Tag Archives: diversity

working collaboratively

Working collaboratively means welcoming tension

Most of us recognise that in specific situations, collaboration is the ideal mode of delivery. We are also getting instinctively better at understanding when it is needed.

For example, we know we need to collaborate if achieving our aims requires a creative solution developed in a complex environment, breadth of expertise, or buy-in and shared ownership from stakeholders. Interestingly, these are often the higher impact challenges or issues we face.

We also know that working collaboratively is almost always challenging. Collaborative efforts are prone to failure and often don’t quite deliver on our expectations. 

Knowing all these things increases the importance of being able to collaborate well when it is required. But this requires diagnosing why it so often goes awry.

Through some 400 collaborative projects over the last decade at Collabforge, we’ve learned a great deal about working collaboratively. We’ve found that understanding the challenges provides valuable cues for setting yourself up for success.

1. Missing “chair”

You and I know what collaboration means, but as a society, we don’t.

There is a gap in our shared understanding. Because collaboration is in our DNA, we get fooled into thinking that we have a common reference point we can rely on – a “chair” we can sit in when needed.

But when it comes to working collaboratively, there are no broadly accepted definitions or methodologies that we can take for granted like there are with project management. So often we fall on our bums when we try to sit in this missing chair.

2. Missing “team”

Collaboration is a team sport.

All great teams need to build their collective capability together. No one would ever expect a team to win a match without first practicing as a team.

Yet organisations regularly form new teams to tackle new challenges, without resourcing the teams to build collaborative capability prior to being expected to deliver.

We expect professionals to be competent collaborators straight out of the gate, in whatever situation we throw them at. However, we’ve likely all had the experience of feeling we are great at working collaboratively, only to discover that in certain situations and with certain people, we aren’t so great after all.

3. Missing “elephant”

When collaborating with other organisations, an implicit question is always, “will we ride your elephant or mine?”

To get their work done, collaboratively or otherwise, organisations rely upon a large and complex integration of culture, processes and tools – an “elephant” their staff members ride.

No one is excited to get down off their elephant and climb onto another unknown and likely cantankerous beast. And frankly, this isn’t a very collaborative undertaking.

However, taking a more collaborative approach and creating a new shared set of culture, tools and processes is often expensive, time intensive and risky. This amounts to launching and managing an elephant breeding program.

Even the task of deciding who will take on these risks, costs and energy can kill a collaboration before it begins.

Preparing to succeed when working collaboratively

1. Invest in building collaboration capability proportionately to the impact you expect it to deliver.

If the outcomes from an initiative are 80% dependent upon great collaboration, then use this percentage as an indicator of the level of resourcing you should commit to building and supporting collaborative capability.

2. Invest time upfront to establish common ground.

Whenever collaboration is an important part of the mix, you’ll get the most out of thinking and talking about it early in the process. Discuss key terms, concepts and assumptions about processes, tools, and, of course, the expected outcomes and impact of your collaboration.

3. Practice working collaborating as a team, separately from the responsibility of delivery.

Ideally from the outset, create opportunities for collaboration that are fun, engaging and decoupled from delivery. For example, ask the group to build a prototype of the imagined outcome in Lego.

4. Facilitate a regular rhythm of collaborative interactions.

The biggest risk to collaborative initiatives is flagging momentum and dropping balls in handovers between organisations. Having a regular and facilitated rhythm of interaction is key to maintaining momentum, continuity and building collective capability.

5. Design for growth while welcoming tension.

Collaborations generate value through the process of resolving tensions within groups. For example, every new participant will necessarily introduce tension and challenges as they are brought up to speed.

Without the challenge of diverse ideas and approaches, groupthink reigns, with peer pressure and conformity shutting down the “hard conversations”. When this happens, the fitness and value of the group’s output drops dramatically.

Therefore, it’s essential to enter collaborations expecting diversity and the challenge of ideas, but to also design processes for resolving these tensions before progressing to the next stage.

While collaboration still largely inhabits the realm of “art”, the likelihood of success is dramatically increased by practice that is supported by theory and method. The first step in working collaboratively is to build shared understanding of the inherent barriers so that we can align better together to overcome them.

