The most colourful and inclusive march in the world; bringing the strong heroes of the LGBTIQA community together at Mardis Gras

After 3 weeks of attending rehearsals and practicing the routine, it’s on. The night has come. It was 4th March 2017. The moment I walked passed the fence and into the “back stage” area, I could see colourful, vibrant costumes; unicorns, super heroes, sea creatures, dresses made of CDs, rainbow coloured flags, hoola hoops… it was amazing. I was at Mardis Gras for the very first time in my life, not as a spectator either. I was part of the parade celebrating the freedom of love, equality and inclusion.

I was very lucky to be part of Dr. Mark’s Marching Academy, a community float which inspire others to keep up the good fight, no matter what obstacles or hardships are ahead. Our amazing float organiser, Bradford Jeffries said in one interview, “Our morals and beliefs are intrinsic to who we are. Sometimes standing up for the things we believe in is hard. Sometimes it is unpopular. Sometimes we are let down by institutional bodies that supposedly support us. We are, however, the greatest agents of change. We don’t need to rely on others; we can all be our own heroes.” To convey this message, the float this year have embraced a superhero theme; “celebrate those heroes within our community, whose shoulders we stand on, and the rights and privileges we have today because they were brave enough to take a stand when it was neither popular nor easy.”

I feel so privileged to be part of Dr. Mark’s float this year because the theme, “Be your own hero” really resonated with me. It’s not always easy to be yourself everyday for people in the LGBTIQA community. They show strength and courage. I used to believe that Mardis Gras was an event only for the LGBTIQA community but I was ignorant and wrong. If this was the case, there would be an even bigger divide amongst us. It’s an extremely inclusive event.

I dug a little into the history of this event. The first gay rights parade was held on 24 June 1978 at 10pm. It was in actual fact a celebration after a protest organised by the Gay Solidarity Group in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising and bring awareness to put an end to discrimination against homosexuals in employment and housing, police harassment and the repeal of all anti-homosexual laws. Although the organisers received permission to go ahead with the celebrations, the turn out from the crowd rose from 500 to 4 times as many. The police broke up the parade and arrested 53 people. Sydney Morning Herald published the full list of names of the 53 arrested, which lead to many of them being exposed to their friends and places of employment. Majority of those arrested lost their jobs since homosexuality was a crime in New South Wales until 1984. These people were the true heroes which made the colorful pride parade we know today possible.

Although the parade was only a few days ago, my memory is a blur. It happened all so quickly. Time flies when you’re having fun! All I can remember is the cheering crowd behind the barricades. Many smiling faces, people singing and cheering, reaching out their hands to the floats and marchers. It was an extremely great event. If you have never participated or attended the Mardis Gras, I strongly recommend you do next year!

There is a documentary below about the Dr. Mark’s Marching Academy float which was filmed on the day. Enjoy 🙂

Women in technology

Being a women in technology and being appointed Head of Diversity and Inclusion at hipages this year, I feel I need to bring a voice to the lack of women in digital positions.

Did you know there are only 31% women in IT jobs and 13% women in engineering jobs across Australia?

hipages have recently launched an annual scholarship program for women studying STEM subjects as an initiative to help with the pipeline issue. This scholarship is one of many of the steps we are taking to ensure that we can move the 31% of women in digital jobs to 50%.

I am very passionate about this topic since I know what it feels like to be a Chinese female engineer in a technology company. It can be quite overwhelming at times; talking about technology in a room filled with men, who have all studied Computer Science.

The following tips are applicable to any women in any field.

Importance of role models, sharing stories, networking and mentors

Late last year, I attended the Sydney launch for Women in Digital, a meetup to empower women in their digital careers. CTO of Newscorp, Alisa Bowengave a talk about 12 lessons she learnt in her career. I was deeply inspired after hearing about her journey to becoming CTO even though she did not start her career being a woman in technology. Who knows? Perhaps I could be a CTO one day. I would have never thought this career path could be a possibility for myself before that night. Tahnee, organiser of WID touched on the importance of women having role models and the support we should give one another. My advice? Find out who your role models are and aspire to be like them.

I went for a coffee with one of our female mobile engineers a couple of months back. She is the only female mobile engineer in our team. I don’t normally work with her but thought it might be nice to reach out since I often see her with her head down quietly coding away. We were chatting about how we got into our respective fields and it was only during that chat, I found out that one of my blog posts inspired her to work for us. For me, this was extremely humbling feedback. Sometimes you don’t know who you can inspire. You may think your experience is ordinary, non-unique but if you don’t share it, you will never know. Sharing is caring.

I can’t stress enough the importance of networking. When I was first appointed Head of Diversity and Inclusion, having only engineering knowledge, I had no idea where to start my D&I research. My manager, Jodette suggested that I reach out and network with others in the Diversity and Inclusion space. Although I consider myself an extrovert, networking is definitely not my strong suit. But I am glad I listened to her advice. The moment I tried to organise casual meet and greets with others in the industry, I was in amongst the D&I managers at companies like Deloitte, Diversity Council, EY and Allianz and PwC just to name a few. They’ve all been extremely friendly, sharing their learnings from initiatives they’ve implemented in the past.

During one of DAWN and Westpac’s Conversations for Diverse Leadership, one of the Westpac employees commended Westpac’s internal mentor and mentee program. The program is a fantastic idea! I believe as each generation passes, we outsmart the previous. We become wiser with experience. Having a mentor can make a huge difference. I was very lucky to have many engineering mentors in my life.

From the above incidents, I hope you get a sense of how important it is for women to be there for each other in any industry/community.

