Philip Dalidakis has called on the Australian business community to help get more women into leading technology roles, while also reassuring men that they have nothing to fear.
Speaking at the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference in Melbourne today, the Victorian Minister for Innovation said it was the thought of his two daughters having fewer opportunities than his son that prompted him to “make sure change is actually something we can do”.
However, he said it doesn’t really matter what the motivation is. “The most important part is that we walk the journey together,” he said.
Unless men and women collaborate to make a change, Dalidakis said “all that we do is ensure that the status quo continues”.
“Men don’t need to be afraid, they don’t need to be frightened, they don’t need to be fearful, they don’t need to think that this is some big sea-change that’s going to swallow them up,” he said.
“It’s never about the men in the room, it’s about the women that are not in the room”.
He said the Girls in Tech conference, which is supported by the Victorian government’s startup support body LaunchVic, is “a celebration of the change that we can live, the change that we want, and most importantly, a celebration of what we can actually do”.
Four years ago, Dalidakis said, when the Labor government was campaigning ahead of the 2014 Victorian state election, now-premier Daniel Andrews pledged that 50% of new board appointments within the state government would be women.
According to Dalidakis, within the first six months, those appointments were happening, and today, 50% of paid board members are, in fact, women.
“It goes to show you don’t need to look that hard,” he said.
Those who say there are not enough women to fill senior roles are “not trying hard enough”, he said.
“If we can do it, the private sector can do it.”
He suggested that women predominantly start business when they’re at home, following maternity leave, or because they’re isolated for other reasons. They often start a business, he said, “to give them something to do”.
However, he added that statistics show technology startups founded by females tend to “last longer than male-founded businesses, and they’re actually more successful both in terms of revenue and profitability”.
“It’s not just a societal argument, we can actually say that there’s an economic argument as well,” he said.
While Victoria in particular has some “amazing woman leaders”, Dalidakis stressed the government can only do so much, and called on conference attendees to make conscious efforts within their own space.
He also encouraged women and leaders to “hold the government to account” and to ask questions, both of their leaders and of themselves, as to whether they’re making the right decisions regarding equal opportunities.
“We can only lead so far,” he said.
“We need to do it hand-in-hand with all of you in the not-for-profit sector, within the for-profit sector, we need to be doing it at the community level as much as the grass-roots level as much as at the private sector commercial level.”