Diversity in IT key to innovation

Diversity in IT key to innovation

The gender imbalance is just one of many diversity issues our industry has a responsibility to solve, argues Susan Sly

A diverse technology workforce – in terms of gender, socio-economic background, race, beliefs, and so on – is vital if we are to meet the demand for skills and improve our ability to innovate. But without strategies in place to encourage true diversity, the potential impact we can make as an innovative collective will not be fully realised.

The gender imbalance in the industry is a topic that has been openly discussed for some time. It’s just one of many diversity issues that our industry has a responsibility to resolve.

As business leaders, CIOs have the opportunity to capitalise on their positions and influence to make a diverse workforce a priority for discussion at the executive table.

For change to occur sooner rather than later, several short-term investments can be made – a company’s approach to recruitment, for example, is an obvious area. However, a quick fix is not the answer.

To help create a diverse workforce in the long term, digital literacy and innovative thinking need to be core components of our national curriculum. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects) should inspire students across all Australian schools, regardless of geography or socio-economic status.

Digital inclusion – the concept of making technology and training available to all – is imperative to the future of innovation and Australian entrepreneurialism.

Here are 5 things that leaders can do to help create a diverse workforce.

  • Understand the audience we are serving. A workforce that understands and reflects the community as a whole will deliver better, more relevant and impactful services.

  • Develop an equal opportunity employment policy. A clear framework will make recruiting a diverse workforce all that more effective.

  • Make the role compelling to job hunters. Emphasise benefits that will attract a more diverse candidate pool, such as the acceptance of religious holidays, paid parental leave, training, flexible hours and mentorship programs.

  • Include a mix of expertise on the candidate selection panel. Hiring managers who have a good understanding of people with diverse backgrounds – such as candidates from indigenous communities or individuals with a disability – will aid in the selection of a quality ICT workforce that is representative of modern Australia.

  • Gain recognition. Encourage employees to come to you by making the organisation's name more attractive through peer recognition. The iAwards is a great example of an awards program that opens doors.

A creative, entrepreneurial and innovative workforce is key to the competitive future of Australia, and that can come through diversity of people and thinking.

The sooner we ensure these traits and skills are entrenched across our wider workforce – regardless of age, gender, culture and background – the better off all Australian industries will be.

Susan Sly is executive general manager, information management & technology at VicRoads. She was the 2013 iAwards CIO of the Year.

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