Dr Mark Elliott

Managing Director and Founder, Collabforge

Read next: Petra Andrén, CEO of Cicada Innovations, uncovers the collaborative mechanisms that are vital to successful research, industry and startup activity.

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More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

women leaders in STEM

Connecting Women Leaders in STEM

Jo Stewart-Rattray heads ISACA’s Connecting Women Leaders in Technology program, dedicated to developing women leaders in STEM.

Deloitte Global projects less than 25% of IT jobs in developed countries will be held by women at the close of 2016. My hope is that the women graduating in STEM careers this year quickly find employment in roles they can enjoy, learn and grow from, and become successful in their careers.

Of course, my wish is the same for men who are also graduating at this exciting and disruptive time in business. However, the female student’s journey to graduation and beyond is very different to that of men.

For example, female students in STEM are often the only one in their class. I have sat in many boardrooms where I am the only woman in the room. I’ve also been the only woman at conferences on information security.

Over my 25 year career, not much has changed, and I know from speaking with other women leaders in STEM that they have had similar experiences. This is not just an Australian issue. It is a problem across the globe.

A study of 22,000 global public companies by Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY shows that the net profit margin of a company can be increased by more than 6% if a company has a minimum of 30% women in the C-suite.

Most importantly, without women in the workforce, we simply won’t have the resources to continue to fuel the job economy and innovation.

So what can be done to develop women leaders in STEM?

In my experience, a multi-faceted approach is needed. It involves:

  • businesses providing flexible work options;
  • connecting their employees with both men and women leaders in STEM for mentoring;
  • sponsoring and encouraging young professionals to understand their potential career paths and rewards; and
  • instilling in female students the confidence to follow their passion and be resilient.

In terms of mentoring, I learned early on to find men and women role models and mentors. I was able to do this through ISACA, a professional organisation for IT audit, risk, governance and cybersecurity professionals. My membership and involvement in ISACA enabled me to network with local and global peers, who really helped encourage and guide me in my career.

And now, I am incredibly humbled to spearhead ISACA’s Connecting Women Leaders in Technology program, which aims to inspire and engage women to grow and become leaders in our field.

It has been an enriching and rewarding experience to see young professionals excel by following their passion. 

So my message to future women leaders in STEM is to ‘Go for it!’ Have the resilience and confidence to seek the career you want, and find a mentor or bright star who can help guide you along the way.

Together, we will all prosper and learn from one another, as we innovate and create in the years to come.

Jo Stewart-Rattray

women leaders in STEM

CISA, CISM, CGEIT, CRISC, FACS CP

Board director of ISACA

Director of information security and IT assurance at BRM Holdich, Australia

Hear from other Australian leaders on how to support women in STEM in the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series:

Women in STEM: the revolution ahead

Careers with Code 2016

New Zealand welcomes Careers with Code

Featured image above: Google software engineers Edwina Mead and Sara Schaare, who graduated from the University of Canterbury and the University of Waikato. Credit: Lauren Trompp, Careers with Code 2016

The Minister for Innovation, the Hon Steven Joyce, launched the inaugural New Zealand edition of Careers with Code in front of an audience of students and educators at Kapiti College, Paraparaumu.

Dedicated to improving diversity in careers with computer science, Careers with Code 2016 smashes stereotypes about the ‘nerdy programmer’ and what computer scientists really do.

Supported by Google, half a million copies of the magazine have been distributed to students in Australia, the United States and now New Zealand since the magazine’s inception in 2014.

“The internet, automation, smart sensors – all of today’s digital technologies contribute about 8% of economic output in New Zealand, while in Australia that contribution is set to grow from 5% to 7% by 2020. Most of this growth will happen outside the areas traditionally associated with tech – like agriculture, health, finance, education,” says Sally-Ann Williams, Google’s Engineering Community and Outreach Manager.

“Careers are no longer as straightforward as they used to be. It used to be that if you studied medicine you’d go on to become a doctor, or if you studied accounting you’d join the professional services. Today, those traditional outcomes aren’t always the norm. Digital disruption is creating a workforce with a greater intersection of disciplinary skills. Areas like finance, advertising, law and agriculture, for example, are increasingly overlapping with core skills in computer science.”

