Tech Diversity: It’s Not Rocket Science!

25 May 2019
Dr Steve Hodgkinson (left) and the Rise at DHHS team.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson (left) and the Rise at DHHS team.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Victoria’s #TechDiversity Awards, Matthew Myers reflects on the vital role technology can play in promoting inclusion in public sector workplaces.

While there are a plethora of awards that pay tribute to achievements across the Victorian public sector, the #TechDiversity Awards are a particular set of accolades gaining traction for their positive focus ‘outside the square’.

Founded in 2015 by Soozey Johnstone, Deirdre Diamante, Claire Marriott and Tracey Habron, the #TechDiversity Awards recognise, reward and inspire tech-based organisations that promote diversity and elevate under-represented groups in the digital economy. These include people with disability, the LGBTQI community, women, Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, people of colour, older people, and those who face discrimination on religious grounds.

“We created the awards program because we wanted to amplify the voices and stories of people making a difference to diversity in the tech sector,” says Soozey.  “One of the most important things about technology is seeing the world through the eyes of the end user, but in order to do that, we need to create technology that applies and relates to all of us. That’s why we began #TechDiversity, because you can’t be what you can’t see.”

It’s literally changed the life trajectories of the people involved and had positive benefits in the workplace.

The winner of the overall #TechDiversity Champion Award at last year’s ceremony was the Rise at DHHS program, spearheaded by DHHS CIO and IPAA Victoria Fellow, Dr Steve Hodgkinson. The Rise program has successfully broken new ground by employing people with ASD into a government department, while building skills and confidence, and influencing others.

For Steve, the program, and its recognition through the Champion Award, have produced several rewarding opportunities that are branching out through the public sector.

“Many people with autism find it difficult to get jobs in organisations through conventional recruitment programs,” says Steve. “They struggle with face-to-face interviews, and may take a little longer than others to settle into a new role. They may also need a bit more design around their workplace environment to be comfortable to perform.

“For the Rise at DHHS program we enlisted Specialisterne, which is a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to improve employment opportunities for people with autism. With them and La Trobe University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, we designed a two-year program. We recruited a cohort of eight people and then positioned them into the workforce as a landing platform, so they could perform and move onto other jobs in the Department.”

Steve believes it is critical for people developing technology to reflect on the diversity of the population. “The more diversity we can bring to the tech industry, the more we’ll be able to create and implement solutions that better reflect the people using them. It used to be that technology was dominated by university-educated white males, whereas that’s no longer appropriate, and this is now being recognised.

“People developing technology should reflect the diversity of the population that uses it, and that’s why I think #TechDiversity is an important program in its own right.”

With the award under their belt, Rise at DHHS has found a spotlight of its own – becoming an influential case study in the government sector. “It’s been widely acclaimed and has created very positive outcomes,” says Steve. “It’s also literally changed the life trajectories of the people involved and had positive benefits in the workplace more generally. Virtually everyone who hears about Rise at DHHS smiles, because it feels like such a great thing to do.

“Winning the Champion Award has put a stamp of approval on what we’ve done. Other departments such as DELWP have now established Rise programs of their own by replicating our model. I think this awards program is fantastic. It’s amazing the scope and impact that has been created by Soozey and the others in such a short period.”

The feeling is certainly mutual for Soozey, who is quick to sing the praises of Rise at DHHS.

“There are people who were hired originally within DHHS who have been promoted into other departments because of the Rise program,” she says. “One told me how he was promoted into the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and again within that department.”

“These people are making a difference to the State Government through the initiative of Steve Hodgkinson. One person with a burning desire to make a change!”

Nominations for the #TechDiversity Awards close on 5th July, with a gala dinner on 12 September. The four sectors covered in the program include Government, Business, Media and Education. If you have an initiative you feel would fit the criteria for nomination, please visit: