Great debate on the lack of diversity in IT startups


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blog If you’ve got even a cursory interest in Australia’s technology startup scene, you’ll be aware that at times there can be a remarkable similarity in the types of people who get involved. There are often two types — tech-type people and sales/business development-type people, both usually white, middle-class males. Tech industry writer Bronwen Clune debates the issue in a post on The Guardian Australia’s website last week, writing:

“… it’s time to question venture capitalists’ narrow-minded selection criteria that will result in the earth we will inherit looking a lot like the one we left behind. To venture capitalists, a future technology company founder looks the way he’s always looked: young, male and Ivy-League-educated. Zuckerberg, Mark II.”

Over on his own blog, Startup Focus, local IT startup industry Mick Liubinskas riffs on Clune’s post, arguing that the situation is more nuanced than Clune had written. He writes:

“… even if these things are true, none of them actually stop you if you really want to. Lots of companies grow without investors, so if you want to build a business that you’re not super passionate about, with a good salary, working reasonable hours and not try to change the world – great, go for it. I’m sure that some of investors fit the bill but I think to blame them a single group as culprits for lack of diversity and label them sinister, anti-family, sexist and racially prejudiced is unfair.”

To my mind, both arguments contain a part of the truth. Clune’s right: Australia’s IT startup scene is predominantly composed of white, middle class males, a physical form which venture capitalists usually identify with. But Liubinskas is also right: Things are more complicated than that in real life, and opportunities do abound for the passionate or determined, regardless of who they are. Perhaps the passion and diversity in this debate do much to illustrate the sector as a whole.


  1. I know there is a more even mix in the business subjects but, when I was at uni the ratio in tech classes ranged from 4:1 male/female to 15+:1. There needs to be a larger influx of women qualified into the field which means interesting high school students in the sector.

    TL;DR: If you have a minority in a chosen field, odds are they will still be a minority in a subset of than field.

  2. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with investors or the startups for why there is a lack of startup variety in Australia. I’ve got enough seed money, but I think the hardest thing is being able to find and build relationships with people who have the experience and passion to take the startup to the next level.

    If you know of anywhere in Brisbane to meetup with other people who want to launch a business (and I mean seriously), please drop a reply.

  3. Bullshit.

    Is one example of how this is changing/has already changed.

    The Guardian is just (as always) tearing down individuals who work hard, by accusing them of not being family and “socially” orientated.

    Its not an argument about diversity, its an argument that investors should be forced to back projects run by people with minimal passion, who dont want to work long hours, want a high salary and only pursue goals that fit the central planners objectives.

    Why get the funding on your own merits when you can just try and loot it through accusations of gender and ethnic bias?

  4. In my experience, the Australian start-up scene is far more diverse.

    It is true that the male to female mix is massively skewed, however, with regards to background (age, ethnicity, skills, etc.) the eco system is wide open.

    In fact, I would argue that Australian start-up arena for the past 10-15 years has been dominated by immigrants of all types; from (without trying to typecast) Eastern European engineers, Indian programmers, masses of HK Chinese, more British and South Africans than you could shake a stick at, Germans, Dutch, French, etc…even before you get to the expat Americans. The one “class” that has not dominated has been the middle class, white Australian male – their mummies and daddies want them to get proper jobs, settle down, and buy a house. Thus they end up at Macquarie, CBA, PwC, or any number of high end law firms…

    Of course, very few of us immigrants end up running VC firms…and whether VC firms tend to fund people who remind them of themselves (or who they’d like to be) is a different issue…

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