Jennifer Rutherford is on a mission to diversify the tech industry

Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week Simon talks to Jennifer Rutherford from the Hi-Tech Trust about how they’re diversifying the tech industry. 

When you think about awards ceremonies for traditionally male dominated industries like tech and business, diversity is not the first thing that jumps to mind. These awards have long been the nights to celebrate the people that made it under the old rules, and so have  showcase a lot of successful old blokes. But one prominent event, the NZ Hi-Tech Awards, has made it its mission to fast forward the process of change by making diversity the focus of its awards for this year. It’s pushed forward a conversation many industries need to have, and got conversations and initiatives started all around the country, working with the excellent Ally Skills team to help companies learn practical steps to take, and in a step perfect for the tech industry, they even provide a toolkit. The chair of the Hi-tech Trust, Jennifer Rutherford, is emblematic of and driving this change. With a career in corporate management and industry governance she took over as chair this year.

Either download (right click to save), have a listen below or via Spotifysubscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

Tell me about some of the practical things you’ve got in terms of this year’s Hi-Tech Awards.

One of the things we’re attempting to do this year is making sure that our own internal processes are allowing diversity. This comes down to simple things such as the make up of our trustees, the people we get opinions from, and how we shake our thinking to make sure that internally we’re getting diversity of ideas.

We’re encouraging the organisations that we work with and our key sponsors to say how can we as a group provide some tools and leadership and guidance to others in the industry or to really take a look at ourselves as a group of key sponsors to make sure that we’re leading and really shaping change.

Within our awards process we’ve put some small things in place to try and encourage people, for example the nominate process, quite often from a gender perspective or some cultures, they won’t put their own hand up for an award but if someone nominates them that is quite different. We have seen a change this year in the number of people using that nomination process, and therefore people being included in the awards that would not have otherwise done so.

That’s really interesting, as with your own journey you didn’t actually put your hand up, but were brought in.

That’s exactly right. It’s a small thing, a simple thing, but it can make a really big difference.

The people who judge and decide who the winners are have a massive influence on what happens and how we represent our finalists. We have a judging convener and she spends a lot of time looking at the make up of our judges, the education of our judges, trying to make sure that the process of judging provides no sort of discrimination. This year we have included a weighted question in most of the awards for people to tell us about their diversity and inclusion story, what they’re doing as an organisation.

We’re trying to say you don’t have to be perfect, but you need to tell us what you’re doing to ensure that you’re role modelling, that you’re trying to include diversity in your business. That will make a difference in terms of the people who make it through to the podium on the night.

What’s the reaction been to that?

It’s been difficult and their are some people who aren’t happy with how far we’ve gone, but the fact that every single person who’s entered the awards has had to answer that question and had to think about it and implement change, I’m really proud of that. It’s going to make a difference.

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