I stormed out of my first board meeting last week… well nearly. I slammed my laptop shut, pushed back my chair from the table, stated “I’m done” and got ready to walk away. When the woman across the table from me met my eyes and murmured “Don’t leave before the vote”. Her eyes were calm but unflinching, and she held me in place with them.

It was after work, and the State Board Meeting had run for nearly 3 hours. The very last item on the agenda was an invitation from the National Board asking for a representative from the Women’s Portfolio to attend a Summit on #Diversity in Canberra. There was no funding attached to the invitation, so the State would need to contribute the funds to send someone to the Capital if we considered there was value in that.

So that was the question on the table – Do we consider there is value in sending a woman to Canberra to contribute to the topic of diversity?

I looked around that table and thought it was likely that every single one of the old, white guys sitting at it had been to Canberra. Some of them so many times that they were bored of it. Such that they were thinking to be invited at the last minute for a summit that lasts only a few hours would not have any value.  However, I have never been to Canberra. Never even been offered a seat at that table before. And neither had the two other women on this board who met the criteria of the invitation.  I actually could not go (I have been invited to speak at a Conference in Melbourne on that date), But there were two other woman in the room who wanted to go.

For flights and accommodation we are talking less than a $1K. Which is an inaccessible amount for a young woman to self-fund. It’s almost negligible for a Company, even an NFP. One of the young women in question was so keen to go that she jumped in and offered to pay for her own accommodation if they would only pay for the flights. This is something I am certain none of the old men would consider doing (at least not when they were the age of this young woman – and I am certain their financial resources have always been more significant than I know hers to be). But still they debated funding $500. One of them finally stating that

“This Diversity thing is just a fad, it’s political correctness gone mad, why are we even talking about wasting funds on this?”

Which was the statement that had me on my feet and ready to walk from the room. Why are we still talking about this? Because even in 2016 there are still less than 30% women around that board table. Because we have to argue for hours to have a seat at a summit that was offered to us, that means something to us, that is about us. Because we have to partially fund it ourselves if we think it’s important – that because it’s only about diversity, because its only about women and other minorities – they argue it’s not important. Because most of the women could not afford to self-fund, and the men could. Because the men would never have to. Because a woman having a seat at that table is not important (oh yes, the argument was not just about the money – but who we would send – that the invitation was specific to the Women’s Portfolio was also questioned, several times).

Yes there were other politics in play around that table. Yes from another seat at the board table not everyone was seeing Red like I was, I am sure it was beatifically green on the other side. Yes the budget is not looking great. But, on that, the Women’s Portfolio Budget is, it is one of the only groups that is doing exceptional strongly. We do not overspend. We run successful events. We provide useful content to out members. We provide support to our community. We are inclusive of the men that attend those events too (and everyone in between).

There are articles out every day talking about all the things that stop girls studying STEM subjects, that cause young women to choose careers outside of Tech, that lists the reasons why women walk away mid-career. And dispair of the lack of women in leadership at the top. But I’m sick of finding non-financial ways for organisations to show how open they are to diversity, to equity, to inclusion. What is the single biggest thing holding women back in Tech? – Money.

So my challenge to all of you out there – less words more action.

Show me the money!

#Diversity #Inclusion #Tech #WomenOnBoards