By Ange Ferguson, Group MD for ThoughtWorks APAC
The early 2000s have a lot to answer for, not least the dot-com boom and bust. Twenty years on we’re still experiencing the fallout – a generation scared away from technology careers because their parents felt it wasn’t a stable vocation.
Today we’re left with a severe shortage of talent. Particularly scarce are those in more senior roles – that critical layer of practitioner leads (like tech leads) and technology literate business leaders. Importantly, these are also the people we need to support and mentor less experienced colleagues.
Some organisations have avoided the full brunt of the talent shortage, managing to attract and retain highly experienced people thanks to exciting business models that innovate and motivate. Other businesses have been reluctant to invest in developing skills internally, so have been forced to look beyond traditional computer science degrees to find skills they desperately need.
Across the board, neither organisations nor the economy can wait for the talent pool to replenish, but an important opportunity has emerged and organisations must embrace it if they are to survive the ongoing skills famine. If ignored, instead of building a vibrant technology industry in Australia, funded work will head to countries where there is an active investment in developing skills.
We need to encourage the participation of those who remain a minority in technology – for example, indigenous Australians, Australians of African heritage and women – to increase the size and quality of the talent pool.
We know diverse teams produce better results. Genuine innovation – the kind that emerges on a daily basis and builds organisational resilience – can’t happen without people from diverse backgrounds, geographies, cultures, careers, and experiences. Dynamic teams with people offering different perspectives, ways of thinking and complementary skill sets enable old problems to be approached in new ways, and can more accurately reflect customers and other stakeholders. There’s also the fact that with a happier, more cohesive workforce you generally have better output and less turnover.
With the focus on diversity intensifying, we do see some encouraging developments in workplace gender balance. This year ThoughtWorks celebrates 25 years, and while it has always maintained an inclusive culture, it has evolved over the last decade and we’re proud to see an increasing number of females visibly leading our business.
To improve the gender balance, good intentions aren’t enough – it demands to invest in a proactive plan focussed on sourcing, retention, and advancement. Sourcing has gained a lot of focus in recent years, yet our industry still suffers from a “leaky bucket” and the only way to resolve it is to shift away from historically accepted behaviours that make women leave technology. In 2010 ThoughtWorks introduced hard targets with real accountability around diversity, and that’s when real change began to happen. We now see more flexible working arrangements, commitment to maintaining connections with existing team members who are primary carers, as well as finding those looking to return to the workplace, supporting them and helping them build confidence.
Additionally, without a strong and diverse collection of talent, innovation suffers. As with any rare resource, when the fuel for innovation is scarce, it is only available to those paying skyrocketing salaries to a select few. In technology, that generally means a consolidation of software development coming out of established, well-funded organisations (then less likely to innovate or do things differently). Smaller, newer firms with fresh and exciting ideas face a very real challenge to compete.
As we approach a new decade, what can we change? Pathways to technology need to be re-examined. Men and women interact with technology equally, and the opportunities to build it are becoming more accessible, however, there needs to be a stronger conversion between interest and people seeing how they can get involved in making technology happen. In Australia, only a few of our most senior technology practitioners and executives are women, partly because many can’t imagine playing that role themselves. It’s perception and stereotypes – if you can’t see someone who looks like you, it often makes you think you can’t do it, and that can be a
Humans are naturally curious, and what’s compelling about technology is that it inspires our ability to wonder – we just need to get better at encouraging both men and women, from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, to be part of technology’s future by changing what’s perceived as possible.
Women Love Tech would like to thank Ange Ferguson, Group MD for ThoughtWorks APAC for this article.