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Beyond quotas: behaviour driven diversity at Thoughtworks Australia

With a mission of revolutionising the IT industry, Thoughtworks has made creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce part of our DNA.

We value diversity, not only because of our firm belief that it is the right thing to do, but also because we maintain that our organisational culture, our clients, and our industry benefit from the backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives of people from all walks of life.

We are especially proud of our work in the gender equality space, where we have invested heavily in ways to support and develop female technologists within the business, from recruitment and remuneration, through to parental policies and leadership opportunities.

We have already made great strides ahead of our peers in the technology industry, with 50% females in our organisation, compared to just 34.8% female in the Australian IT Workforce. (WGEA data: August 2018.) However, we know that there is always more we can do to drive the industry benchmark forwards. In the words of our CTO, Rebecca Parsons: ‘We are not done yet.’

Fostering equality has long been a strong value of our business, but we really put our money where our mouth is six years ago, by undertaking a program of intentional focus and investment on the diversity and inclusivity of our workforce. We applied a deliberate diversity lens across all of our business decisions and processes and built that way of thinking into our ongoing operations and behaviours.

Courageous leadership has been necessary to make brave (and sometimes unpopular) decisions to deliberately increase the diversity of our organisation.

One such example is the introduction of gender recruitment quotas in our hiring process at Thoughtworks Australia. We aim to hire equal numbers of male and female employees because we believe that good intentions are not enough to redress the massive gender imbalance in technology.

Some people feel uncomfortable with this approach, believing that it encourages a ‘lower bar’ for talent. For us, having quotas does not mean hiring a female who is not fit for the role or our culture, but actually means investing more time and energy into finding high-calibre female candidates, who have the right skills and potential to be successful.

But, hiring is just one component of equality. Once we bring these diverse and talented employees into our business, we need to work hard to retain them. Being deliberate about inclusivity is an equally important part of our journey.
We know that we won’t always get things right, but we continue to analyse our approach, listen to the feedback of our candidates and employees, and to experiment with new ideas to hold ourselves and our industry to account.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Creating equal career progression opportunities

Earlier in 2018, we noticed that the career progression for our female developers was much slower than their male counterparts. In fact, 3 times slower, according to our data. This statistic shocked us, and we knew we wanted to fix it. But how?  

We undertook a research project to analyse the cause of this issue and to address any gaps in our progression processes. We interviewed a number of our female and male developers, at various stages of their careers, about their experiences at Thoughtworks.

We discovered that many of our technical women were less confident about their abilities than their male counterparts, and therefore did not champion themselves in the same way during progression discussions, or when putting themselves forwards for new opportunities.

Armed with this understanding, we must now rise to the challenge of unwriting this perception for our female Thoughtworkers. Our 2019 planning has begun, and we are making intentional decisions about how we have review conversations with our female talent, how we can create coaching opportunities to develop our female leaders and support their career progression and the way we source internal candidates for upcoming opportunities.

Developers at work

Striving to reduce the gender pay gap

Australia’s current gender pay gap for full-time employees is 14.6%. (WGEA data: August 2018.) Today, Thoughtworks Australia’s full-time gender pay gap is 11.6 % and we continually strive to close it further.

As well as creating an equal foundation by addressing career progression (and the pay that accompanies that progression), we also use an equality lens across all stages of our pay review process, including:

1. Ensuring that the pay review committee consists of males and female representatives from the regional leadership team.

2. Undertaking a global gender remuneration review with representatives of the global leadership team including our CTO, Rebecca Parsons

3. Publishing the process and gender diversity statistics, including trends over time as part of each pay review cycle to ensure transparency of process and intent, and to demonstrate our commitment to driving towards pay equity.

4. Undertaking a detailed gender remuneration analysis to uncover and address potential issues with pay equity, including (but not limited to):

  • Analysis of males and females in the same or similar roles
  • Analysis of males and females working in the same grade (experience/skill level)
  • Overall analysis to identify if there are specific roles/grades/levels of skill where males are clustered at the top of a pay band.

Creating pay equity and support for returning parents

Examining our pay equity also shone a light on parental leave, both in terms of financial impact and support for returning parents. We believe that becoming a mother (or primary carer) should not have a negative impact on your salary, or your career.

Historically, women who have taken parental leave in order to care for their child have found themselves at a financial disadvantage when they reach retirement age. Contributions to superannuation are not generally made during the unpaid portion of parental leave, impacting the ability to create an adequate financial income for the future. Last year, Thoughtworks addressed this imbalance by continuing to pay regular superannuation contributions for the first six months of unpaid parental leave.

We also aim to ensure that women are not financially disadvantaged by taking parental leave, by continuing to include them in pay reviews during their leave, and by conducting a peer review upon their return to verify that they have not fallen short in terms of pay.

Salary aside, we understand that returning to work can be daunting, especially in the tech industry where the constant pace of change can leave people feeling overwhelmed, or left behind. We have implemented a number of support mechanisms, that our returning parents say really helped their transition back into the workplace.

We believe that connection is important, so to keep the lines of communication open throughout parental leave, we encourage our mums and dads to keep hold of their laptops, in case they want to dip in and out of what has been happening in Thoughtworks. (Some do, some don’t, and either is fine - but we want to put the choice in their hands.)

Those on leave are still invited to our annual ‘Team Hug,’ a company-wide weekend away, where we share learnings and ideas, and join together as a community. We’ve had some of their little ones join our recent event so that mum or dad can still be part of the fun.

Lastly, we’ve worked closely with some of our clients, to create team structures that support part-time work on client site. A recent example includes two returning mothers sharing a single role on a project, across different working days, which proved to be a successful arrangement for both them and the client.

Diversity in Leadership: The next step

Building a diverse workforce requires a representative leadership team. Who you promote into positions of power says a lot about your commitment to diversity.

We’ve already spoken about the importance of bringing unique perspectives to the table, but it’s even more than that. It is our responsibility to provide strong, smart and capable role-models of every gender for our next generation of leaders.

That’s why we created WiLD - our global Women in Leadership Development initiative. Founded in 2012, we wanted to increase the impact that our women leaders were having, not only on Thoughtworks but the broader community. This self-sustaining, pay it forward program has been attended by more than 52 Thoughtwork’s women in the Asia Pacific region in the last 12 months alone.

Women in Leadership

While we celebrate all that we have achieved so far, we want to keep moving. We want to be proud of our diversity at every level within our organisation. That’s why our next commitment is a focus on our leadership cohort. We are aiming to increase the number of female consultants at Lead and Principal level from approximately 20% currently to 30% by 2020.

We recognise that this requires more than just initiatives and programs, though these have their place too. It’s the continuing shift in mindset and behaviours that are needed to drive change. Diversity is a journey, not a destination, and ours has just begun.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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