As the inaugural Australian Girls in Tech (GIT) Catalyst conference gets underway in Melbourne today, founder and chief executive of the movement Adriana Gascoigne says starting a conversation is the first step to making real change — and Victoria is the place to do it.
Gascoigne set up GIT in San Francisco in 2007, when she was one of only two women working at a startup (the other was the receptionist).
Initially, she tells StartupSmart, the idea was simply to have a networking meet-up, designed “to encourage more women in tech to come together, learn how to collaborate better and seek out new and interesting opportunities”.
When over 200 people came along, she realised there was scope for a much wider initiative.
Now, the not-for-profit provides an educational platform and uses technology to engage and empower women around the world. It has a presence in 60 cities in 36 countries, and more than 100,000 members. And, Gascoigne says, “we’re experiencing a massive growth spurt”.
Now, the initiative has landed in Melbourne, a city Gascoigne says has “all the ingredients of a successful ecosystem”.
“There are a lot of elements that make up a solid ecosystem and could help girls in tech thrive, and the women in tech movement here grow,” she says.
These elements include access to capital and an abundance of multinational companies, which can support the growth and talent of women. But Gascoigne also says Melbourne has “a very open-minded attitude in terms of bringing more international talent, and really being a place where expats are welcome”.
“That can really help influence the growing ecosystem,” she says.
She adds that LaunchVic, the Victorian government’s startup support agency, has come forward to support the GIT Catalyst conference, which “says a lot about the community here”.
Gascoigne says she has started to see change around the world during the past 10 years: more women applying for jobs in the technology space, more organisations supporting them, support communities emerging, more mentorship, and more networking and education opportunities.
She also says she has noticed a “more subtle, quietly growing movement of male advocates”, supporting women’s voices.
“We can’t do it alone. It takes a village, and men need to be our advocates to bring about change,” she says.
While sexual harassment in the workplace is still making headlines, and technology companies continue to have poor diversity levels in the workplace — not just regarding gender diversity — there are a lot of small things that can be done to help.
“There needs to be more processes in terms of recruiting and targeting more minority groups,” Gascoigne says.
Just talking about the issue is crucial, Gascoigne says, and GIT is intended to give women a place to do so.
“The first step to solving the problem is discussing it openly and honestly, and allowing women to have a platform to share not only what happens to them, but ideas on how to fix it.”