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Building an inclusive and diverse technology workforce


DFAT joined the national conversation around women in workplaces in April, hosting a cross-sector panel discussion on how to encourage more women and girls to pursue technology-based careers.

To mark the 10th anniversary of International Girls in ICT Day, the event reflected on the progress that’s been made for women in ICT, where we’re heading, and what further change is required to address the sector’s gender gap.

Leaders from across Government, industry, business and education participated in the robust discussion, sharing knowledge and experiences so that together, we can create more pathways for girls and women in STEM.

Want to learn more? Read through the event’s transcript or watch the panel discussion.

International Girls in ICT Day – panel event transcript

Thursday 22 April 4:20PM

Duration: 53:58


Mathew SMORHUN: Good morning and welcome to our International women and girls in ICT Day event, appreciate all the attendance in person. Obviously, it's a bit like the MCG on ANZAC Day, we would like to raise the cap of numbers in the room, but we’re limited but that said, we are filming and recording via WebEx live so we've got a big audience outside of this room. Now before I start, I might introduce Jack Reis to pop up and give acknowledgement of country and then we'll introduce Harinder to make some opening comments.


Jack REIS: Thanks, Matt. Good morning, everyone. Ah, my name is Jack Reis, and I am from Badu Island, Murulag people. The language of our people is Kala Lagaw Ya. Before we start this morning, I'd like to complete an acknowledgement of country, pay my respects to the Elders past, present, and future. Today, we are all meeting on Ngunnawal land. I finally thawed out this morning so I did fly in from Brisbane, so thank you, I hope you all enjoy the time this morning and sorry, I'd also like to acknowledge everyone here and participating and watching as well. So thank you.


Mathew SMORHUN: Thank you, Jack, appreciate it. Now I've got a job to take this mic out whilst I'm speaking, because otherwise we get a little bit of a loop that returns itself back. So what I might do very quickly, I might introduce our panel that we are going to have a conversation with today and then I'll invite our Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, Harinder Sidhu up to make some opening comments. So over to my left, we have Nick Buenen, who is the National Indigenous Corporate Affairs Manager for Baidam Solutions. Thanks for joining us today Nick and you also flew down from Brisbane so thank you for making the time. Professor Elanor Huntington, the Dean of the College of Engineering Computer Science at ANU [Australian National University], thanks for joining us Elanor, appreciate it. And also Janice Law, General Manager, Transformation Program, Enterprise Portfolio Management Office at Services Australia and understand made the trip about thirty five metres from Sydney Avenue. Thanks all for joining, really appreciate it, we'll get into some questions and a bit of a dialogue. But I will hand over now to Harinder to make some opening comments.


Harinder SIDHU: Thank you, thank you, Matt. And thank you, Jack. It's I hope you're not too much in shock with coming into Canberra from Brisbane. I always worry about people who do that kind of climate change in such a rapid way. Nick Buenen, Professor Huntington, Janice Law, can I say what a pleasure it is to have you come along today. I want to thank you all on my behalf as well for giving up the time to come today. I just think this is such an exciting, it's such an important topic to talk about. It's one that I have been passionate about. I'm a frustrated scientist engineer type and so I just find this really fascinating and it's something that we've long known, which is a real challenge we have to get more girls into STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] more girls into ICT to actually break the stereotype that that is in fact, a boys club. And I think having events like this are going to be very important in putting that together.

Speaking as the Chief Operating Officer for DFAT, you know, I just want to kind of establish where we are on gender equality. It's now I would say embedded and a central part of the way we look at our staff and how we actually prioritize ourself. We were one of the first public service agencies to put in place a comprehensive women in leadership strategy with clear targets particularly at the leadership level, to get women up to the senior leadership level. So we set the target in 2015 2014 2015, to reach by 2020, 40 percent of our SES band two officers to be women and 43 per cent of SES band one officers to be women. And I have to say, December last year, we had definitely met the SES band one 43 percent target, and we have busted the band two target we have got up to 50 per cent and that is phenomenal impact in a space of five years. It's quite dramatic. It shows what you can do if you put your mind to it if you pay attention to the gender ratios in an organisation. So that's really been a terrific element. However, all those numbers actually do hide, kind of inconsistencies inside the department. So it's not the case that right across the department we have that situation. However, can I just say we have two phenomenal female leaders in the Information Management and Technology Division in Magda Gibbons and Nicole Ozimek. And many, many women and of Jo Stevens, sorry, and I forgot you. We’re very, very fortunate to have so much talent there, which only goes to show that women in leadership in this area is really important.

