There is a deep rot at the heart of Australian tech.

Steve Baxter, one of Australia's most prominent investors and a judge on Shark Tank, is on record as saying that I am a man pretending to be a woman. It's an old, outdated, obsolete and uninteresting transphobic trope. In itself, it's almost not worth mentioning. But Steve's ability to drop discriminatory comments like it's nothing while the Australian tech ecosystem shrugs, blushes, or looks the other way is a telling sign of the deep rot that has set in. 

The reaction – or lack thereof – to Baxter's comments is as concerning as the comments themselves. It reveals a culture of complicity, where such remarks are not actively condemned but are met with awkward silence or passive acceptance. This tacit tolerance sends a clear message: even from influential figures, discriminatory attitudes are not deal-breakers in the business world. 

Baxter's statement is not an isolated incident. It's part of a larger pattern of behaviour that goes unchecked in many corners of the tech industry. 

Baxter's views, comments, and ideas have been surfaced, condemned, and quickly forgiven for years. Other choice words from the investor and reality TV star include, "Its [sic] seems you women need positive discrimination to get a look in. I imagine people getting roles under those circumstances must feel super about it." 

And yet, time and time again, the Australian tech ecosystem waits for the brouhaha to brew over and accepts the man back into their ranks. 

The Australian startup community is an ecosystem that allows abhorrent views on gender and women to be aired without consequence. This points to a systemic failure to uphold basic standards of respect and inclusion. 

But what are we to expect in an industry that has a long track record of failing the women it spends every International Women's Day claiming to love and protect? 

According to Deloitte, in 2022, 22% of startups were founded by women, but just 0.7% of funding secured by startups went to solely women-founded companies. When released in 2023, the Startup Muster report couldn't (at least until the backlash started) find a single woman to highlight as a startup mentor. Last year, we saw women in venture capital and tech harassed and explicitly sexually bullied by a founder on Linkedin. For six months, I've received death threats from a Queensland-based blockchain founder for daring to be a woman, having the audacity to be trans, and not shutting my mouth.

This situation became even more disheartening after news broke just last week about the ongoing funding and enablement of Kiki Club (or Girls Who NYC?). The decision to fund an all-male team through failure and through their pivot to create a "club for women" - pitched to target "corporate girlies" no less - further underscores the gender biases entrenched in the industry. 

This pattern of behaviour and decision-making shows a troubling disconnect from the realities and needs of diverse groups - aka, people who aren't white men. This goes far beyond one middle-aged man's tired, out-of-touch commentary on gender or sexual orientation; it speaks to an overall lack of diversity in thought, experience, and leadership within the tech community, stifling innovation and hindering the industry's ability to serve a diverse user base effectively. 

It's time for the Australian tech ecosystem to take a long, hard look at itself. The first step in addressing these issues is acknowledgement – recognising that there is a problem. This must be followed by actionable steps.

But implementing "comprehensive diversity and inclusion training", setting up policies against discrimination (that are never enforced), and promoting diversity in leadership and decision-making roles (by participating in a single diversity panel) are not fucking enough. They're the same PR drivel and lick o' paint that everyone in tech roles out every time enough people get sick of the merry-go-round. And they won't cut it.

The tech industry prides itself on being a leader in innovation and progress. It's high time this innovation and progress extended beyond technology and into social responsibility and ethical leadership. Only then can we begin to root out the deep-seated biases and discrimination that are repeatedly and openly tarnishing the Australian tech ecosystem. 

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