If there has been one constant in Elizabeth Buchanan’s career, it has been hypergrowth.
Around the turn of the century, Buchanan spent time working with Yahoo at a time where the internet was still the great unknown for many. With prior experience in media buying, Buchanan was one of the first people in the APAC region to buy digital campaigns. Today, Buchanan works as the chief commercial officer at e-commerce technology company Rokt, during a period where the entire retail industry is being led by online shopping. In between these roles, she also co-founded and later sold her agency The White Agency (now whiteGREY).
It’s no secret that business growth goes hand-in-hand with personal development for staff. For Buchanan, her experience working in this hyper-growth environment enabled her the ability to develop confidence through being pushed beyond her comfort zone. This is something she now tries to instill on her staff at Rokt.
“It’s about helping them build confidence ahead of the curve,” Buchanan told B&T.
“So for me, it was that I was pushed out to have to create it and I felt lucky for that. So it’s challenging those that I work with and directly mentor to do the same.”
It’s something that is particularly important when it comes to nurturing female talent.
“Research shows women tend to step back a little. During the recruitment process, they’re less likely to negotiate, they’re less likely to put their hand up, they’re less likely to interrupt,” she said.
“All these things mean, they often will need more encouragement to be pushed out or push themselves out into situations that may have been something they thought they weren’t ready for, but that they will gain an enormous amount of learning from if they do.”
She explained that Rokt now encourages women in the business to present things like their side hustle or charity initiatives to the rest of the company to help aid this development.
Steps towards transparency
And while women might be less likely to negotiate during the recruitment process, Rokt has opted for a transparency-first approach to remuneration to help address these sorts of issues.
Staff are able to see the exact salaries of every role in the business in a single document. It is an initiative that has helped Rokt improve challenges around equality and diversity.
And while it took a little time to get used to, Buchanan believes the initiative is now “a very beloved component of our culture”.
“It’s a very powerful tool both in hiring and – once the team are internal – around absolute equality. There’s no question of someone in the business secretly negotiating more,” she explained.
“So ultimately what it achieves is better output, because no one’s wondering, or gossiping, or spending any mental effort time on, ‘I wonder what they earn, and did they just come out of a pay review meeting and is that person getting paid more than me?’
“Ultimately that time and distraction is completely removed.”
Learning from Silicon Valley
Having started her career in Australia before moving to the United States with Rokt, Buchanan has seen firsthand how issues of diversity are addressed in the respective markets.
As Australia continues to invest in and grow the local technology sector, discussion around how we can create ‘Australia’s Silicon Valley’ has naturally ramped up. However, with Silicon Valley’s history of diversity and inclusion issues, there are certainly things that need to be avoided when it comes to replicating the US tech sector.
Buchanan is very proud of how Australia is working hard to deliver on better diversity of all kinds.
“The most important thing to change is self-awareness,” she said.
“So I do think, in Australia, it feels like that self-awareness is very alive at all levels. This is from someone who’s now based in the US, but looking in, it feels like from the team on the ground that we have there in Sydney and the general sense I get in business is that the self-awareness is pretty consistent. Everyone feels like this is something that they all agree needs to change.
“I think that’s the difference. If we’re talking specifically about Silicon Valley, what I understand and what I’ve experienced, is it’s a bit more of a talk track and a bit more of a publicity element, and not as much true self-awareness and participation in making the change.”
Buchanan added that regulations around diversity requirements – such as a recent law introduced by the Californian government which required California-headquartered companies to have at least one to three female directors – will help address these problems in Silicon Valley.
And while such mandates can make a difference, Buchanan also believes that there is a responsibility on current male leaders to create this change.
“If we can’t get those in power – and at the moment those in power are predominantly white men – to help create the change, then it’s going to take a lot longer,” she said.
“Bringing them along on that journey, and them actually not just being brought along, but being drivers and leaders in that change, is the only way that I think we’re going to get to a place of equality as quickly as I’d like to for my four daughters and one son.”
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