Building an inclusive and diverse STEM workforce is not just important for DFAT, it's also important for Australia, because this is the way the world's economy is going to go. This is why leaders in government, in business, industry in education need to collaborate and to drive change in our systems, in our institutions, in our workplaces, to encourage and to enable more girls and more women to pursue STEM studies and careers. And, like the rest of the national conversation that is underway about gender equality, this is not just a women's issue. This is actually about capability. It's about saying we shouldn't fish from a small pond, we should actually go as wide as we can, and get talent from as many sources as we can. And so if you really looking at it, you know, just as a business proposition, but also from a point of view of logic, it makes absolute sense to look at this discrepancy and find ways to adjust it.


Harinder SIDHU: DFAT also runs a very big international development program. And so, you know, in our international development program, we actually do look very seriously at gender equality more generally. And one of the things we've noticed around the world is the huge impact that COVID has had on education for girls and women around the region, particularly in East Asia and the Pacific. We've seen that 20 per cent of girls, 40 million girls were unable to access remote learning to continue their education, during school closures. 1.2 million of those girls are now at risk of dropping out of school entirely.

Across the Asia Pacific, we know that digital technologies can give women a leg up but also, we also know that they don't have as much access to digital technology as men do. We know that there is a profound economic impact if we accelerate progress towards gender equality in all aspects. And there's lots of data that gets bounced around about the impacts on GDP. McKinsey estimates that the region's economies could increase their collective GDP by $4.5 trillion a year by 2025 just by closing that gender gap. Now, technology can't solve all these challenges that girls and women face and you know, there can, there can be risks but it can actually take us towards improving the outcomes for women and girls.

And so rather than looking at it as an insurmountable challenge, what we really need to do is to consider the use of technology, the education of girls, the empowerment of girls and women in this area as an important pathway to not just improving their lives, but to improving the lives of their societies and their economies as a whole. So I am can I just say utterly delighted that we have this great set of leaders across the education sector, the government sector and business sector who have come together today to give us all those diverse perspectives for today's panel event. I'm genuinely looking forward to learning from you. And I'm looking forward to listening and hopefully, the things we take out of this conversation will take us just that one step closer to improving the access and the participation of girls in ICT. Thank you very much.


Mathew SMORHUN: Thank you Harinder, appreciate those comments. What we'll do now I’ll just do a little bit of housekeeping and then we'll get into some questions. Hopefully I get the chance to make a few comments about IMD [Information Management and Technology Division]. Remiss of me also to not introduce myself acknowledging I have only been in DFAT for a few months now but my name is Mathew Smorhun, I'm the Chief Information Officer. I will make some comments about what we are doing in IMD around our gender, gender agenda. But certainly, I think we've done some amazing stuff that quite proud of coming into the role.

Housekeeping, so evacuation wise if you hear an alarm, hopefully not, we only have an hour today but if we hear an alarm, we need to evacuate. Please follow staff out into the main foyer area, and assembly point, it’s a nice day in Canberra, near the near the Church out out here to our left. Secondly, if you're a visitor here in person, and sorry to those dialing in, please be mindful if you could be escorted, particularly when going to the bathroom or if you need to leave the auditorium for any reason. After the event this morning, we have refreshments arranged just around the corner, coffee, tea and a bite to eat as well. And if you need the bathroom, just out to the main entrance and on each level of the building. Okay, housekeeping covered.

Thank you for the remarks Harinder, I think certainly before we get into a few questions, certainly coming into DFAT, an amazing experience for me in terms of the gender diversity, certainly that I've experienced. I've grown up in national security in Defence and more recently in Home Affairs where there is a real imbalance in a number of those areas and we know in Defence, it's a real challenge for them. Certainly, what DFAT has done over the last five years has been incredible in the space and I think we're genuinely seeing the fruits of that effort. And it does require effort and there's been a genuine shift, a genuine leadership drive to change that dynamic and change that balance. Within IMD [Information Management and Technology Division] you know, I was not surprised but almost it was encouraging to see that we'd set targets, we genuinely set targets and and we'd gone about meeting those targets at all levels. And our our recent senior executive recruitment round has further driven us towards those targets. So you know, some of those things that are really refreshing to see and it is certainly something that we want to, we want to keep going with. We've got Nick and Jack here from Baidam Solutions, we spend a lot of time in IMD engaging with industry that are really supporting both our our our cause for supporting the indigenous community but also for women and girls in ICT. They're supporting and encouraging girls and women to take up traineeships and the like in those sectors as well and it's really encouraging to see that that type of stuff. I'll stop, because otherwise, I'll just keep going on a big, big long list of things that I'm quite proud of in this space in IMD.

And we'll start with some questions for our panel if that's okay. Now we have a question each. Certainly, as we get through them, we'll have a little bit of time from questions from the floor. And certainly if you feel very strongly about each other's questions, feel free to also add comment, but if it's okay, we might start with you Professor Huntington. And first question, why is bridging the gender gap in ICT important, from your perspective? What are your observations on what has changed in the last decade? And what more needs to be done?