Sara Schaare, who features on this issue’s cover, moved to Sydney from Hamilton, New Zealand and began working on Google Maps in her Honours year while completing a Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Waikato.

“Even though I was interested in computing and video games from an early age, I never really considered computer science as a career.”

“Now I’m working on developing products for emerging markets. One of the most awesome challenges that computer science will overcome is making the interaction between humans and technology seamless and making technology easy for everyone to use.

“That’s why combining computer science with something else you love will ensure the greatest success in your career.”

The magazine features profiles of 40 young people working in computer science, with 60% women. It also features data on the top ten jobs in computer science, and top ten employers in technology in New Zealand and Australia.

By combining computer science with sports, arts, business and law, students equip themselves to be agile workers across career areas that haven’t been invented yet, says Heather Catchpole, head of content at STEM-specialist publishers Refraction Media.

“Careers with Code is about combining computer science skills and computational thinking with goals of global change, new fields or students’ own interests to help them prepare for a future in which digital disruption is constantly shifting their career focus,” says Ms Catchpole.

“Careers with Code is about creating visible role model and job paths for everyone that shows that computer science skills can take you into vastly different career areas, and are essentially creative jobs where females can be part of a collaborative or lead the pack.”

– Heather Catchpole

Click here to read Careers with Code 2016.

Click here to order copies of Careers with Code 2016 in print.

gender equity

Gender equity through Athena SWAN

Featured image above: Dr Susan Pond speaking about gender equity at the 2016 SAGE Symposium. Credit: Australian Academy of Science

Led as a joint venture by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) and the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) is conducting an Australian pilot of the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter.

SAGE works towards a vision that women and men will be equally represented in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics & medicine) disciplines in our higher education and research organisations, including in leadership roles.

Despite the fact that higher education enrolments by gender in Australia reached parity in 1988, the percentage of women gaining the rank of full professor in most faculties has remained consistently below 20% to the current day.

This failure to achieve gender equity matters because the Australian higher education and research sectors are:

  • leaking female talent;
  • wasting some of their best people;
  • failing to benefit from the additional range of perspectives and backgrounds they would bring to the table; and
  • losing the opportunity to perform better.

It matters because gender equity is a moral and business imperative. It matters because of the challenge of innovation.

Key to Australia’s economic competitiveness and growth, innovation requires an increasing national proficiency in STEMM. Innovation will be driven by the ability of our higher education and research institutes to generate breakthrough ideas and produce excellent STEMM graduates. It will be driven by the ability of these graduates to translate breakthrough ideas into innovative products and services.

SAGE has adopted the Athena SWAN Charter because it provides a rigorous, system-wide process of gender equity data collection, evaluation and consultation in order to identify the gaps between policies and practices and establish detailed action plans for change.

It requires institutions to demonstrate in their Athena SWAN Award application that they have undertaken and acted upon honest self-appraisal and self-reflection, starting at the leadership level.

The process is transparent – all applications for an Athena SWAN award are made public.

To ensure integrity and rigour, and to assess how Athena SWAN might boost productivity and outcomes in the Australian STEMM landscape, the SAGE Pilot will:

  • commission an independent evaluation of the Pilot;
  • adapt and tailor the Athena SWAN framework to the Australian context;
  • focus on Australian-specific areas such as Indigenous Australians in STEMM;
  • use analytics on pooled data to design informed and evidence-based solutions;
  • identify issues in gender equity that are common across institutions and require policy change across the sector; and
  • through the peer-review process, identify and document best practices that are shown to be working in STEMM.

SAGE and the Athena SWAN pilot in Australia are good news stories.

The bad news is that the widespread resistance to women pursuing careers is longstanding. The feminist, Betty Friedan, whose 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique” changed the lives of many women in the US and worldwide, framed this as “The Problem that has No Name.”

The bad news is that gender discrimination in society is not necessarily intentional or overt. It is unconscious and deeply ingrained in our societal psyche. It flourishes under the radar and is very hard to overturn.

Such discrimination emerges in strange circumstances – for example when women act in ways that aren’t considered sufficiently feminine, or when women advocate for themselves.

Men and women in large part unconsciously find these women unseemly; find them overly demanding and unlikeable.

