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3 steps to improve diversity and inclusion and solve Australia’s tech talent shortage

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Houston, it seems we have a people problem: according to recent projections, Australia’s talent pools are draining a little faster than they can be filled, with the workforce set to lack over 2 million skilled workers by 2030.

Mythical job-stealing robots may fill some of these roles, but the tech industry will still need to fill a deficit of around 200,000 human workers in the next five years alone if we’re to remain competitive in the global digital arms race.

Already, research shows that diverse interest in STEM is improving – the talent is increasingly there and diverse, but it’s not progressing into the heart of Australian companies. If we’re going to keep the tech industry afloat, addressing diversity and inclusion (D&I) in Australian workplaces is critical.

To understand where we’re at and what needs to be done, Halcyon Knights surveyed 1,000 people working in the Aussie technology community to gauge perceptions, experiences and metrics about D&I from across the country. What we found was that while we’re ahead of many other countries, and continuously improving, there is still a lot to be done – especially from the top down.

D&I has long been proven to give companies a social and economic competitive advantage, but our Shaking the Status Quota report shows that a lack of D&I in Aussie workplaces is alienating stellar talent, and making existing employees feel unwelcome and undervalued.

D&I cannot be lumped together

Before we get started, it’s important to note that diversity and inclusion are not the same thing. In fact, according to this study, 23% of Australia’s tech community don’t think that they work in a particularly inclusive workplace, even if it is diverse.

So, what’s the difference?

When we talk about diversity, it’s not just a mix of genders and races in the workplace. It’s more intersectional– ethnicities, abilities, family backgrounds, sexual orientations and cultures.

Inclusion, on the other hand, goes beyond the numbers to the behaviours and actions that workplaces can take to make that diversity sustainable, valuable and actually inclusive.

Vernā Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix put it perfectly when she said, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance”.

Open the talent pool

To access and retain a bigger and more diverse pool of skilled applicants, Australian technology businesses need to open the talent pool to candidates who don’t fit the typical stereotypes, while also nurturing a sense of belonging.

But how can we, as applicants, employers, recruiters or industry members, overcome current culture and action change? Here are three key recommendations for better D&I, beyond just quotas:

1.    Work to understand and attract talent

Do your research. Once you know more about the mix of potential candidates in your field, you can make more direct changes to attract a more diverse group of applicants or find more diverse companies to align with. This includes making job ads accessible – for example, ensuring your advertisements can be viewed by applicants who have a vision impairment or understood who by those who speak a different first language.

Your words are also important. In fact, LinkedIn found that the vocabulary in your job ad directly impacts the mix of demographics who apply. For example, female-identifying applicants are put off by criteria descriptors like “dominant” or “rock star” and applicants coming from outside industries could be deterred by exclusionist jargon and slang.

Make sure you’re creating inclusivity by speaking inclusively – from the very first step.

2.    Including and retaining talent

Making people feel comfortable is the key to creating a high-performing workforce. If you feel valued and satisfied within your role, you are more likely to contribute ideas, instigate change and innovate with integrity. Sometimes, building this sense of comfort and inclusion includes making workplace adjustments – from physical investment in accessibility technologies or facilities to less tangible modifications like building a new language of diversity, changing the way we talk about difference and improving transparent discourse around privilege and respect.

The CEO of Emtrain, Janine Yancey, said, “Creating a culture of respect is more than memorising do’s and don’ts of behaviour. It’s a skill that employees need to develop. Companies need to give them the resources to practice those skills.”

Improving your culture of inclusion will trickle down into your brand reputation and help attract a more diverse and inclusive range of applicants who know that they’ll be welcomed and supported within your office walls.

3.    Engage and empower talent

Targets and quotas can provide value – they put achievable metrics and benchmarks in place and encourage companies to operationalise their intention, but balanced representation means very little if a healthy culture of belonging does not underpin it.

Studies show that more diverse teams are more likely to have above-average economic growth. McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report shows that diverse companies realise advantages in talent recruitment, improved customer orientation, higher employee satisfaction and better decision making and innovation.

However, these benefits don’t just occur by meeting quotas – capitalising on diverse mindsets requires giving everyone an empowered voice within the business. All members of a team need to be given an equal and encouraging platform to put their varied range of opinions, experiences, ideas and mentalities to use.

Lincoln Benbow is the CEO at Halcyon Knights.

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