Elanor HUNTINGTON: Well, thank you very much for the question and I’ve I've been I was listening to your opening comments, and I was trying to figure out how I would frame my answer around some of the points that you touched on. And I guess there are multiple ways to talk about why is bridging the gender gap in ICT so important. I mean, there's the obvious one around, it's reasonably well known now that the more diverse a team you have, the better quality the solutions that that team will come up with. That's always an important thing.

In terms of ICT in particular, we know that Australia has a massive workforce shortage. And it turns out that the number of Australian students who are enrolling in the kinds of university and TAFE qualifications that would allow them to join the workforce, as a skilled young adult, have plateaued for the last more than a decade. So I think it's fair to say that we have tapped out our traditional market in terms of if you will, forgive me, urban, young, middle class white boys, and we need to go wider than that. So so just in terms of filling the workforce gap we have to do we have to go looking further. And then of course, there is a much more human centered view, which is that ICT is now so deeply embedded in our daily lives. It is a key part of the world in which we live.

Most of us who were not from this, the parliamentary triangle will have found a way to this building using our telephone. And some of us are feeling anxious because we're separated from our telephone. People with ICT skills are making the world in which we live. And so the question is, are we making the kind of world that we want to live in. So the more the more voices that we have engaged in that discourse, and engaged in making the world around us, the better it will be for those of us who want to live in that world. So there's there’s three thought starters out there. What's changed in the last decade? So my observation, I should say, I've been at the ANU now for six years, I've been in significant academic leadership roles that cover ICT for a tick over a decade now. My observation is that the discourse in Australia is somewhere between ten and fifteen years behind that of the UK and the USA.

When I first took on the Dean role at the ANU we were still having debate about whether or not gender was an important thing to talk about. That problem was, that conversation was settled in the UK and the USA 10 years ago, and they had moved on to having discourse or having conversations about whether or not they were going to focus on generalizing that beyond gender as a measure of diversity. So in the time that I have been involved in these conversations, the question as to whether or not gender as a thing we need to be talking about has largely been resolved that we are now into talking about the how and some of the more refined details. And my continued hope is that the conversation in Australia can leap frog forward a little bit now to get to more conversations around diversity in all its dimensions, because you know, I'm incredibly honored to be sitting on a stage with somebody who represents Australia's first nations in ICT. There are so many other important things that Australia can learn from those, the oldest living continuously alive culture in the world. And that's not just about pretending that that skill set stopped 200 years ago. So there's there’s there’s a range of ways in which the discourse has shifted. And certainly in the places where we are starting to talk now is as much around inclusion as it is about diversity, because there are lots of studies that show that women leave these these careers in these professions at rates somewhere between two and three times of the rate that men leave. So there's that side of things. And there's so much more to be done, around particularly around inclusion, and to mature the discussion and honestly to come to be at peace with the idea that this is not a linear, single forward progression, there are one moves forward, and then there is regression sometimes and it can be hard and disappointing, and actually personally hurtful for the people who are involved in that and it's important to acknowledge that.


Mathew SMORHUN: One thing, and certainly will throw to the panel for any observations on that on those points. One thing that strikes me, we get the opportunity to see this in our workplaces and organizations, I get to see it, I've got young children, so I get to see it from the growing up and the education system as well. And be interested in your comments. You mentioned the exit rate. You know, I know sitting down with my daughter trying to learn the you know, the coding homework, which I you know, I couldn't understand. And my wife says to me, I thought you're an IT person. But but you know, it's interesting that the schools are having a good go of it. And it seems as though, you know, they've got students really engaged in STEM from a young age, but somewhere we're still missing and still, still coming off.


Elanor HUNTINGTON: Indeed, and before I comment with any of my co panelists like to engage or join in the conversation.


Janice LAW: Yeah, I might just reflect a little bit about the fact that there are there are stats out there at the moment that we know, we will have a shortage of females in the ICT pipeline fairly soon, you know, in the next decade. And that's a fact. So I think, you know, the comment around how do we make those roles a little bit more attractive for women in ICT is a is not so much about having the roles available, but making them tailored, and actually, you know, fit for women to actually be interested in those roles.

And in terms of pipeline, you know, it's about looking at the competition and how the competition is addressing the same pipeline because we know we're all resource contentious in terms of trying to find the same skilled resources in a very small industry. So when I think of pipeline I think of we've got to start way earlier. You know, Matt spoke about his daughter. I've also got a young daughter who is currently in kindergarten, but starting at early learning, rather than later on in primary or secondary school is where we've got to start. So at the moment at kindergarten, she goes to school three times a week really early. So it's a bit it's a bit rough for me, because I'm not a morning person. But she does Lego robotics, she does coding, she does science. And she's playing right alongside little girls and boys, and there is nothing gender related about how that is done.

