By Caitlin Burns, DocsCorp Content Manager.
This post is part of a series celebrating and promoting International Women’s Day 2020.
Dean Sappey and Shane Barnett co-founded DocsCorp more than 17 years ago. From a cramped office in Sydney, they grew the company from two employees to more than 100 people working across three offices. And though they may no longer be wrestling with pull-up stands at tradeshows or programming new features into the software themselves, they are still deeply invested in the company’s culture.
We asked Dean (left) and Shane (right) how things have changed for women at DocsCorp and in the tech industry these past two decades. And, specifically, how gender equality (or inequality) affects them as business leaders, board members, and fathers to young girls.
How have (or haven’t) your thoughts/actions/beliefs around gender diversity changed since you first started DocsCorp?
D: Shane and I have been very clear to our staff since day one that we believe that diversity in gender, race, citizenship, culture, religion, and sexuality unites our organization and improves our company’s interactions with our clients. I don’t believe our actions have changed in the 17 years since we founded DocsCorp, but we now see DocsCorp has always been championing the modern gender diversity ethics that some organizations were slower to embrace.
S: I wouldn’t say we had it entirely figured out for all 17 years, but Dean and I have always had the utmost respect for the individual person and their abilities – regardless of their gender. That is something that is at the core of who we both are.
Do you agree with the statement, “Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue”? Does it apply to DocsCorp?
S: We strongly agree with this and believe equality is not just a hiring or recruitment issue – it needs to come from the top down and be integral to the organization’s culture. The more empowered women are, the stronger our business will be.
D: At DocsCorp, gender equality hasn’t felt like a business issue. Some teams within our organization have ended up with a majority of one gender over another, which was by no means a deliberate decision. It was a result of hiring the best person who applied for a job at a specific time.
S: At one point, our team of developers got a lot bigger and was made up mostly of men. So, we actively looked for female applicants to move to the interview stage during hiring. But, for these roles, we might have received five female applicants for every 100. And, with any hiring process, not all the applicants were qualified or quite what we needed at that time. We have come to recognize that there are differences in what careers men and women gravitate towards and this means some teams within our company have a higher percentage of men or women depending on the career track.
D: But whether a team is mostly male or female makes no difference to us – every team member must be respected, appreciated, and, most importantly, feel supported and secure. Happy employees are productive employees. It’s just good business.
What is one thing you think you/DocsCorp senior leadership team is doing right when it comes to creating an equal workplace? And, one thing you think we could be doing differently/better?
S: DocsCorp has always been very supportive of all staff – no matter their gender – to do what they need to do to be able to juggle duties at home. We encourage everyone to use flexible work hours, work from home days, or whatever it is they need to do so they can do what they need to do at work and at home.
We have found this good for business since we have incredibly high staff retention rates. Over half of our staff have worked for us for more than 5 years, and 20% of them for more than 10 years. Considering DocsCorp is only 17 years old, it’s an achievement Dean and I are especially proud of.
D: Our senior management team has also prioritized flexibility when it comes to women returning to work after maternity leave. We want them to feel that they can return to the workforce when they are able to, rather than a specific timeframe dictated by corporate policy. In terms of what we could be doing better, I think any organization can always do more to improve equality in the workplace. Achieving balance is an on-going process that requires constant self-evaluation among staff and senior management.
Do you think the tech industry at large has a problem with gender equality in leadership positions?
D: I would be hesitant to speak for the whole industry on gender equality – I can only speak for what DocsCorp is seeking to achieve in promoting the best people to the best roles, regardless of gender.
You both have daughters - do you think they face any of the same challenges that women faced when they entered the workforce 20 years ago?
D: I think our daughters don’t appreciate the hurdles women their mothers’ ages have overcome to further gender equality. So, my fear is that they will take it for granted or assume that gender equality means they will somehow be favored for employment because they are women. Even with complete gender balance in the industry, they will need to show they are the best person for the job via their skills, tenacity, and knowledge. If they do that, they should face fewer hurdles than previous generations.
I do think, however, that women who choose to take time out of their career to have children still face challenges in returning to the workforce and catching up on the changes that have occurred in their industry in the period they weren’t working. This is a problem that affects men who do the same thing (a number of my male friends had experienced situations like this when they returned from extended paternity leave).
S: I really hope the world is a more equal place than in the past – and that it continues towards becoming a completely level playing field as my daughters go through school and university. I know they will achieve absolutely anything they set their minds to.
What advice would you give to your girls if they wanted to follow your footsteps and work in the software/tech industry?
S: Just to go out there and do it. Software and tech industries offer a massive array of employment opportunities that aren’t limited to programming – and they’re continually expanding.