Historic Sydney tech supergroup criticised for a lack of diversity: “It is 2016; you need to change the optics”

Sydney’s historic new tech supergroup has been criticised for a lack of diversity and inclusiveness after its big reveal on Tuesday, with only seven of its initial 100 members and supporters being women.

TechSydney, a representative group aiming to turn Sydney into “Australia’s Silicon Valley”, is backed by the likes of Atlassian, Blackbird, Uber and Canva, but many in the startup community have pointed out that the initial press shots and membership lists are overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Of the initial 100 people announced as supporting TechSydney, only seven are women. This list includes founders, entrepreneurs, investors and other members of the Sydney startup community.

This is despite one of the organisation’s core aims being to “bring more women into the sector”.

Admitting there’s a problem

TechSydney CEO and serial entrepreneur Dean McEvoy says the group has taken this feedback on board and is actively trying to include more female founders in the second round of members.

“We’re proactively prioritising different founders that are in the areas we need to address,” McEvoy tells StartupSmart.

“This is a good, gentle kick in the butt to make sure we’re proactive and I’m glad for that.

“Like most startups we won’t get everything perfect the first time but we’ll work damn hard to make sure we get there.”

The group has also been criticised for a lack of culture and ethnic diversity, with the vast majority of members being white men.

McEvoy admits that they need to do better in this area too.

“It is something that we need to address in the industry, we need to be proactive about it,” he says.

“It’s important to have a mix. We are on the doorsteps of Asia and we need to embrace that culture.”

The issue was compounded by the main group shot of the organisation featured in the media on Tuesday featuring 21 men and only one women, while other accompanying photos showcased no women.

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“You have to change the optics”

While McEvoy says up to four other women couldn’t take part in the shoot at the last moment, Rampersand’s Eloise Watson says visuals like this are crucial.

“It was disappointing we didn’t see more females in the group photo chosen, which runs the risk of sending the wrong message to our growing community,” Watson tells StartupSmart.

“An important part of achieving gender equality in tech is proudly seeing our female founders front and centre, whether at panels, pitch nights or photo ops.”

The launch also caught the attention of prominent British businesswoman Cindy Gallop, who tweeted her anger about its lack of diversity.

“You’ll demonstrate you’ll ‘bring more women into the sector’ by starting that way,” Gallop tweeted.

But startup advisor and investor Nicole Williamson, who says she has been involved with the creation of TechSydney from the beginning, says diversity was always a focus.

“From the very first meeting women have been integral to setting the direction and agenda for the group,” Williamson tells StartupSmart.

“I saw that picture in the Australian this morning and blew my stack like everyone else because the picture in no way represents the ethos, leadership or intended members of the group. It was a communications goof.

“TechSydney is going to make a really important contribution to ensuring more women grow big, successful tech businesses.”

The fact that so few women were featured at the organisation’s launch is also indicative of a wider problem in the tech industry, Inspire9’s Kirsteene Phelan says.

“This photo is telling,” Phelan tells StartupSmart.

“If one of the stated goals of the group is to ‘promote startups as a viable career path and in turn bring more women into startups and tech’, then they should start promoting the diversity already present in the industry from the very first public interactions.

“With 100 companies to choose from it’s a sad indictment of the real state of affairs if one woman is all that could be mustered.”

McEvoy says he acknowledges the benefits of diversity in the tech sector, and that perceptions and attitudes need to change.

“I’m a person who has experienced first-hand the benefit of having a diverse workforce,” McEvoy says.

“At Spreets we had more women than men in our company. That balance you get in a company from having males and females is fantastic – having too many either way is not a good thing.

“It is something that we need to address in the industry – we need to be proactive about it.”

“A once in a lifetime opportunity”

TechSydney was formed to capitalise on the growing interest in the startup sector and address the key issues it is facing in Sydney, McEvoy says.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something meaningful not just for ourselves or for the industry, but for the whole country,” he says.

“The best way to grow an ecosystem is to grow the companies in that ecosystem. It’s about positioning Sydney and Australia as a viable startup ecosystem to the best companies in the word.”

The group also wants to improve the city’s fragmented ecosystem and encourage the collisions and connections that occur regularly in tech hubs like Silicon Valley.

“We could do that here if we had a location for the industry that showcases this amazing city and its world-class unique positioning that nowhere else in the world could compete with,” McEvoy says.

“It would be like being under one roof and something that no other city in the world could compete with.”

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