And I think there is a bit of a responsibility for us to promote that, that it's not a gender thing and to foster that interest, but also for the education systems to not make it a gender thing later on, when we start flagging, I guess, you know, which roles are for who. The other thought I might just quickly share is that I agree, in the sense that for big tech companies, whether we like it or not the big ICT roles do tend to, you know, be tailored for the the males in the industry, or the introverts in the industry. And it's not necessarily tailored for, I guess, you know, the diversity that we all represent.

I have a psychology degree and somehow, you know, I'm still in the ICT industry. And I think that's as much me trying to to push my way into there. And but but perhaps more work needs to be done about making sure that it takes a village for us to actually make sure that we've got a representative workforce and looking at team construct, and all of the diverse skills needed to enable the best outcome is something that we can focus on. But I think that very still stereotypical view of who works in ICT is something that still needs to be addressed.


Nick BUENEN: Thank you, Elanor, for your acknowledgement of our culture. I’ll I’ll speak in terms of that in a moment, but just to your point about the children, Janice and Matt, I said to my daughter, who's 18 incredibly intelligent, capable, emotionally intelligent love her to death, would you be interested in a in a career in ICT? And she was Yeah. Nah. What I said to my son who's 14, then they're very, very similar as like, yeah, yeah. And that's, it's definitely something we need to change, because there's an incredible amount of opportunity within ICT and cyber.

And as we know, it's the it’s the life shaping activities that happen within that, that we would like to have our children engage with. Speaking to Elanor, prior to coming in, I've always had a naive opinion that perhaps things for indigenous people are on the improve from when I was born. And somehow there's a linear line on an XY graph that things are getting better. Elanor raised the high point for IT engagement for women was 1984. And it's like, What? haven't we improved since then? what's happened since then? And of course, there's reasons anthropological reasons, marketing reasons, worldview, it's a whole range.

But it's a shock for me to think that when I was that age, that was our high point, and it's gone down the XY graph has, has gone up and collapsed. And this, part of this, what we're doing here today is trying to change those that XY graph and get it moving in the right direction. So what's happening today, of course, is vitally important. And we know from an indigenous perspective that every conversation is important. That's the only way to move forward so this forum is fantastic. And I know, hopefully, there's greater outcomes about it. But the thought leadership here should be enough to influence things and start something happening.


Mathew SMORHUN: We might move on to next question. And this one's for you, Janice, this is a given that you've come from out, so we have a lot of DFAT people who have come from outside DFAT, give us a perspective from a different agency. And one thing that certainly Harinder has said to her leadership team is that Australia's a very diverse country, and we should look like who we represent. With that in mind, and why is why is it so important in the ICT sector for diversity? And what's your organisation doing to respond to some of the opportunities and challenges particularly in a technology space when it comes to women and ICT?


Janice LAW: Thank you. Thank you so much, Matt. Given there are a couple of questions for me to address I did write some notes and I think, you know, being that very stereotypical ICT person, I'm also an introvert so public speaking isn't my thing. I'll just put that out there. But, but certainly, I've got some thoughts to share so thank you for the opportunity. So I first kind of thought a little bit about the theme of the discussion that we're having today, which is expand horizons and change attitudes. And then I thought about you know, recently there's been a bit of a focus on women, young and older who are pushing barriers and and grabbing our attention. When you look at the Australian of the Year Grace Tame and even the ex head of well, now the ex head of Australia Post, Christine Holgate, all in their own way have demonstrated and shown strength and courage in the face of significant pressure.

And I did a bit of research on the day as well and I was really surprised to find out that, you know, until 1966, in the public service, women who married were forced to resign. So if you were in the APS 55 years ago, and you went and got married, you would not be here today. And I'm sure a number of you probably know some of these women. So by overcoming resistance from their own union women won the right to remain unemployed, well, sorry, won the right to remain employed after marriage. And when you think about it like that they won the right to stay in the workplace, on a personal level, I'm offended. So that's recent, that is in our living memory. And you know, that shows how much you know, we've got to still come through and I think, you know, echoing your comments, Nick, as well about just being so surprised that how far we've moved or not. And then I guess, you know, in 2018, the theme of NAIDOC week was because of her we can, really celebrating the older generations of you know, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have made and the contributions they have made to indigenous communities. And I'd love that because it was all about addressing the the the really strong women and girls paving that pathway for us today and a celebration and recognition of that.

