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Tech diversity by the numbers in NZ

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This article was published on 9 August 2017

Currently making headlines is the debate around a former Google employee’s memo on women in technology.

There are an ever-increasing number of opinion pieces, and data, about the lack of diversity in tech internationally and locally.  Currently making headlines is the debate around a former Google employee’s memo on women in technology.

The opinion pieces are often related to digital industries, particularly in Silicon Valley, but the issue is widespread across different technologies and businesses, and in entrepreneurship.  The discussion about diversity has also been going on for a long time in wider STEMM education circles, including the recent publication in New Zealand of “Why Science is Sexist” by Nicola Gaston.

A couple of months ago I attended TechConnect in my role scoping new and upcoming materials technologies that might be applicable to New Zealand businesses.  The conference included an excellent panel discussion on women in tech leadership that raised some of this data and analysis.  

A particularly eye-opening read for me was the recent HBR report about venture capitalists’ discussions and language in relation to entrepreneurs: for example, men were described as “young and promising” while women were “young and inexperienced”. 

I was interested to try and see what data was available about the high-tech business scene in NZ.  What I found?  Publicly available, collated data and analysis is not an easy Google search away, particularly in regard to ethnicity!  The best source (kindly provided by the AANZ) was the Compass Start-up Genome report, which in 2017 gives figures of 21% female founders in NZ compared with a global median of 15%.

My own (very unscientific, based on name and photograph) survey of start-ups listed on NZVIF yields 14% female CEOs/MDs – closely matching NZVIF’s own gender analysis work (13% female CEOs/founders).  This match gave me a bit more confidence in my methods, so I extended my survey to some other groupings of high tech companies.

Within Callaghan Innovation’s tech incubators, the figure sits at 8% female CEOs.  The total numbers of start-ups being incubated is still quite low due to the relative youth of the scheme so this figure can perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.
The story in established high tech companies is significantly worse than the NZVIF scenario – surveying the TIN200 list gives us a measly 5% female CEOs/MDs!

There also appears to be an industry-specific effect.  Companies classified by Callaghan Innovation as being in the health sector stand out in all these data sources: 14% female representation at CEO/MD level in the TIN200, 24% in the NZVIF, and 25% in the tech incubators.  What does this mean?  Without doing a proper sociological study, I can’t say for sure, but it may reflect the high number of female graduates in the life and medical sciences comparative to other STEMM subjects.

So what do we, or can we, do given the ever-increasing amount of data from respected organisations like McKinsey&Company and Intel about the value of gender and ethnic diversity within a workplace?

A Callaghan Innovation funded accelerator, Lightning Lab, recently co-designed and ran an XX accelerator programme with women entrepreneurs in order to address gender diversity issues.  By collaborating on the design of the programme with the entrepreneurs before it ran, they gleaned several lessons about how best to run an accelerator programme that encourages inclusivity.  

As Laura Reitel, Programme Director notes: “Developing strong leadership capability among female founders and the immense value role models provide were two important lessons learned through the collaborative approach we took to Lightning Lab XX. On gaining this insight; we made sure each CEO had the opportunity to work with a personal leadership coach during the length of the accelerator. We have since incorporated personal leadership coaching into all of our programmes. We also make sure to focus on attracting a truly diverse group of mentors to all of our programmes, because with diversity comes new perspectives."   

It is too soon to gauge the impact of this change, but we will be watching this space with interest.

Callaghan Innovation has also recently introduced diversity elements into the required reporting for our accelerators and founder incubators, to enable us to gather a good, consistent, base line of data about the start-up programmes that we support.  This will extend beyond gender and include Maori and Pasifika representation as well.  We are also looking at how to implement such reporting into the technology incubator scheme in the future.

So, are you thinking about diversity enough within your organisation?  Because the data about success says that you should be!

Dr Kirsten Edgar