When Microsoft Australia and New Zealand chief partner officer Rachel Bondi returned to Australia from the United States, where she worked at the vendor’s HQ in Washington, she immediately noticed a cultural contrast between the two branches of the business.
“I returned to Australia back in 2016 and I was excited to be coming back after nearly two decades in the US, but my first observation coming back was that it definitely felt different to being in the US compared to here,” Bondi told ARN.
“I did feel like I was the only female in the meeting. And the experience of the meeting was different. I was questioning what I had walked back into."
“I started looking for other women who I thought were achieving great things. The more I was having the conversation the more I made other men and women think about the problem more,” she added.
Bondi held the role of Skype and Microsoft 365 consumer innovation integrated market general manager for her final one-and-a-half years in Redmond, at Microsoft’s global headquarters. While there, Bondi came to accept a certain percentage of women in various functional areas within the company, particularly in marketing and product.
Back in the local market, Bondi recognised that the community of women in such roles simply wasn’t as large as in the US.
“Some of the functional areas here weren't as well represented here as there,” Bondi said. “It felt a bit blokey.”
Bondi’s comments don’t seem to be a condemnation of men in the local IT industry across Australia and New Zealand, but rather a call to arms for the industry to shake up a cultural status quo that appears to have become an anachronism on the world stage.
To this end, Bondi is making strides to right an imbalance she sees in the A/NZ market and get more women playing on an even footing with men in the local tech industry. In these pursuits, Bondi has been backed by her employer.
A first step is getting people talking about gender equality, especially men.
With this goal in mind, Microsoft held a so-called ‘Stand Up’ event on 27 October, designed to bring the issue of gender inequality to the fore and review progress made by the Microsoft Partner Male Champions of Change Group.
Established in 2020, the group includes CEOs or managing directors of several Microsoft partners as the foundation members, including Ingram Micro, Empired, Data#3, Dicker Data, Synnex, Datacom, Logicalis and, of course, Microsoft.
The members represent some of the largest organisations in Microsoft’s partner ecosystem and, combined, they employ well over 10,000 people.
It is claimed that, over the past 18 months, 90 per cent of group members have developed specific gender equality strategies and action plans and 75 per cent of them have reviewed their sexual harassment policies, education and reporting strengthening the internal support for employees.
Bondi is co-convenor of the group, along with Elizabeth Broderick, former Australian sex discrimination commissioner – among a litany of other positions of note, many of which have been aimed at addressing human rights and gender equality.
Broderick spoke at the half-day Stand Up event, as did former Australian politician Kate Ellis, with all Microsoft staff in Australia and New Zealand, as well as 5,000 people from the partner community, invited to tune in and participate.
“Stand Up was designed to explore the lived experience of people who identify as women in the workplace and consider the steps we can all take to advance equity and create more inclusive workplace cultures,” Bondi said in a blog post discussing the event.
“It was about allyship and the idea of how we can all play a role as an 'upstander,' rather than a bystander. All of us have something in common, the desire to have cultures and workplaces that are healthy, respectful, safe and inclusive."
“Following the event, our company went into team breakout groups for a more intimate conversation and to create a safe space for sharing. I joined a group, and I wanted to share just how personally struck I was especially hearing the stories of women being oppressed, exhausted and broken,” Bondi added.
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