So yeah, so I guess, you know, real admiration for that, I guess, piece of research I did in preparing for the day. But in all of those cases, women together changed the attitudes across our Australian community, and expanded our horizons and made today's discussion possible. So I thought about the APS more broadly cause, you know, I'm, I guess, the public sector representative as well over and above you, Matt for this particular panel so I thought, you know, here's a plug for the public service, because you know, we are all here as well. And I think it's important to still remember that the APS is a model employer, we model what we promote, and we do promote equality. Across the board, 60 per cent of the APS are currently women so we are already in the majority. But in the technology industry, and despite amazing targets that have been met. We we know that more broadly, it hasn't been a great champion of women, although that is starting to change.

In talking to my ICT colleagues at Services Australia preparing for the discussion today, one of those ICT colleagues worked previously at ANZ and looked at pipeline attraction at multiple age points. One of them was a Return to Work program for women returning to the workplace from either long leave, or maternity leave. And for a really low upfront marketing investment cost, they introduced a pilot program, this is a number of years ago now, but a yielded thousands of applicants that came through. So this is about recognizing that at multiple age points, rather than just in the early years or in the school years, we need to make sure that we are looking at attraction and retention attraction programs later on because often more times than not, we start in our careers with men, but we drop off at that ten year mark as we want to start a family and what have you so how did they come back.

So targeting that particular demographic, if you will, and on a Return to Work program, they found that out of thousands of applications, they weren't at an entry level, they had skills. And they didn't need to be re skilled, what they needed was a bit of an induction program, what's changed in their environment since they left and they were able to hit the ground running and that pilot has now gone global and not only to lift the female pipeline targets for for ANZ, what its also gone and done is found that a lot of those participants in the pilot have stayed, they are more hard working, they are more loyal and the gratitude that they show not that they should have to is quite amazing and an for very little investment and and in costs so we can do better there.


Janice LAW: And that's just one example of career lifecycle management for women in ICT, we just really cannot focus on just the early years and then not think about that lifecycle more broadly. So why I think one of the questions that was asked was why are representative workforces so important for the ICT sector? Well, I think that diversity in any sector is super important. But for the ICT sector, again, it's not just that you know, one or two skill sets that enable a representative workforce. The saying that it does take a village is critical to successful ICT.

We need more than just the technologists in ICT, we need the designers, the architects, the communicators, the change managers, business improvement, broader skill sets. And as I mentioned before, I'm not particularly technical. I think when we really need to go back to the premise of this is about represent representative workforces and that means that's representing the community that we are.

So more specifically, what are we doing to get more women into ICT? I'll start with the broader APS because we're all part of that wider organization and and that really sets the tone. I'm not sure if all of you are aware, but last year, the APS commission launched the digital professional stream as part of the wider professional stream. The aim here is to lift the digital expertise of the APS workforce to meet long term capability needs to transform government services. And it's for everybody.

Our Services Australia CIO, Michael McNamara was part of the reference script that developed this strategy and committed to it recognizing the need to start investing in ICT and in broadening the available workforce. Also, at Services Australia, and I'm quite excited about this, our corporate comms area is about to launch an initiative to highlight our women in ICT and have us engage externally to start attracting more women into ICT into our ranks. So super exciting. So these are just a couple of the examples of what we're trying to do. But on reflection at Services Australia, you do see women in leadership, our CEO, Rebecca Skinner, has been in the APS leadership for a really long time and many of my colleagues at Services Australia are women. So on a personal front, I would characterize the environment as welcoming and accepting of women in leadership and ICT. But I know that that is not the norm.


Janice LAW: Maybe before I close, I did want to leave with a final thought, which is over and above the systems in place, and over and above the organization's and the targets and everything that is currently being done. We as individuals also have a role to play, we're responsible for our careers, the APS can be open and offer a broad range of opportunities, but our drive and our engagement are critical components to that success. And some of you will cringe when I say this, I cringe as well but networking, whether you like it or not, is actually important. And it can be absolutely hard for for us that are introverts.

For for me, networking doesn't mean forcing yourself to go to networking events and then you know, being awkward trying to talk to people so that you can tick that box. I think to you know, put less pressure on all of us as individuals and those that aren't as comfortable with networking, it can be as simple as showing an interest in those around you and showing an interest in your peers.

Because often your peers are the ones that you're going to have to work with over the next five to ten years. And more times than not just by showing an interest in them will elicit them to think of you in mind when there are like minded like opportunities in mind or, or have you heard about this or and that broadens your horizons and promotes a level of broader education on what's available as well. And that doesn't need to be done other than just simply showing an interest those around you or those that are in similar fields where you can just ask an open ended question easily.