Hillary Clinton, as an example, is suffering this curse of unlikeability. Scholars agree that it is largely because of her gender.

As Rebecca Sheehan from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney wrote recently, “Clinton’s ratings dropped significantly each time she sought political power through electoral office – whether running for US Senate or presidency.

“However, once she achieved positions of power, her approval ratings increased. As Secretary of State, she had an approval rating of 66% (a number Obama himself never reached), and was arguably the most respected politician in the US.

“Now, more than half the country can’t stand her.

“The swings in opinion and their timing suggest that her apparent likeability problem is not only – or not actually – about her. Instead, it’s more about a broader dislike of women who challenge the traditional gender order.”

In her just-released book, What Works – Gender Equality by Design, Professor Iris Bohnet addresses head on how such unconscious bias holds us back in achieving gender equity and why de-biasing each and every individual’s mind has proven to be difficult and expensive.

Bohnet’s emphasis is on de-biasing organisations instead of individuals, as is that of Athena SWAN. She demonstrates that taking this approach has great impact, often at surprisingly low cost and high speed. This is where the Athena SWAN Charter comes to the fore.

Athena SWAN seeks to call out gender inequality by providing evidence for its existence and negative impacts. Athena SWAN seeks to design out from our universities and research organisations the systems that entrench the status quo of gender inequality.

We must work together, men and women, to ensure that Australia’s universities, research organisations and innovation systems can take advantage of our full talent pool.

– Dr Susan Pond AM, FTSE FAHMS

This article is an edited extract from Dr Susan Pond’s speech presented at the 2016 Science in Australia Gender Equity Symposium.

google interns

The value of Google interns

When you think of internships at Google you might think of interns riding around the office on scooters, eating endless supplies of free food and playing video games.

But when we talk to interns, that’s not why they come to Google.

Google interns come to work on products that affect millions of people around the world. They want to build technology that help people live happier and easier lives – products that change the way people access information, do business, learn and connect with each another.

In fact, when we surveyed students the most important factor influencing a decision to apply to Google was the opportunity to make an impact on the world. The least important factor was the famous perks. Students tell us they want to do cool things that matter.

In our Sydney office, Google interns get to work on products like Google Maps, which are used by one billion people around the world. They get to build crisis maps that are used in times of natural disaster.

And they’re working on some of the world’s coolest technology challenges, like how to make cars smarter, and how to build products for the next billion people who will be online.

Each year we host interns in order to inspire and encourage the next generation of tech innovators. Google interns gain valuable hands on experience and mentorship on Google teams. Students with fresh ideas are introduced to Google’s culture of innovation and will initiate some of our newest and interesting projects.

Interns bring in their big questions and then use Google’s resources to help them build the answers, as part of a team. The strongest Google interns are people who thrive on collaboration. People who enjoy working with others to find creative solutions to problems. This is how great answers are built.


To build more answers, we need interns from diverse backgrounds who aren’t afraid to fail. They are curious, and they love to learn and learn from their mistakes.”


Combining a degree in computer science (CS) with another discipline means students are more prepared to work across teams to build products for the world. Computer science, combined with another discipline brings with it new insights and new ways of approaching things. Students can combine CS with other passions in areas like music, retail, finance and health. They learn how to think big and rethink what is possible across any industry.

Internships also provide an opportunity to work with people with different attributes, experiences and points of view. Those differences make us stronger, more productive and more innovative. Intern programs like the Google STEP program (Summer Trainee Engineering Program) provide university students from traditionally under-represented groups in computer science with practical experience working on a software project early in their degree. They create opportunities that get students excited about Google, and inspired by a future career in technology.

Our mission has always been to ask the big questions and build better answers. To build more answers, we need interns from diverse backgrounds who aren’t afraid to fail. They are curious, and they love to learn and learn from their mistakes.

Despite interns eating more food than the rest of us at Google, they come in because they are excited about their work. We look forward to every intern season when we have another group of students working on some of the biggest challenges in technology across the globe.

Stephanie Borgman

People Programs Specialist, Google Australia/NZ

Read next: Leeanne BondChief Software Architect at Cochlear, on how thinking like an engineer can make a world of difference in business.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

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