Diversity, Startup News

Why Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris has created a Women in Tech scholarship to break down diversity barriers: “It’s not about ‘leaning in’ more”

Angela Castles /

Adore Beauty Kate Morris

Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris. Source: Supplied.

Australian women studying computer science degrees or modules at university have an opportunity to see first-hand what it takes to build a multimillion-dollar e-commerce business, thanks to a new ‘Women in Tech’ scholarship established by online beauty retailer Adore Beauty.

The scholarship, which includes a $2000 bursary and month-long paid internship, was spearheaded by Adore Beauty‘s founder and chief executive Kate Morris as a way of contributing to a diverse and inclusive future for her two daughters.

“[Encouraging] diversity and seeing women in leadership roles is extremely important to me, it’s something I feel extremely passionate about,” Morris tells StartupSmart.

“I’ve got two daughters; I want to see the world be a better place for them.”

A past finalist in the Smart50 Awards, Adore Beauty was launched by Morris out a Melbourne garage in 2000. At the time, Morris was 21 and had no prior business or coding experience. The e-commerce business now offers 165 brands and 10,000-plus beauty care products, employs 44 people, and was turning over more than $15 million in the 2015-16 financial year.

Morris says she developed an interest in computer science through modules completed as part of her business degree, and believes the lack of women pursuing careers in tech and STEM fields is “not a pipeline issue” but rather a cultural one.

“One of the biggest barriers is the cultural issues women face … what I’m hoping for here is to really encourage women to see that there are nice cultures and environments you can work in, and fun things you can do with your [tech] career,” she says.

Morris notes that women often go into computer science and STEM degrees and find themselves in “unpleasant environments”, which is why this scholarship aims to show women, through a paid work placement, that they don’t need to “fit themselves into a blokey environment” when pursuing a tech career.

As well as receiving funds to support themselves while studying, the successful scholarship recipient will receive a month-long paid internship at the Adore Beauty head office in Melbourne, where they will shadow the marketing team and gain industry insight working with the e-commerce platform.

Morris believes a background and grounding in computer science “is such a benefit” for women working in any industry, tech related or otherwise, because it prepares future workers for impending “industry disruption” .

“Every industry is having a tech revolution,” Morris says.

“I want women to be at the leading edge of that.”

“It’s not about trying to fix women”

For Morris, building a diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem is not just about encouraging a new generation of female coders; it’s also about discouraging poor culture and attitudes in workplaces.

“It’s not about trying to fix women,” Morris says, saying women can be discouraged from pursuing careers in tech because they are hindered by harassment and a lack of equal opportunity, rather than a lack of ambition or interest in these fields.

“It’s not about ‘leaning in’ more; we’re leaning in so far we’re just about horizontal,” she says.

While scholarship programs like Adore Beauty’s are designed to encourage women in computer science and STEM fields, Morris believes bringing about real industry change lies with “fixing the cultural problems that are discouraging women and limiting their careers”.

The launch of this scholarship program comes at a time when issues of diversity, culture and gender equality in the tech startup ecosystem have been writ large. Last month the 500 Startups harassment scandal rocked the tech world, prompting prominent Australian ecosystem leaders to sign a pledge to combat gender inequality, while Uber’s founder and chief executive stepped down over it’s crisis of “toxic” culture. The Startmate startup accelerator program has committed to increasing its female founder intake, while Melbourne-based startup Envato is partnering with Code Like a Girl to encourage gender diversity in their workplace.

For Morris, the scholarship is a way of “throwing her hat in the ring” by “giving back and [enacting] a social responsibility to do something that’s important”.

“If the only thing that comes from it is that one woman feels supported and encouraged in her career than I’d be happy with that,” she says.

Applications for the scholarship close on September 10, and applicants must be enrolled in their second or third year at an Australian tertiary institution, and studying computer science as a course or as a module of another course. Applicants must provide a current student card, documentation with details of their course, and answer in 250 words or less the question: “What is your motivation to succeed?”

Hear more from Kate Morris and other former Smart50 finalists at SmartCompany’s upcoming ‘SmartWomen’ event in Melbourne on August 17.  

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Angela Castles

Angela Castles is a former StartupSmart journalist.