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Exclusive interview: Kordia CEO tackles one of tech's biggest issues

Wed, 14th Mar 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Shedding light on the reality of diversity in New Zealand's technology sector, Kordia's CEO Scott Bartlett tackles one of the industry's biggest challenges: How do we go beyond just talking about issues and policies and actually make a difference?

Whether it's a gender pay gap, unconscious bias, or a lack of diversity in senior leadership, to name a few issues, Bartlett says “organisation's need to understand what's going on in their own business, and then do something to fix it. If you don't, then the rest of all this talk – it's just PR bollocks.

In this exclusive interview, Bartlett discusses how tech companies can support the education sector in fostering young talent, the reality of unconscious bias in recruitment, and the challenges he has encountered in his own business.

Recently we celebrated International Women's Day. What is your perspective on the state of gender diversity in New Zealand's technology sector?  

"The tech community is very male, very pale and it's at risk of going very stale. Diversity leads to value. There's absolutely a direct correlation between value for our customers, and ensuring we are promoting diversity at all levels whether it's gender, sexual orientation or cultural. When we, Kordia, look in the mirror we see a company that's really culturally diverse. I'm probably one of the few CEOs in New Zealand that does identify as gay.

“But we know we need to do a lot more to encourage, support and foster the development of our female leaders in the business, but also work with other institutions to attract women into tech."

"I think that starts not just with young women but with girls, right at early childhood. We've been doing a lot of talking with the University of Waikato among others about how we can expose young women to the career opportunities in areas like cybersecurity, for example, where there are massive, long-term job prospective for young people."

"That doesn't need to be simply technical, it can be range of professional services or technical services, because today it's about having a mixture of skills rather being just saying you need to be able to write some code."

"I think getting that narrative out there is really cool. The key trick here is aligning the potential and the messaging around women in tech because I think if we can get that narrative right all the way back to primary school, it's going to simply serve our country."

"New Zealand has a wonderful opportunity, if we can get it right, to become a model for how a sustainable, diverse and inclusive culture can create value for the rest of the world.

“We're about to see a good proportion of jobs destroyed over the next ten years and probably an equal number of new types of jobs created. If we can work out how to encourage more women to get into tech, as a country we will make that transition far more successfully than others."

At an executive level in New Zealand's tech sector, do you still witness stereotypical behaviour, bias, and prejudice against women?  

"It would be very naive for us to pretend that those behaviors are gone."

"We live in a world where the issues are being discussed openly and really positively with a lot of people that quite genuinely want to help to make a change. However, the reality still sits there where there are prejudices, and there are glass ceilings that limit people."

"We are starting to see some of those ceilings come down faster than others. For example, if you look at women in senior leadership positions across the technology industry, we see a lot of female leaders coming into areas like boards of directors, we're seeing a lot of female leaders really lead the way in areas such as HR and marketing, but, if we say that's good enough, then that's the real problem."

"To look at our own business, we've got two, world-class leaders who are female on our board, and we've had female executives in our team before, but we don't have any at the moment. We simply can't find them, and that should never be an excuse, that needs to be a conscious analysis around prejudice."

"I'm not saying we are prejudice, I'm saying we need to make sure that we're actually having the conversation. Not just saying, isn't it wonderful we're celebrating International Women's Day, we have to answer the question: What are we tangibly doing to make a change?

“It's funny because tech is usually viewed as a very liberal and open sector versus say, manufacturing, for example. But the challenges for women in leadership in tech companies are no less stringent than say more traditional areas of the economy."

Another thing people take for granted and forget about is that it's not necessarily the case that a woman and a man doing the same job in New Zealand are paid the same amount of money.

We know that's not true in the aggregate, and modern companies that want to talk about diversity need to hit that issue up front.

We come to work to do great stimulating things that will help save the world, but also, pay is how we, in our society today, show value. It sends a terrible sign that you're valued differently because of your gender.

We went through that process at Kordia and we found there were instances in our company where a woman and a man doing the same job were paid at different rates."

"We had to fix it. It wasn't designed that way, it wasn't like someone said hey, you know what, we're going hire that person but we are going to pay her less. It didn't happen like that. It's societal, cultural, built-in, and had been there possibly for donkey-years. I'm not saying that's okay, but like Allan Martin said, 'It's the putting right that counts' when you realise these things in your own business.

How can New Zealand's technology sector support the education of young girls at a primary school level?

"A big part of it is mucking in and getting involved, particularly in schools. How we affect change in young people is about getting in front of them and talking to them, inspiring them. We want to inspire young girls to say, 'You know what, technology sounds really cool, I would love to be doing that.'"

"I think the way we do that is just getting out there and engaging. I would encourage business leaders in the tech space to get out there and just talk with young people at every opportunity because it's only through talking to them and inspiring them about the cool stuff that we're doing that they will actually want to get involved in the tech sector."

"There will always be some people that have a natural inclination to get into tech, but for most young people, it's about inspiration."

As you said earlier, you are likely one of only a small group of CEOs that are gay in New Zealand, have you ever encountered any prejudice or bias yourself because of that?

"Not these days. There have definitely been moments in the past where you encounter people who are uncomfortable or who have a prejudice, but the way I've always had the view that you have to respect people's beliefs because they can come from very genuine backgrounds.

“At the end of the day, I like to be surrounded by people that don't judge others because of their race, their religion, gender or sexual orientation."

"I want to work with people that actually want to help make New Zealand better. The last thing I ever want to be is normal, and I think a lot of young people today don't tolerate being in those sorts of environments. The great thing about today's modern business environment is that young girls and boys have a choice in where they go."

"Organisations that have the odd dinosaur kicking around with prejudices that are from a different era will find themselves unable to attract talented people."

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