Recruitment & Hiring, Startup Advice

To attract top talent, look no further than your own backyard

Jo Stewart-Rattray /

With the low unemployment rate and scrapping of the 457 visa, it’s increasingly hard to find talent and fill the skills gap, especially in technology and for small businesses.

Rural Australia is fast becoming an area to recruit much sought-after top female talent, given much of the local female population’s experience managing small businesses and farms. The federal government is also increasing technical infrastructure for more Australians to work remotely, having committed $260 million in satellite infrastructure and a more accurate global positioning system in this year’s federal budget.

Growing up in the Australian bush before spending my adult life navigating the male-dominated technology field, I am no stranger to feelings of bias and isolation. I have been the only female in the board room too many times to count, and it’s what drove me to spearhead the global initiative SheLeadsTech, through global business technology association ISACA, to empower and encourage more female involvement in the tech workforce. And subsequently, I was selected to join the official Australian delegation at this year’s United Nations 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women to discuss how technology can empower rural women and girls.

Through my experiences, I have observed several common mistakes small businesses make in trying to attract top talent.

Saying you have a diversity program won’t work

We’ve all seen the stats that a diverse workforce leads to increased productivity, creativity and financial gain, but promoting you have a diversity program can backfire when recruiting. Potential employees will just see it as ‘city slicker’ marketing speak with the latest buzzwords.

Instead, small businesses should actively promote they are a ‘female friendly’ place to work. This slight nuance on words not only opens your recruitment up to over half the population, but males and females alike realise your company is progressive, open to change and (hopefully) has flexible work arrangements that will suit a number of work styles.

Girls can code, but that won’t keep them on the job

While there has been a tremendous effort to encourage young girls and women into STEM subjects, unfortunately too often, I find these bright women are discouraged by being pigeonholed into coding.

There are a wide array of business careers using technology skills. That’s why all startups should ensure they have a mentoring program to establish and encourage women who want to develop broader skills, to keep them engaged and allow them to add more versatility to their careers. This significantly reduces employee churn!

Eliminating bias is just lip service

But that doesn’t mean you don’t recognise and adopt solutions to curb it. To reduce unconscious bias in recruiting, mask all of the personal details of candidates. It’s also important to review job ads and make sure the wording is gender-neutral.

Bias also creeps into pay, and this is unacceptable. Each week, Australian women take home, on average, 15.3% (or $251.20) less than men. As the owner of a business, investigate if there is a pay disparity and have a clear plan to address it, including communicating the deliverable outcomes with employees.

Overall, it’s a change in mindset that starts from the top when attracting the best female talent, which left unchanged can stifle a growing business. The Report of the Australian Government Delegation to the 62nd Session of the United Nations provides strong guidance for businesses to take meaningful steps in addressing gender equality. Let me know how your business will support these initiatives in Australia.

NOW READ: How diversity can help business go from good to great

Passionate about the state of Australian small business? Join the Smarts Collective and be a part of the conversation.

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Jo Stewart-Rattray

Jo Stewart-Rattray has over 25 years’ experience in the IT industry and heads up the SheLeadsTech program at ISACA. She specialises in consulting in information security issues with a particular emphasis on governance in both the commercial and operational areas of businesses.

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