Startups

Business leader found he was on a 'manel' so did something about it – Stuff


When Lance Wiggs found he was about to join an all-male panel at a recent High Tech Foundation alumni event he refused to take his seat.

The Punakaiki Fund director and manager did not want to be part of a “manel”, a term used to describe an all male panel, so asked the audience if there was a woman in attendance who would like to join the panel for its discussion about capital raising.

His offer was taken up by Exocule chief operating officer Shona Grundy who said she was happy to volunteer.

The High Tech Foundation had arranged for a woman to be on the panel, but she had to cancel at the last minute.

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Diversity is a long-standing problem in the tech industry, with women making up just 24% of New Zealand’s tech industry, and Māori making up less than 8%.

This is not the first time the High Tech Foundation has had an issue with all male panels.

Lance Wiggs (right) asked the audience for a woman to join the Hi Tech Foundation panel, so Shona Grundy (second from right) volunteered.

Supplied

Lance Wiggs (right) asked the audience for a woman to join the Hi Tech Foundation panel, so Shona Grundy (second from right) volunteered.

In 2018 the foundation was pulled up for having just one female speaker out of 16 in total at a series of events.

High Tech Foundation chairperson David Downs says it has learnt from its mistakes and now puts an emphasis on diversity.

“Five or six years ago we weren’t as conscious about this,” Downs says.

The tech sector has been guilty in the past of being male dominated but is now more aware of its diversity challenges, and how to address those, he says.

The alumni event had a number of other panels throughout the day which had more women than men, he says.

“There was just that one particular panel where unfortunately with Covid we had a couple of panellists drop out.”

The Hi-Tech Foundation has a scholarship program and priority for getting more women into tech, and also Māori and Pacific people, he says.

Hi Tech Foundation chairperson David Downs says the tech sector in the past has been male dominated.

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Hi Tech Foundation chairperson David Downs says the tech sector in the past has been male dominated.

The foundation has noticed that having better representation at events attracts a more diverse audience, he says.

“People get more out of it.”

Grundy says she has experience in capital raising and is comfortable speaking in front of an audience, so didn’t hesitate putting her hand up for the panel.

She also knew Wiggs was right, and the panel needed a woman, she says.

“He did the right thing and I wanted to support that.”

Women can improve their chances of being included on a panel by promoting their “brand” more and believing in themselves, she says.

Exocule chief operating officer Shona Grundy says women can raise their profiles by having an opinion and making sure it is heard.

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Exocule chief operating officer Shona Grundy says women can raise their profiles by having an opinion and making sure it is heard.

“Attempt to put yourself out there and have the courage to say things because it’s worth hearing most of the time.”

In the technology sector diversity helps solve problems “better, faster and more creatively”, she says.

Wiggs says Grundy did an “amazing job” and the panel had a great discussion.

A good panel entertains and informs an audience and this is best achieved through diversity of ideas and perspectives, he says.

“You want to have different sounding voices, different ages, different ethnicities, and obviously different genders all helps a lot to create an interesting panel,” Wiggs says.

“You don’t want to have four people who all look and sound the same.”

You also don’t want people who agree with each other on everything, he says.

“That’s boring.”

Wiggs, who is frequently asked to sit on, or facilitate panels, has long held a “no manels” policy and in 2014 blogged about the importance of diversity on panels.

Lance Wiggs says he's had a policy for many years of not sitting on, or facilitating, all male panels.

JOHN SELKIRK/Stuff

Lance Wiggs says he’s had a policy for many years of not sitting on, or facilitating, all male panels.

If he does see an all male panel scheduled for an event he might bring it to the attention of the organiser and help them find diversity, he says.

“If you have a bunch of manels it’s a sign the organisers haven’t really done their job.”

Wiggs says he has known about “manels” for a few years and doesn’t particularly like the term.

“It isn’t nice, but it’s a very rapid way to point out the very obvious elephant in the room.”

As well as gender diversity it is also important to include cultural diversity on panels and try to ensure Māori representation, he says.

IT Professionals chief executive Victoria Maclennan says she has spent more than 30 years in the technology sector and found lack of diversity to be a long-standing issue.

“We’ve always had diversity challenges, not only gender diversity, we struggle to embrace and support Māori and Pasifika into our industry.

There are also few people with disabilities in the sector, she says.

“Diversity needs to be tackled beyond gender.”

IT Professionals is a membership based industry body focused on lifting the capability of the industry and career development of those in the industry, and improving gender diversity is at the core of what it is trying to achieve.

It was “fantastic” seeing Wiggs address the gender diversity issue on stage, she says.

“Our industry is littered with situations where there’s only men speaking.”

She has seen many all male panels over the years, but things have improved in the sector recently, she says.

If women are not represented then other women will struggle to see themselves working in the sector, she says.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Young women have a misconception the tech industry is all about writing code, she says.

“I go and speak to girls in schools, and they think digital technology is just smelly boys in a room who are writing code.

“Women don’t realise it’s a really creative industry.”

The image and reputation of the industry needs to change to make it more relevant to people from different backgrounds, she says.



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