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A note from our CTO: Choosing to challenge in engineering

SafetyCulture News | By | 5 Mar 2021 | 3 minute read

A Note From James Simpson, CTO, SafetyCulture

As International Women’s Day approaches, conversations often turn to how we can shape a more diverse and inclusive space in the Australian tech industry. Women have long been underrepresented in the engineering talent pipeline — and it’s important that we take the time to recognise and discuss this. International Women’s Day allows for such a forum. But I also believe gender disparity is something that should be talked about all year round, not just once a year. And not just discussed, but acted upon. 

While all aspects of diversity are important to us, at SafetyCulture we choose to place additional emphasis on increasing gender diversity in engineering. Engineering has an imbalance that we can improve on. Currently, 15% of SafetyCulture engineers are women. This roughly mirrors what we see in terms of graduates coming onto the market. However, some of the companies we like to compare ourselves against are in the mid-’20s, meaning they do better than the market average in attracting and retaining women engineers.

There are (at least) 3 reasons we want to improve gender balance in engineering: 

  • First, there is a moral imperative. None of us want those around us to be disadvantaged through bias and prejudice. This is a complete argument in itself — so let’s all choose to challenge and stand with our friends, daughters, sisters and mothers.
  • Second, there is plenty of research to show that gender-diverse environments perform better. Analysis in 2019 by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Similar research findings have been found for all sorts of environments, including engineering. 
  • Third, we want the best talent. Software engineering teams thrive when you have the best talent. These teams go on to create better products faster. They are more adept at solving customer problems. To create teams that thrive you need to attract the very best engineers regardless of gender. More directly, there are talented engineers out there (who happen to be women) that tech is missing out on.

Speaking about gender disparity is one thing. Committing to a course of action is another. Our engineering teams want to make this change. At SafetyCulture, we are going to do 3 things to improve our gender balance:

  1. Recruit more amazing women engineers. We need to ensure we are recruiting the best talent regardless of gender. We need to make sure that our recruiting process is free of bias, and that our brand is approachable and attractive. We have already begun the process of reviewing and improving our recruiting process end to end and will continue with this effort.
  1. Strengthen leadership accountability for our culture. We need our leaders to be accountable for maintaining an environment that makes all people feel comfortable. For example, helping steer our culture away from “bro culture” (should it arise) that we know turns many women candidates away, and makes it less likely that women engineers will stay.
  1. Enable equality of opportunity through fairness and transparency. We need to make sure recognition and promotions do not have gender bias attached. This needs to be open and visible to everyone. We should have women engineers well represented in all parts of engineering.

The good news is that we have started work on these things. Modest beginnings, but beginnings all the same. How will we know if our changes are working? I would like to see our proportion of women engineers climb to 20% over the next 12 months.

Diversity is a big topic. There’s still much to be done but these are the three actions we are taking now, in the hope that these three actions will become our default way of operating. This won’t change things overnight, but with a sustained effort and the support of everyone, we will start to make progress in 2021 and build a more balanced and talented team.

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