How we’re taking a design-led approach to increasing gender diversity

Matt Shanks

Matt Shanks

Principal Product Designer & Author/Illustrator for children. I'm out to improve the quality of life for everyone who uses the things that I make.

The advantages of more women in tech have been written about extensively. At Cogent, there are some big strides we’ve made over the years. 


  1. Pay equality: We have a transparent salary model at Cogent, and rigorously review it to make sure people at the same level are paid the same, regardless of the gender they identify as.

  2. Enable more flexible working hours: We value personal-wellbeing of our staff and have many of our people working part-time. One’s need to work outside the traditional 9-5 shouldn’t limit their ability to work here. We make it work. 

  3. Finally, have a decent Parental Leave policy: Last year, we doubled it purely because it was the right thing to do. For the size of our company, we (and by we, I mean the women at Cogent), think it’s fair and were instrumental in forming what it is now.


But, there’s a whole bunch of more complicated initiatives, much of which the evidence is not specific to our time and place here in Melbourne, Australia. Would blinding gender in the hiring process make things more equal? Would having strong female leadership throughout the business, or in teams, make a difference? How about more learning and career opportunities than other companies? And hiring quotas? To put it simply, there’s a lot we can do. That’s why we’ve decided to take a design-led approach to improving Cogent as a workplace for women. We want to know where we should really start first.

We support gender diversity initiatives, just like Code Like a Girl.


First, we listen.


“Instead of posting happy photos of all your female employees on International Womens’ Day, how about posting your maternity leave policy?” – Twitter


In any company, it’s easy to make top-down decisions. So, making ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusion’ a value of the company is easy, but it does not instantly transform a culture to one where either of those things are truly valued. Top-down decisions are easily seen as token gestures. Gestures without substance. But the gender imbalance in our industry is a real problem, so instead, we’re changing things up and taking a bottom-up approach. We’re ‘hitting the pavement’ and hearing from women in tech across Melbourne to find out what a great workplace looks like to them. Then, we plan to work our hardest to make Cogent look more like that. 


From our Cogent Kids Campus program, to our attendance and sponsorship of events and groups like Rails Girls, Melbourne University Women in Tech, MusesJS and Code Like a Girl, we’re getting a broad understanding of what’s important, right now, to all Melbourne Women working in or interested in technology.

One of our Women in Engineering Kids Campus groups.


We’ve also set our Senior Design Team on the task. We’re conducting 1-on-1 in-depth interviews with women of all skill levels across a variety of technology expertise areas so that we truly start to understand what’s important to them and not what HBR or Forbes or The Guardian tells us is important to ‘all women’. We’re more than ready to discover our blind spots because, as we’ve learned from years of building successful digital businesses, we’ve got to challenge everything we think is true in order to make progress.


After we listen, we learn. And then we act.


As the data is coming in, we’re becoming more confident in our ability to prioritise what we can do to make Cogent a better place to work for women. Whether the outcomes of our work will lead to policy change, culture change or changes in the methods and approaches to our work at Cogent, we’re open and ready for anything because the gender imbalance in our industry has gone on for too long.


N.B – If you’re a woman working in tech, and you’d like to contribute to our research, we’d love to hear from you. Contact to find out more.

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