Blog / Industry

Despite progress, women are still massively unrepresented in senior and technical roles. Our global product executive, Emily Chen, asks our group executive - people@IRESS, Julia McNeill, why gender diversity and inclusion is still such an important issue for businesses and why it needs more focus within the industry.

Q: Let’s cut to it, why is diversity and inclusion still an issue for businesses?

It’s still an issue as many industries, ours included, are not yet where they need to be. Everyone should expect the same opportunities and experiences regardless of difference such as gender or culture.

Companies with a more diverse workforce are more likely to perform better financially and nearly half of millennials say diversity and inclusion is an important factor in job searches. So it’s not just right thing to do, it’s good business.

Q: We’ve heard so much about gender equality, what progress is being made?

Things are changing. Thinking about the tech world almost half of the management team at Google are now women and the various women in tech movements globally have generated real momentum.

But reports like the one last month from the Sydney University Business School finding the ASX 100 board members lack diversity. And a UK report finding there’s just 30 women in full time executive roles at the top 100 FTSE firms, an actual fall on last year, highlights that much more must be done to improve representation, particularly at senior levels.

If progress continues at this rate, it’s going to be a long time before we see anything close to gender parity.

Q: OK, so what is IRESS doing to help address this?

Our strategy is about retaining our current people, attracting a more diverse range of people, being involved in the STEM community and making bold changes to our business to make a bigger difference.

Q: Sounds great - but I would argue we need to add art and design into this, so the STEAM community?

Yes, that’s a good point.  User experience and design has always been a crucial part of innovation at IRESS.

Q: So can you tell me what our current strategy means in real terms? 

Our parental leave benefits are now some of the best in the business. Our belief is flexible working options are the best way to support our people generally, but women specifically.

As an example,our working parents can now take up to eight and a half additional days off at full pay during a child’s first term when starting primary school. This forms a package which also includes enhanced paid parental leave for up to 26 weeks for primary carers and up to six weeks’ leave for secondary carers, the first four at full pay. In addition we provide a flexible return to work option that enables part-time working while receiving a full time wage for the first four weeks back after having a child.

“Flexible working options are the best way to support our people generally, but women specifically.”

We’ve also introduced a new remuneration model that recognises the collective way we work, one where each individual can participate in a profit sharing arrangement regardless of level or role. As part of our review process we also undertake audits of our remuneration globally to ensure we continue to pay equally for roles regardless of gender.

Q: Are these changes making a difference to the representation of women at IRESS compared to the rest of the industry?

The proportion of women at IRESS has been growing steadily. We tracked 30.4 percent in 2013 and now we are at 34.8 percent. And female representation on the IRESS board has increased to more than 40%.

Despite the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) of Australia’s target of 40 percent we are actually above the benchmark for our industry in Australia and comparable to other tech companies such as Facebook at 36 percent. But this is not nearly as high as we’d like.

There is a much bigger job for us to do with our technical teams. We are not alone here. Google says 21 percent of technical roles are filled by women and Facebook says 22 percent.

Q - This is an issue close to my heart as a product technologist, what needs to happen here?

Studies show the way you present job descriptions is key. Men apply for jobs when they think they’re 60 percent qualified, whereas women only apply when they think they tick all the criteria. 

"Men apply for jobs they think they’re 60 percent qualified for, whereas women only apply when they think they tick all the criteria."

Using an external partner we’ve reviewed how we advertise jobs and developed new guidelines. Right now we are looking to link to groups and networks who champion diversity to see where we can attract the best people. This should benefit not just gender diversity at IRESS, but all groups.

We know we can’t stop there though. 

"The entire industry needs to look at mentoring, coaching and developing those already in their businesses."

Q: Finally, what’s going to eventually fix the industry’s diversity problem?

Ultimately, improving diversity has to start at the grass roots and the industry as a whole needs to back and support local STEM programmes. For instance we were recently absolutely delighted to host some kids at a Junior Code Camp from our Sydney offices, we’ve invited our employees to bring children to work for special days at Christmas. Initiatives like these, that get children and young adults inspired in tech from the classroom, will make sure all sections of our communities consider technology as an exciting and viable place to have a career.

We can build on these foundations with graduate and apprenticeship schemes, such as ours, as additional opportunities to find new and diverse people.

We also need to look from within. The entire industry needs to look at mentoring, coaching and developing those already in their businesses, so everyone has the chance to realise their potential, which might not be recognised by the individual themselves.

Inspirational people inspire other people. It is important to encourage a culture of passing on experience and advice. We are working hard to see how we can make mentoring part of our culture to help foster better diversity across the board.


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