And I think the last one for me is just to take some career risks. So as Matt mentioned before, and we met in the Department of Defence in the ICT field. After 14 years in Defence, I decided to take a leap and move to Services Australia. It could not be more different to go from the national security sector to the social services portfolio. But that was my own personal challenges challenge to go outside of my comfort zone and and see a broader perspective and see what is the art of the possible. In my current role, I'm on the business side of things. And for me, that was a massive risk to go from hardcore ICT project delivery to to an area that I was unfamiliar with on the business side. Lucky for me, Services Australia is a delivery agency very focused on digital transformation and is very close to the tech. So it isn't too much of a deviation more personally and being across the, you know, public service, I'm still I'm not moving too widely, still being a member of the public service. But I think taking that risk is probably the best thing I could have done to broaden my horizons as well. So perhaps that's something for you to have a bit of a think about and reflect on as we progress the discussion. Thanks, Matt.


Mathew SMORHUN: Thank you, Janice, that that was a really good answer. And thanks for taking the time to cover all all the points are appreciated. In the interest of time we might jump to our last question, which is a bit of an industry one for Nick and then we can come back to questions from the audience and also any other comments certainly on that broad diversity in in workplaces perspective that that Janice talked about.

So, Nick, from an industry perspective, you know, we talk about ICT being a disrupter and the fact that you know, we watch alot of organizations with a lot of new capability come out of disrupting sectors. What can the ICT sector learn from this in terms of bridging the gender gap and what lessons need to be taken on board from from the private sector? And what can we think about from a public service perspective?


Nick BUENEN: Yes, sure Matt and thanks. It would be remiss of me to very quickly comment, I actually, you know, Jack is a great boss, he has the opportunity to close personal protection with VIPs. And I had the pleasure, the very great pleasure to look after Grace Tame when she was in Queensland, and she impressed me no end so if you get an opportunity to listen to what she has to say and this is not answering the question Matt but her her ethos is she's talking Kerry O'Brien, of course and, you know, it's not easy for her to always unpack what happened to her and how difficult it was and the pathways to success in her healing. And I guess that's where we're at like as an indigenous organization. We, we yesterday. And I'll answer the question in an Aboriginal way. If I may, I'll get to the point. We, we had the very great pleasure to meet Aunty Anne Martin yesterday at the ANU, a fantastic place Elanor, and they made us very, very welcome. And of course, I put this question to her. And the questions that we spoke about and before I go into my answer was, well, people need to listen. No one's listening to the market. No one's listening to each other. We're very bad at listening to each other. Of course, Miriam Rose who’s an Aboriginal lady from Arnhem Land. Of course, it's all about listening, about listening to each other a bit listening to the country. And whilst that might seem a nebulous, public sector, certainly, and certainly in business and private sector, we're not good at listening and Baidam, essentially, is stopping everyone, as a disrupter and saying listen, have you got our shared vision for what we're trying to achieve. And we're trying to achieve a greater representation of indigenous people into the ICT cyber sector. But that includes that includes women, and our alumni at the moment stands at five women and one man. And they're all remarkable stories, and they are real stories and they're people from Gayndah, Goondiwindi and Melbourne. It's very, very diverse.

So in terms of so thanks for the Grace Tame reference there, I'd encourage anyone to listen to it. She's fantastic Australian of the Year. In terms of what you mentioned about NAIDOC last year, so my grandmother is stolen generation and she she raised me so whilst I don’t particularly look very black, I’m very I am incredibly culturally competent, and an Aboriginal person. And think very in those terms and without her, I wouldn't be, so to your point, Janice is very significant.

So the disruption to improve, and I’ve got a cultural story and I think Elanor touched on it and we do we do need to listen to the past and move forward to the future, so this story was told to me by Banjo Clarke, he passed away in 2000. He was a Kirrae Warrong man, very, very influential fellow in southwest Victoria. He was almost like the Nelson Mandela of Australia, but he passed away but he was all about healing. And he told me the story about women. So he goes, Nick, you're from Maar country. Yep. And I hear you're a Buandig man. Fantastic, I got a story for you. What is it Uncle? And he told me. So the in 1838 there's a lot of colonial colonization in Victoria, South Australia, they were frontiers and they were nasty places for all concerned but it was a nasty frontier, as bad as you can imagine. The there was, for want of a better word there was a corroboree at Gariwerd where all the tribes came from that area so Kulin Nation, Wathourong, very large nations including Maar which I’m represented. Now Maar country was unique in that area because it was it was run maternally, it had been successfully run maternally for millennia. A very old Aunty, and I’ll use Banjo’s terms, very old Aunty had to make the journey from and I guess it's near, sort of Robe in South Australia, across the Gariwerd, a very long way for an elderly lady.

And they had within the corroboree that was like, well, we're going to see how it goes. Yeah, who thinks we should just see how colonization goes, we're just going to live with it. And Aunty said No. We need to disrupt this, this is bad and we really can not abide this and it's not going to be great. I can see it's not going to be great. So Kulin and Wathourong went back, respect to those people, but they said, we're going to ride it out.


