Microsoft’s plan to tackle tech’s ‘blokey’ culture

Microsoft’s plan to tackle tech’s ‘blokey’ culture

Microsoft's Rachel 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.

Rachel Bondi (Microsoft)

Rachel Bondi (Microsoft)

Credit: Microsoft

From a personal perspective, Bondi  who was a finalist in this year's ARN Women in ICT Awards (WIICTA)  noted that it was becoming increasingly clear to her, as a senior leader, that her own years of experience had created a position of power that protected her from everyday sexism.

“In my team call, I was astounded to hear those early in their career had to experience casual banter and comments about their appearance,” Bondi said. “This ‘blokey’ behaviour is something I apologise for, and we need to continue to press on our code of conduct in our teams, with our partners and with customers where we do business.

“The idea that we desensitise or depersonalise these experiences for any woman as the norm is not okay. I could feel the familiar and deep level of armour start to form over in the moments the stories were told. I now need to process that chaos with some calmness and will be checking in with those I care about.   

“This week, I was personally questioned whether Microsoft should play a role in having this conversation for the tech industry. Well, if not us, then who? We must change this. It’s particularly important for the tech sector because we are literally building the future,” she said.

On this front, Microsoft and Bondi are taking some practical steps to get more women into the IT industry.  

In addition to encouraging leaders from within Microsoft’s own ranks to get out and volunteer at educational institutions to make tech more accessible and support teachers in drumming up interest in technology, the company is undertaking something called the Microsoft ‘Returnship’ program.

The program, which is still in its early stages, is designed to get women returning to the workforce, specifically people who have had a professional career but have taken time out. In practice, the program aims to bring them back into the professional fold by taking a career path approach with them, for example focusing on cyber security or data analytics.

The program, which is expected to kick off next year, would give participants employment from day one, in partnership with tertiary education institutions, to get 100 per cent of the returning women into technology work.

From Bondi’s perspective, the simple (or not so simple) task of getting more women into tech is a top contender as a way for both Australia and New Zealand to address their respective tech skills shortages, which have been particularly severe since the pandemic saw borders close to the usual flow of international talent entering the countries.  

“We know partners, and a lot of employers in this sector are aware the traditional [career] path is changing, and partners want a more comprehensive way of looking for staffing,” Bondi said, noting that Microsoft was looking at an initial intake of 200 individuals for the Returnship program next year.

At the same time, the number of people signing up for another ongoing initiative, the ‘Women Rising supported by Microsoft’ program, is falling dramatically short of where it needs it to be, according to Bondi.  

The six-month program is fully virtual, allowing women to attend from any location and integrate their development into their schedule. It is focused on retaining, developing and advancing the women in the Australian technology sector.  

But things are looking up. This year, according to Bondi, there have been nearly 1,000 women and managers join the program, and for the March cohort, Microsoft is prepared and ready to double that number.  

“We have a lot of women leave the industry to raise children and if we can get those women, mums and grandmothers, to come back into technology, we can make a change,” Bondi said.  

“We suspect over the past two years tens of thousands of women have been displaced, or perhaps left work during the pandemic because their home life demanded it.  

“These women are the primary caregivers for families and have been forced to step down from work completely when schools and other support systems closed."    

“We have to create longer term change. We have to attract women of all ages into the industry,” she added.

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Tags MicrosoftgenderwomenRachel BondiWIICTA



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