Big Picture Thinking in the Australian Tech Industry

with Kate Pounder. Tech Council of Australia

Thought Leadership

Higher pay, better job security and lower barriers to entry - does such a sector exist?

To answer this question, we asked Kate Pounder. Kate is the CEO of Tech Council Australia, the peak body for Australia’s Tech Sector. 

Tech Council Australia has made it their mission to have 1 million people in Tech jobs by 2025, with a view that the Tech Industry will contribute 250 billion dollars to the Australian economy by 2030. 

In this episode of Humanity Works, Kate discusses how she approaches leadership when multiple stakeholders are involved, what makes Australian Tech so unique and exciting, and the initiatives Tech Council Australia has developed to address diversity in the industry. 

If you’d prefer to listen to our conversation you can do so here: Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Who inspired you early on professionally?

In my 20s when I came to work in commercial TV my boss was a woman. We were in a group of Government Relations senior executives from all of the TV networks. And virtually everyone in the group was a woman and every woman in the group was very passionate and very intelligent and very assertive. 

And so for the first six years in my career, all I knew were these female role models. I often reflect back on how lucky that was, because that shaped how I thought about being a female executive, and a leader. It was only later in my career that I realised that wasn't the typical business culture - to be surrounded by these really wonderful, passionate women. So I had this sort of reverse experience, rather than being in the minority in a senior team, it was normal for women to be really important contributors.

How would you describe the culture of public policy? 

I think most people who get into public policy do so because they care about the world and the mission and the impact on people. So it's generally a pretty thoughtful area, and it attracts a lot of smart people and committed people. But there's also the culture of discipline, effort and purpose. I think that is often a big part of public policy cultures. 

But it's also a culture where you need to be pragmatic, because there's no important issue where everyone in the society agrees. And so what you're often having to do is to find consensus to achieve change in public policies. You've got to not only reach decisions that a whole community will accept, but you have to work with lots of different stakeholders and different organisations to get it. 

So it's actually a process of trying to work out what the real problem is you're solving by trying to work out if it's significant enough to warrant an intervention. Then it’s trying to work out what the options for those interventions are. And then how do you practically convince everyone to get behind the same solution?

How do you approach leadership with all of these stakeholders?

I start by thinking about what the big public policy questions are, or what are the ingredients that we think it would take to grow the sector in Australia. Then we put together a really impactful case for change, but also an evidence based one. 

Most of the time we're walking in, and we might be telling people for the first time that something is a problem because it may not be self evident. And then just doing that very consistently over time. One thing we chose to do when we launched Tech Council Australia was to set some goals for the country, not just for the industry. 

“So we said we want 1 million people in tech jobs by 2025. We want the tech sector to contribute 250 billion to the Australian economy by 2030. And we want to make Australia a great place to found and scale a company.” 

We did that because we thought we could go in and have conversations with people about individual policy pieces, but if people don't understand the bigger picture and if communities can't see the bigger picture, then people don't know why they're doing it. 

So we've tried to really think about how we explain what the sector can mean for people's jobs and what it can mean for communities. Then we can say ‘Well if we agree they're good outcomes, what would be the steps you'd have to take to get that outcome?’

What makes Australian Tech unique? 

I think Australia is the home of small tech and SME tech. If you look at the areas of the tech sector where we've been most successful at producing companies, a lot of it has been in B2B software as a service products or enterprise applications. Or in the case of Atlassian, in products for IT professionals. 

But actually, the biggest area is in SaaS for SMEs. Companies like MYOB, and Xero, which is New Zealand, but we kind of count them as being in the same same team, accounting software that's led to a real blossoming of secondary applications. Areas like rostering, or payroll, with companies like Deputy or Employment Hero. 

So having chatted to some of these Founders, I realised that many of them were actually small business owners themselves, or they were working with small businesses. The Founders of Deputy said, ‘It's really crazy that small businesses who have up to 100 casual staff are spending their weekend trying to chart who they should roster on at different times on a whiteboard, or in an Excel spreadsheet. And if one person calls in sick having to make all these calls, to try and get someone to work.’  

So I think a really nice feature of the Australian Tech Industry is that we have this focus on smaller businesses. There’s empathy and a defining of pain points for small businesses, and from there the generation of these global tech businesses. 

What are your thoughts on diversity in the tech industry? 

I'm very passionate about this. There’s been research done on diversity in tech and when we looked into it we found that people who went into tech sector jobs were more likely to be highly paid.

We also saw that there were some really egalitarian features of tech jobs and work. Firstly, they're very fast growing. So in Australia, they've been growing at an average rate of 55%. Since 2005, the average rate of jobs growth is 35%. So they're a very good area to move into, because they're so plentiful. And I think that adds to the job security and the high pay.  

So all those things tell you that tech is a really good source of opportunity in life. Especially for people who don’t necessarily have the networks or the educational background or the high socioeconomic status to move into the industry. 

Tech is relatively easy to break into if you have the right mindset and if you're happy to learn skills on the job. But what we also know is that it's not always as diverse as it could be. So only one in four people working in tech jobs in Australia are female. But tech is really culturally diverse. The age diversity could be better. Tech tends to skew to a younger age group. 

I think getting more people from those underrepresented groups in the sector is really important to give them the same opportunity. But I think it's also important if you want to address skill shortages, and we have very severe skill shortages. 

Are there any initiatives you’re working on to address the issue of diversity? 

So there's a couple of things we have suggested. Firstly a digital apprenticeship model, like a modern vocational training model. Because we think there's lots of technical roles, particularly in the sector in software engineering or systems integration, jobs that don't necessarily need a three to four year degree. But often there isn't a modern vocational option. So we think that would open it up to more people. 

We've also talked with the government about having a reskilling initiative for women, because what we know is the primary way a woman enters the tech sector in Australia is as an early to mid career transition or through skilled migration. And the portion of women who come from technical degrees into the sector is really low, partly because there's like a huge skew in the number of women who take those degrees in Australia. 

So we've said, presuming that's the primary pathway for women to come into the sector, at least for the next decade, it’s really essential to therefore rethinking training models. Because assuming you're designing the training for someone who might already have a job, we need to make sure we're helping them understand the jobs that exist. We also need to educate on the pathways into these jobs. So we think that actually takes some quite purposeful design.

There’s more to this episode! To hear all of Kate’s insights, listen to the full episode on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

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