Dell MD: ​Diverse, inclusive workplaces deliver stronger business results

Dell kicked off its first inclusion initiative in 2005 and 11 years on, the company's ANZ managing director says it's crucial for young women to keep the diversity dialogue open.

When it comes to promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, Angela Fox, managing director for Dell Australia and New Zealand, has said it is everyone's responsibility to encourage change.

Speaking about engaging more women in IT-related fields, Fox said it is important to keep the dialogue open, because the challenge lies with how to drive real outcomes.

"I think that can be as simple as the education of the people that are influencing those girls' choices," she said.

"Strong role models, healthy role models -- they don't all have to be female -- I think it's somebody that's advocating, and somebody that's got that person's best interests at heart."

To Fox, it is about providing choice and opening people's minds to the possibilities, noting that this should extend beyond school-age girls.

"If you think about our industry, it's a really diverse breadth of career options. You can come in and be a lawyer, a chief operating officer, a chief financial officer -- there are so many career options within the IT sector."

Earlier this month, Dell kicked off a new US-wide partnership with Girls Who Code, a non-profit organisation dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology, providing a $400,000 cash donation to support after-school computer science educational programs for an estimated 15,000 girls in underserved communities across the country.

In 2005, Dell became first in the IT industry to implement the Men Advocating for Real Change (MARC) Leaders pilot program, aimed at engaging men in championing the necessary changes in the workplace to create a more inclusive work environment for women.

MARC started at the top, with Michael Dell and his executive leadership team initially rolling out the program. It has now been rolled out to senior Dell leadership globally, and is forming a key part of the overall cultural change required to support the tech giant's diversity and inclusion strategy.

"The program is very simple, very effective, and really an education in the whole unconscious bias -- it's about making men in particular consciously aware of their unconscious bias," Fox said.

"That's a hugely valuable program ... it's about making it a balanced discussion.

"I think that having strong male role models, having men in general in the workforce advocating on behalf of women makes it clear that it's not just a female agenda."

Fox said there are many facts to support the notion that a diverse and inclusive workplace delivers better and stronger business results, and it is not just numbers for numbers' sake.

"There is value in having diversity around the table. And that's diversity in many forms, because you just get that different perspective and therefore added value to the business," she added.

A large number of Dell EMC customers are female, and a large amount of the company's consumer buyers are also female. Fox said that as the buying power of women globally is significant, businesses should make sure they are tapping into that market.

"It needs to be on the agenda because there's still a disproportionate representation relative to the general population," Fox added.

"Why do any of us have a diversity and inclusion agenda? Because these people are coming to work and feeling like a minority. People [across various minority groups] are feeling underrepresented or unable to find their voice in the workplace."

She said employers can harness the true benefit of a staff member who feels their voice can be rightly heard.

Earlier this year, the Australian Office of the Chief Scientist released a report that found as of 2011, there were 2.3 million people in Australia -- approximately 10 percent of the population -- with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy, and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates.

As well as the gender imbalance in some STEM fields was the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields, with the report highlighting that the differences could not be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.

In December, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a AU$13 million initiative to boost the participation of girls and women in both STEM education and STEM-based careers.

According to the government, 55 percent of STEM graduates are female, but only one in four IT graduates and one in 10 engineering graduates are women.

The government also said women occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions at universities and research institutions in the country, and account for approximately one quarter of the overall STEM workforce.

"We want to be a national culture of innovation, of risk takers, because as we do that, we grow the whole ecosystem of innovation right across the economy," Turnbull said previously. "As we become more experienced, more innovative, more agile, and more prepared to take on risks we become a culture of ideas because it is the ideas boom which will secure our prosperity in the future."

Dell recently published its Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index, which showed Sydney was the eighth best city globally for its ability to attract and support female entrepreneurs. It was the only Australian capital city to make the list.

Disclosure: Asha McLean travelled to Dell EMC World as a guest of Dell.

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