually don’t want a bunch of people that are really certain in their rightness.
Martin Parkinson: That reinforces why this discussion about merit is not about women per se, it’s not about women and men, it’s actually about all people. How do we create an environment where all people of merit have the opportunity to develop to their full potential? And we as employers and as citizens of the nation benefit from their capability.
Andy Penn: We’ve got to move faster, because one of the dynamics is happening with technology innovation, and the internet in particular, it’s lowering the barriers to entry, it’s transforming how people are receiving customer experiences today, it’s giving a voice to everybody across the whole of the country and internationally via social media, it’s democratising innovation and it’s challenging all of us.
If we don’t respond and react and adopt some of the things that we’ve been saying today, they will be adopted for us, and at our cost. I know it’s hard in management, how do you change boards? You’ve got three-year terms. It’s a slow process. Somehow we have to change the paradigm to free the system up so that we can all move faster.
“In the world of diversity, things take time,” Candice Morgan, Pinterest’s diversity chief told Fast Company when she was hired back in January.
Pinterest joined a growing number of companies, including Atlassian, Airbnb, Autodesk, and Twitter, in hiring a dedicated person to lead diversity initiatives; still, significant change takes time, and the numbers haven’t budged that much. Each of the new appointees acknowledge there is work to be done, not only to diversify the employee pool, but to make companies more inclusive.
Some companies are looking to make an impact at the earliest point of the talent recruitment process: They’re diversifying members of their internship programs. The potential ripple effect is huge.
Who’s Making a Difference
For example, internship marketplace Looksharp reports that Google hires more than 1,000 students in spring, summer, and fall. Some interns are recruited for the company’s Building Opportunities for Leadership and Development (BOLD) program. The 11-week experience combines a project-based internship with mentoring, leadership development courses, and exposure to the technology industry for students who are historically underrepresented in this field.
1,000 students in spring, summer, and fall. Some interns are recruited for the company’s Building Opportunities for Leadership and Development (BOLD) program. The 11-week experience combines a project-based internship with mentoring, leadership development courses, and exposure to the technology industry for students who are historically underrepresented in this field.
Diversifying an intern pool can be easier, because the pool is larger.
“The program is one of the longest standing diversity internship programs in the industry, and we launched it in 2008,” Roya Soleimani, Google’s corporate communications manager tells Fast Company. “The program has had hundreds of students, and many have joined Google as full-time employees,” says Soleimani, who declined to divulge exact numbers.
In March, Pinterest published a report on how the changes it made to university recruiting impacted its staff:
“Between 2015 and 2016, we saw a significant increase in the number of new grad hires and interns from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds at Pinterest. The percentage of new grad hires from such backgrounds went from 1.7% to 4.8%, and the percentage of interns went from 4.2% to 13.3%. While the percentage of women in our new grad class declined slightly (by 5%) between 2015 and 2016, our intern class now has significantly more representation of women — 53% in 2016 up from 32% in 2015.”
The company will debut its first Pinterest Engage Intern Program class in Summer 2016 for freshman students from underrepresented backgrounds.
How They’re Addressing the “Pipeline” Problem
Smaller startups such as Slack, which has a headcount of around 370 worldwide, report that they committed to diversity at the beginning and Fast Companycovered their progress in February. As such, they’ve enlisted help from outside agencies. Slack is working with CODE2040 to connect with African-American and Hispanic STEM students.
Laura Weidman Powers, cofounder and CEO of CODE2040, tells Fast Company that they’ve placed 86 interns at Slack and other partner companies for this summer. That’s more than double the size of last summer’s class. “The growth is in part response to increased demand from companies who are beginning to prioritize diversity and inclusion as a business goal in ways they haven’t in the past,” she says.
At team collaboration software company Atlassian they tackled the issue from within first. Atlassian’s global head of diversity and inclusion, Aubrey Blanche, says that by tweaking a few aspects of the candidate evaluation process to remove bias, the company was able to recruit an engineering intern class of 27 students, 44% of whom are women. The company does not currently track ethnicity.
Blanche credits data analysis of its diversity numbers for the change. “That analysis revealed (that) 66% of our software teams have at least one woman,” she says.
“Women just aren’t as interested in technology, the true cause of imbalance is a pipeline problem.”
Atlassian then focused on how unconscious bias can play into the hiring process and on generating awareness of its internship opportunities among female applicants. Blanche says that in addition to standardizing interview questions and structure, Atlassian ensured that hiring panels for interns were gender diverse and provided unconscious bias training for all employees involved in the hiring process.
That training, she says, dispelled misconceptions about the lack of diversity in tech, including “Women just aren’t as interested in technology” and “The true cause of imbalance is a pipeline problem.”
“Shifting our focus from “culture fit” to “values fit” helps us hire people who share our goals, not necessarily our viewpoints or backgrounds,” Blanche explains. The initiatives also led to improved diversity among more teams, she says. “Most importantly, our intern cohort from last year became a feeder for our full-time 2017 graduate program, which spiked from 17% women last year to a whopping 52% women this year,” Blanche adds.
The Ripple Effect On Full-Time Employees
Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of diversity consultancy Paradigm, says that diversifying an intern pool can be “easier,” because the pool overall is larger. But, she says, “We know that attrition out of the tech industry is a problematic pattern among people from underrepresented backgrounds.”
Emerson maintains that companies focused only on diversifying their intern pool are short-sighted. “While emphasizing diversity in senior roles might take more time, the positive impact of focusing there is significant,” she says. Diversity in the management and leadership communicates a culture in which people from a range of backgrounds can succeed, she says. This, in turn attracts a more diverse candidate pool overall. “And it conveys to those more junior in the organization that this is a place they can grow their careers and potentially reduce attrition,” Emerson says.
There is some hope for change. In addition to the fact that 100% of CODE2040‘s fellows continue to work in tech, Weidman Powers says that she’s observed that hosting interns has a broader effect on the company’s permanent staff. She says:
“One: folks who do care about diversity and inclusion in their company see real, measurable, progress show up to work each day over the summer, and morale goes up as they see their companies taking action. Two, companies gain access to a pool of talent that can become full-time employees–both their own intern and the others in the intern’s, and CODE2040’s network. Three, managers gain new skills associated with managing a diverse workforce that can help the company ensure that full-time employees from all backgrounds are able to thrive at their company.”
Bottom line, Atlassian’s Blanche observes: “Since today’s interns are tomorrow’s workers, moving the diversity needle at this early stage is critical for long-term change.”