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To push diversity you need to be diverse - NZTech

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 16 September 2020, 9:34 pm

It's the "voice for technology" in New Zealand, but the not for profit industry body NZTech speaks for an industry with a diversity problem.

Only around a quarter of the tech workforce of over 100,000 is female and Māori and Pasifika representation is low - estimated at between three and five per cent. While pathways for women and ethnic minorities into the tech sector are rapidly improving, the reality is that the industry has serious work to do to better reflect the make-up of society. 

Improving the "pipeline" will only bring about change incrementally.

TechNZ has recognised that with a revamp of its governing board, a move preceded by a determined push to encourage diverse candidates to stand for election.

"The message was well received and NZTech's new board is the most diverse the sector has ever seen," said NZTech's chief executive, Graeme Muller, earlier this week.

Different perspectives around the board table

NZTech, which represents 20 tech associations and 1500 member organisations, has appointed four new board members - Delphine Ducaruge from Orbica, Duane Grace from Edusystems, Jannat Maqbool from Ecosystm360 and Mahsa Mohaghegh from AUT.

The 12-strong NZTech board now includes seven women, with three in their thirties and three Māori tech leaders.

"Māori and Pasifika tech success will be a critical driver of economic well-being for all New Zealanders in coming years, presenting opportunities for the development of new tech businesses, new jobs and the creation of a globally unique approach to New Zealand tech," added Muller, who would like to see such diversity reflected across the entire alliance of tech associations and member organisations.

Like ITP NZ, TechNZ is working with the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment on the Digital Industry Transformation Plan, part of which is about getting a broader range of people equipped with the skills for careers in the digital economy.

Silicon Valley has been wrestling with the diversity issues too. Statistics show that the big technology companies are dominated by white and Asian males, 

Only 35 per cent of employees at Facebook are female and African-Americans make up less than six per cent of employees at Apple. While education and inclusion initiatives are filling the pipeline with more diverse people, hiring policies and choosing more diverse boards to govern organisations is seen as equally if not more important to increasing the diversity of organisations quickly.

Why diversity matters

And why is diversity so important? Aside from the obvious pitfalls and inequities of seeing women and minorities shut out of highly-skilled careers essential to the future of our country, a lack of diversity also leads to bad technology design. As the Financial Times explains

"For instance, voice recognition initially did not respond to women because the designers who tested the products were male. Facial recognition is notoriously poor at recognising darker and female faces, again partly because of biased training data.

"The shortage of talent in the tech sector means that, in spite of progress already made, recruiters must think harder how to find the skills they need from a wider range of people."

In addition to the new appointments, the NZTech board consists of:

Anand Ranchord from Kiwibank; Anthony Watson from ANZ; Belinda Allen from Orion Health; Eva Sherwood from Deloitte; Kaye Maree Dunn from Āhau; Mike Smith from IBM; Nicole Upchurch form Centrality; and Mitchell Pham from the Augen Software Group and chair of the Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand.


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