Nick BUENEN: Aunty, and she had some she had some staff officers from want of a better word, we're using police term there. But she had her women around and willing, collaborative group that said, Okay, we're going to do what Aunt says. So, they upset supply lines, they they speared a lot of, of troops that the governor sent down from Melbourne. And they drew delineation lines where they said this is Aboriginal land, it won't, it's not going to, we're not going to hand it over. Now that disruption was very effective. It's called Eumeralla Wars, you're welcome to look it up. It does appear on Wikipedia, there's a lot more that can be added to that but there disruption, led by women with a clear structure and cultural connection to their leadership and their their participation in making decisions. The outcomes were, and as we know, it worked out, probably not the way they want but there was about thirty years of disruption. So pockets of that area maintain culture, pockets of that area maintain language, and we’re able to still speak some Gunditjmara, based on their protection of of their sovereign land. So I think that's just just an important story. The disruption also extends and uses another Aboriginal example but back burning, burning fires, it's disruptive. It's obviously a dynamic situation for the country that burns across the topography, but Aboriginal people managed to do that in a way that was controlled. And then that disruption meant the grass grew that this return to the trees, the kangaroos and wallabies came back into the hunting ground. So that disruption, clearly, culturally was effective.

The lessons have got to be learned, eel traps, obviously I’m from eel country, the eel trap complexes are significant. They're amazing. Sadly, they're getting dug up. I'm sure if anyone saw that, but the those complex of eel traps are an indication of effective disruption. So I just thought that was important to raise that cultural, culture aspects.

So the reason and I know we should, we'll run out of time. But the reason in cybersecurity and from a business perspective, Matt, we have enormous amount of malicious threats coming in, the Australia is under attack. It sounds dramatic, and it sounds somewhat trite, or maybe it's the front page of the newspaper, but the reality is there's there is constant cyber attacks into government into and into the private sector. And our job as cyber security is to protect, obviously, people, information and assets. We don't hear about half the things that happened. And yeah, that people have to declare it. And there's fines if they don't, and that sort of thing but for some strange reason it doesn't make the news. So suffice to say, there is an ongoing war, why we need diversity within that war is because the people attacking us are from a diverse space.

So you know, I'm not going these are some of the key places and we know, North Africa, Russia, the States, China, these people have a set up to attack, to disrupt and so our workforce needs to sorry, everyone in the industry needs to reflect that.

So that's why we need diversity of thought. That's why we need collaboration. That's why we need I love what you said about when women going back into the workforce and that because they are the all those challenges of raising your family or managing relationships and all those things, they equip people and I know for a fact that when I was in the police force, another quick story very quickly Matt because learn from history, that when I got promoted into, so I was, so very sadly, I was the highest ranking indigenous person in Victoria Police, which is an indictment on the organization. To be fair, I was too white for the recruiting posters. I was at they used me to go and face down some pretty hostile country in recruiting people to the organization. So possibly, nowadays I would have maybe, you know, said now this is how it works and perhaps you shouldn't say I’m too white.


Nick BUENEN: The there was a it's an interesting story reflective on the power of women within organizations. There was a nightshift that other male Sergeants didn't want to do, because there was a station of forty seven Sergeants, all men and I went into that. No one wanted to do the nightshift with these three women who chose to work together for ten days straight. And I always wondered why. And I thought, are they sexist, maybe they're incompetent, I don't know. So as the new Sergeant I was rostered on and then I realized why these lazy police didn't want to work because these girls went out and worked. They put their kids to bed, put dinner on the table and then it was like they came to work to be free.

But they came in because they are so empowered, of what they'd done. They've done everything they could, and they still had energy, much more energy than anyone else. And these three girls worked in such collaboration together and actually, in so statistically, they are very, very, very, very strong. And it was always looking the Inspectors like there's a big spike in activity. And they had read the police strategic plan, they’d read the five-year plan. They understood policies, they empower themselves with how the legislation worked. And it was it was why aren’t we all working that way. And so it was my great pleasure to work with them and just let them do their thing. Because because they were so empowered, and they enjoyed what they are doing.

