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How to improve gender diversity in the tech sector

In 2014 a number of leading tech firms released the diversity mix of their employees. The companies that were redefining our world like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, had a very old-world problem. Women were poorly represented in the important jobs (leadership) and the cool jobs (technology). Racial minorities fared even worse.

Twelve months ago Eric Schmidt was called out for repeatedly interrupting a fellow panellist ­– female – at a SXSW discussion on diversity, of all things. Schmidt, the President of Google, clearly didn’t mind a bit of ‘mansplaining‘, even when it meant talking over the Chief Technology Officer of the United States Government, Megan Smith. Several times.

It seemed the problem is as much cultural as one of balancing the numbers.

But it’s not business as usual in the tech sector.

Making the problem visible is the first step to real change.

“Achieving equality will be one of the greatest challenges we will achieve in our lifetime,” says Wendy Johnstone, Vice President of Marketing Asia Pacific at Salesforce.

Achieving equality will be one of the greatest challenges we will achieve in our lifetime.

Johnstone heads up the diversity and inclusion program for Salesforce in Australia. She gives the refreshing sense that equality genuinely matters beyond a public relations initiative. At Salesforce diversity is both a business issue and a complex social challenge “That’s why at Salesforce we have made equality a core value of our organisation.”

It certainly starts at the top. “Change on this issue cannot simply be an aspiration, it must be a priority,” said Marc Benioff at the annual Salesforce user conference, Dreamforce, in October 2015. “Anything that requires transformation – including gender diversity – requires the CEO to be in the middle of it. That’s all it takes to fix it, the CEO has to prioritise it as an issue.”

Benioff has also taken a public stand against religious freedom laws in Indiana and Georgia, on the grounds that they would legalise discrimination against LGBTI people.

But inequality has been resistant to social change for decades. What is different about the current approach, and how is it rolling out at Salesforce?

The company has determined three platforms on which to tackle gender inequality: equal pay, equal advancement and equal opportunity.

Equal pay