Gender diversity at all costs: Microsoft Australia MD

Microsoft Australia has implemented a "diversity council" to ensure it attracts and retains quality female staff.

Microsoft Australia has implemented a "diversity council" to ensure it attracts and retains quality female staff.

The initiative is being led by recently-appointed managing director, Tracey Fellows, who gave a keynote speech to a sold out audience at the this week's FITT (Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications) networking event about the lengths organisations must go to attract and maintain successful women in their ranks.

Fellows was hired as director of business and marketing for the software giant in 2004. At the time, she was six months pregnant.

"Clearly they were only going to get a couple of months out of me before I wasn't going to be there for a while," she told the Sydney audience. "I would never have thought that would happen."

"Clearly Microsoft knew I was six months pregnant when I was going through the interview process. But their view was that they were hiring me for five plus years. They said, whatever happens in the next 12 months is neither here nor there if you're the right person for the organisation."

Fellows, appointed managing director of Microsoft Australia in February, said that promoting gender diversity in the workplace involves far more than monitoring the ratio of women to men in an organisation.

"At Microsoft, we also monitor attrition, because we want to monitor how many of the women we bring in stay, or if they are leaving, what causes them to leave," she said.

The diversity council has discovered that many of its female staff won't voice their frustrations or aspirations in the workplace unless prompted, Fellows said.

"Of those that were leaving, we've often found that nobody -- not their manager or their colleagues -- really knew why they were considering leaving the organisation. That's dangerous, because you don't have any warning signs."

"That could be because nobody asked, which as a management team is of concern, but I think it's also because in many cases, females can be guilty of not being clear about what they want," she said. "Or not being confident enough about themselves to share to people what they want."

Fellows said she had not voiced her own frustrations loudly enough at her former employer, IBM, which almost led her to resign from the company prematurely. At the time she had been an account manager with the same customer for nine years.

"Fortunately I had a great boss who said to me, I didn't know it meant that much to you that you wanted to do something different," she said. "We'll fix it, and we'll fix it now."

"It was all about me not being clear with the people that needed to know that I had different aspirations," she said. "I don't know how I thought they were going to help me [achieve] if I didn't tell them what I wanted."

Fellows is attempting to address this issue at Microsoft Australia by implementing a mentoring program -- not just for women with high potential, but deep into the organisation.

"I want to create an environment where people can be the best they can be," she said.