The stress of being a professional and being a mother

I’ve heard many women my age confess that they want children but are not ready to give up their career. The more research I have done for gender diversity, the more I realise, the two doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have a child and keep your career! Organisations and businesses just need to be more aware of the flexibility policies put in place to allow for women returning from maternity leave.

Ei Sabai’s blog post allowed me to get a taste of some of the concerns a new mother may have to balance between her career and being a mother.

Break away from stereotypes

I never used to notice these things in TV ads but after studying about unconscious bias, the most recent TAFE ‘Be Ambitious’ ad annoys me. The have subconsciously placed biases in their ad by having a male appear when they show they have ‘game designer’ courses and a female appears when you want to become a ‘makeup artist’. Having said that, I must commend them for choosing a very diverse cast.

One of my diversity idols, Ming Long, who worked with the Property Council of Australia and the Human Rights Commission to establish Male Champions of Change, stated at the World Women Summit 2016, that we need to break away from stereotypical roles. Why should there be an awkward silence when a man says he is a ‘stay-at-home dad’? Why should we think of women as nurses and men as surgeons or software engineers?

Although this blog post is titled ‘Women in Technology’, it’s just as important acknowledging the struggles men have in their lives. Men are looked upon as the strong and dominant character in a family; show no weakness or tears. We are all humans with emotions, why can’t men talk about their problems? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, on average, 1 in 8 men will have depression and 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. Depression is a high risk factor for suicide and, in Australia, there are approximately 2,500 suicides each year. 75% are by men — with an average of 6 men taking their lives every single day! Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 54, significantly exceeding the national road toll. Our focus should be on gender equality.

Increasing awareness

It also important to keep the conversations going and voice out when you see incidents which are unfair or discriminating. By talking about it, the more awareness we raise. I particularly like ANZ’s take on creating a more equal world through a series of campaigns; one involving children speaking about pocket money. A simple video like this can help increase awareness.

Please find a list of support groups and meetups for Women in Digital/Technology jobs. My challenge to you is to reach out, network, share your stories and become a role model for other women in your community.

Support Groups

CBA’s Women in Focus


Women in Digital
GirlGeeks Sydney
Women who code

I am biased

There, I said it. And you should say it too! For my Head of Diversity and Inclusion role, I have been researching about unconscious bias. It’s been a hot topic in the last 4 years… so what is it all about?

Our brains are wired to help us process information. At any given moment (we’re talking seconds), we are inundated with 11 million bits of information but our brains can only process 40 bits. This means 99.99% of the time, our brains are operating unconsciously. This helps us makes decisions; should I shuffle left or right when a person is walking towards me, do I switch off the light when I leave a room? These examples seem trivial but when it comes to situations of life or death, these shortcuts in helping us make decisions are vital. Imagine you’ve woken up one day and you’ve decided you are not going to let any ‘unconscious bias’ get in your way. You go to the beach, hit the water and surf a couple of waves. While you’re on your board, you see a black dark patch coming your way; there is a dorsal fin sticking out of the water, five to seven gill slits on the sides of its head, sharp teeth so it must be a predator, looks to be in the fish category and you’ve come to the conclusion it’s a shark. Should you continue to analyse whether this shark is a sand tiger shark, nurse shark or a great white? By now, you’ve probably realized you should turn to shore and swim for your life but it’s too late. This is exactly why these shortcuts in decision making; these ‘biases’, are built-in.

But this is not always the case, especially when it comes to decision making for people. Many companies want to make sure they are hiring the right people for the job but how can we ensure we are making the best decision for business without biases getting in the way?

Since July 2016, I have been researching tremendously on Diversity and Inclusion, looking into areas of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, nationality and unconscious bias. There is still so much to learn but the journey so far has been incredible and D&I has become a topic that I am very passionate about. I am a Chinese women in engineering, some say that I add diversity to a team the moment I step into it. That’s true. I am a minority. Women in technology has been a thoroughly discussed topic in the gender diversity space. In June 2016, Davidson Technology’s DiversIT Report revealed only 31% of IT jobs were filled by women, which means men generally outnumber women 2:1 in all states of Australia. And according to Engineers Australia, there is only 13% women engineers. I was appalled when I saw these statistics. I reached out to other women in the industry and wanted to see if there was something we could do to address the pipeline issue. I was very fond of companies such as Code Camp, building up the pipeline for our next generation of coders, developers and engineers. This has become an integral part of the D&I initiatives hipages are working towards. You can read about it in my blog post on Women in Technology. But what fascinates me the most in this Diversity and Inclusion role is how much I have managed to find out about myself through this journey.

Last week, I took the Gender Science Implicit Association test, developed by Harvard on Project Implicit and the results? I am moderately biased against women in science! Yes, I am bias against myself in my own field… how does that work? And if that wasn’t enough, I read a blurb in the start of an article about a fictional situation; a father and son were involved in a car accident in which the father was killed and the son seriously injured. The father was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and his body taken to the local morgue. The son was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and immediately wheeled into an emergency room. A surgeon was called. Upon arrival, and seeing the patient, the attending surgeon exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s my son!”. So the question was, who was this surgeon? 40% of people usually get this wrong and I was in that 40%! The first imagery I had of the surgeon was a man. This further emphasised my bias towards women. I had to ask myself why I had these biases but more importantly, I have to accept that I have these biases.

Accepting that you are biased is the first step to creating change. I am a true believer of the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, having awareness means it’s in mind. With the increased awareness of what biases I have, I will hold myself accountable when I make decisions or interact with other members in my team.

Google’s re:Work is a good place to start when you want to hold yourself and your organisation accountable for spotting biases. You can also find Managing Unconscious Bias from Facebook online.

My takeaway for everyone who comes across this post is to ask yourself, what biases do you have and what steps will you take to make yourself accountable? Try taking an IAT.