Now, cyber security and the IT sector is really enjoyable. And when we love what I do, we love what we do and that's certainly our ethos at Baidam. And very quickly what we're doing Matt, at Baidam, and it's  not a play, but it's a reflection of of our social impact commerce is that we are working with QATSIF [Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Foundation] and working with universities and reaching out culturally to vasity leadership. We've we’ve reached out to Deakin recently because of their program, so they’ve got a commitment to indigenous education and digital footprint, you know, both those things. And from that we are creating those relationships, but we have we're finding as aspirational, girls, women, sorry, that's sort of an age thing. Women who are coming to us from country towns, have expressed their interest to QATSIF who are they control Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wages in Queensland, it's an interesting organization. This essentially helps fund and facilitate through collaboration and pathways for indigenous people and business. And we're finding these people are incredibly capable. And, you know, come and talk to me about it our case, our case studies, because they've come they’ve made the quantum leap and have gone to Brisbane on a $58,000 job sitting as a receptionist have gone no, there's something better here. I'm gonna I’m going to examine the sector and we're saying, okay, you're an indigenous person, indigenous woman, we know that you can make a difference in this sector. Because you're aspirational, you're intelligent, you're interested, and the and the skills can come. But they very, very much are thirsty to engage this sector.

And and so we're finding that diverse workforce and I've studied, when I was with education in New South Wales, I studied that there was pedagogies of learning and it’s a funny word I have always found, there’s, Elanor agrees with me, it is a funny word, pedagogies of learning that were good for Aboriginal people. So Aboriginal people think a certain way. Certainly, women think a different way, they like to work collaboratively, they like to solve problems, and they're happy to work together as a team and less likely to sort of say, well that was my part. And that's why we need them in the ICT sector, we certainly need them in cyber security, to combat the diversity of threat. And as I say, I'll just go back to Aunty Anne, we need to we need to listen, when we're listening for these people to come to us so that we can help them, and we can help them significantly. And yeah, thanks, thanks so much.


Mathew SMORHUN: Thanks thanks for sharing, that was that was really quite impressive. I've got a note here that says 1155 we have to wrap this up. I'm very conscious that we might potentially have a question or two from the audience so I might allow one, and then we will do a round of thank you’s for the effort that's gone into the day and also for our panelists. I won't give it long though so unless I see a hand.


Brigitta NORTON: Yeah, hi, I’m Bri.


Mathew SMORHUN: Oh, just if we just wait for the mic only because it's recorded.


Brigitta NORTON: Yeah. Hi. It's Bri from Synergy Group and we have a a very strong ethos around diversity, especially with gender, but also with a lot of the other diversity out there. And we'd like to know it's a tough one, because some of it you can actually measure some of it you can't, especially around people with disabilities that might not want to say that they have a disability. How do you manage that kind of diversity and understanding to make sure that you have a diverse workforce?


Nick BUENEN: So the question was around disabilities?


Brigitta NORTON: Or any other diversity.


Nick BUENEN: Oh, sure.

Brigitta NORTON: That you can’t measure.


Nick BUENEN: Yeah, we have part of our alumni was we bought an indigenous, I'm not saying this, this will answer the question, but we, we have an indigenous man who's an Order of Australia. He was part of the London Paralympics 2012 team, so he came to us. And I guess we, you know, we're trying to work with public health networks and NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] and all those agencies, and they asked us about our diversity. And I guess we, we looked at the fact that we had bought Cody on is a quadriplegic, sorry, paraplegic is, and he, his story is typically an indigenous story. So he essentially fell off the back of a ute, you know, when that was, you know, drinking and being in being in the bush when he was back home on country. So we’ve we've given him an opportunity based on his capabilities, because he's a very driven sort of fellow. So you know, we working with local PHN [public health networks] and the NDIS. Always looking to increase our diversity through that space. So while we are an indigenous organization, our our heart is in the shared values of the greater good. And so with Cody having that job and now he is part of our alumni, it's making a significant difference in a guy who one, is a paraplegic two, has finished his career in sport, and he's got nowhere to go. So you know, on an that individual basis, we’ve we've done something for significant and significant for his family, not trying to get into Aunty Anne’s good books, because he's his nephew but that's the nature indigenous communities all networked through. But so we're not solely, if there's a person with a disability who comes to us, we would very much like to engage them in our alumni if they have those aspirations. We're small and agile enough to make those decisions with our policy. That's just my snippet from Baidam.


Mathew SMORHUN: Sorry, we do have to wrap it up. To our panelists a big round of applause, please, Nick, Elanor and Janice, thank you so much for carrying this important conversation and coming here today for an hour really appreciate it.


Mathew SMORHUN: Just before we just before we wrap up formally, big thanks to my team. None of this is ever possible, unless all of the work behind the scenes that goes into putting the day like this together. So huge, big thanks to Magda and the team, Kim and I know Milisa, you're dialed in from Bali, in that, that same room that I see you in most days that when you dial into WebEx, so thank you so much for all the effort that has gone into this and the work that that drives these conversation. Really appreciate it.


Mathew SMORHUN: And lastly, thanks everyone for coming here in person today. And for those that have have managed to dial in online and and hopefully we also have a recording of the of the presentation discussion today that people can listen to later. Thanks all.

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