The theme this year for International Women’s Day is Balance for Better. The better the balance, the better the world. For Xero, when we think about balance and diversity we also think about the importance of belonging – creating an inclusive and empowering environment where our people feel accepted and know they belong, whoever they are.
There is always more work to do, so today we hosted an International Women’s Day panel to bring the conversation of gender diversity to the forefront. Joining me on the panel were, Dale Murray, Xero board member and tech entrepreneur; Lucy Lloyd, founder of Mentorloop, and Trent Innes, Managing Director of Xero AU and Asia.
Here are some of the highlights:
What Balance for Better means to us
Trent: International Women’s Day is a great opportunity for us to celebrate the progress we have made and discuss what more still needs to be done. When I look back over my career to where we are now, it makes me proud. I often speak about creating the future you want to see and I strongly believe that, at Xero, we have the opportunity to lead the way in changing our industry.
I would love to get to the point in my career where we don’t have to talk about gender equality anymore. But by its very nature diversity is very diverse, and we still have a lot to do to honour that.
The world needs role models
Dale: Whether we’re talking about young girls in STEM or women returning to the workforce, people look for role models. We look up to the strata of leadership and hope it looks like us. It’s why I continue to speak on the topic of women in leadership, because people draw strength from others.
The impact of role models doesn’t stop at work. I have three sons aged between 11 and 14. The choices I make in business are as much about being a role model for my sons as they are for the daughters I don’t have. I felt strongly that I wanted my sons to grow up seeing I had responsibilities outside of the home. They understand I make an important contribution to companies and they bounce that back to me. I’m hopeful that as they grow, they will continue to be respectful and think about women in those environments.
Lucy: I wholeheartedly agree in the importance of role models. I am also conscious to remember that senior women are asked to do a lot – to work, to speak, to mentor and be a strong role model. That can be tiring. It’s a job for everyone. At Mentorloop, we believe in the non-obvious connection. We want to cut across traditional advocacy pathways and match mentors to people they may not meet organically. Just think about the power of a senior woman mentoring a young man and the impact that can have on a career – and on a business.
Immediate opportunities for 2019
Dale: I believe there’s a lot of work to be done to dissolve unconscious bias. In the UK where I live, only 7% of the venture capital invested into high-growth companies goes to female-led businesses. I once heard of a fascinating study where the same company, using the same pitch deck, presented to a room full of venture capitalists. One room received the pitch from a man, the other from a woman. The man got dozens of offers and the woman got none. When female businesses are held back, economic opportunities are held back. We need to innovate as leaders, and focus on unconscious bias with immediacy.
Lucy: Even in a company with two female founders, such as mine, we learned you have to be intentional about building the culture you want. For some reason, we simply weren’t getting any female applicants as we grew our team. We made a conscious decision not to apply a gender quota to any of our roles but we do quota ourselves to a fair pipeline of applicants. If people aren’t applying, we won’t remain passive. We’ll find ways to go to them.
Changing the mindset
Trent: I’ve always thought of gender diversity through the lens of my personal belief – that it’s simply the right thing to do. But there’s also an important commercial aspect to it. Over 50% of our customers at Xero are female. If we don’t have that diversity of thought going into our product at the beginning, we simply can’t meet the needs of our diverse customer base. And if you’re not creating a workplace where women feel like they belong, you’re losing half the talent available to you. Gender balance isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for business. And we all have a role to play in making it a reality.