Why diversity is a non-negotiable
We spoke to Nicola Hazell, Director of SheStarts at BlueChilli, about diverse workplaces, being bold, and the future of women in tech.
This week we’re celebrating International Women’s Week by profiling the fantastic lineup of female speakers coming to #Myriad2017 — see the rest here.
What have you learned as the Director of SheStarts? What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve faced along the way?
The women of Australia have incredible ideas, passion and talent — they just need the runway to get started. But for many, the startup ecosystem has seemed like another planet — they simply couldn’t see themselves in it.
By designing a program that spoke to the diversity of women, showcased others who have gone before them — of different cultural, social and industry backgrounds — and broke down the barriers to the tech startup world, we were able to engage hundreds of potential startup founders and attract ground-breaking ideas for acceleration.
Why is diversity still such an issue in the workplace, especially in tech?
Diverse leadership and diverse teams lead to greater creativity and critical thinking — not to mention better bottom lines. In short, diversity is the key to unlocking innovation.
But right now, with women so grossly underrepresented in tech and startups (making up less than 30% of Australia’s ICT workforce and less than one in four startup founders), we’re trying to build an innovation economy with one arm tied behind our back.
This is a huge missed opportunity for our national prosperity and global competitiveness.
The ideas and perspectives of female entrepreneurs and innovators offer vital opportunities for the development of new products, services and creative solutions to major global problems. As Australia looks for ways to create a more inclusive innovation agenda, driving gender equality must be embedded as the central plank of the national strategy.
What can we do to combat this?
To improve gender equality in tech and entrepreneurship, we need to design for it. Diversity should be non-negotiable — after all, the science shows that diversity is, quite simply, best practice for best results.
This means creating spaces for women to learn about the opportunities available, to develop key skills, to identify in themselves the potential for leading globally scalable companies, and to see in others examples of how it can be done.
From grass-roots organisations seeking to inspire and engage women and girls in tech, and hackathons providing a launch pad for women entrepreneurs; to programs helping female founders become investment-ready, and meet-ups designed to bring women to the VC table — the effort for equality is building.
In the case of SheStarts, we’re harnessing the power of open innovation — drawing together corporate and ecosystem partners to collaborate with the startups and specifically turbocharge female participation and leadership in the startup economy. This collective effort is an indication of the value seen in driving gender equality.
What is the most bold thing you’ve done?
Twelve months ago this week, on International Women’s Day 2016, BlueChilli announced plans to launch an accelerator for female startup founders. On that same day, in a hotel lobby in Canberra, I signed my contract to join the team that would turn this vision into a reality.
After more than a decade in public affairs across the government, media and community sectors, I was taking a leap into the world of tech startups, on the belief that this the startup world was the one where I could make the greatest impact on gender equality.
Six months later, we launched SheStarts, announced $1million in early stage funding for female-led startups and kick started a documentary series to change the face of the startup economy.
It was a bold vision, and plenty of people questioned if we could pull it off. But with the right people, the right plan, a whole lot of passion and hard work, it paid off.
What do you hope to see for the future of working women?
The slow rise of female leadership and diversification of decision making has the potential to completely reshape the way our economy and communities operate. Those companies which embrace and drive diversity will flourish, while those that don’t will be left behind.
And with more women in leadership, we will see the conversation about flexibility, inclusivity and creativity reach new levels, to shape the workplaces of the future and serve our communities in an entirely new way.
Interested in hearing more? Catch Nicola in her keynote ‘Changing the Face of Startups: Why diversity isn’t a ‘nice to have’’ at #Myriad2017. Head here for the full schedule.