Information Age is pleased to bring you this Diversity and Inclusion series, celebrating the glorious fabric of professionals that make up the IT sector.
This week, Ajay Bhatia, Managing Director of Carsales Australia, shares his values of diversity and inclusion, discusses why his employer embraces it as part of its DNA, and why employees should move on if their employer doesn't do likewise.*
In 1992, my father decided that we should move to Australia. We were living in Delhi, my birthplace; dad travelled a lot with his job at Air India, and felt Australia would be a good move for us.
My father was very easy going and he thought Australians were, too. Interestingly, it was my mother’s job as a teacher that helped us migrate to Australia. Back then, there was a shortage of maths teachers.
Unfortunately when we arrived, her qualifications were not recognised.
The best work that was offered to her was a casual job as a teaching assistant. She only got work once she called every morning to check in. Financially, it was tough as dad remained working in India before he could come over to Australia.
We found a small two-bedroom unit and settled in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield.
We had to survive on $20 a week to buy groceries and anything else. Our home was furnished with the help of The Smith Family. Regardless, the unit and the furniture were nice.
It was hard to watch my mother each morning making calls to see if she had work. I felt I had to contribute. I found a job at Pizza Hut and worked there on the weekends.
I was a teenager when we arrived and yet to complete the equivalent of the HSC. I enrolled at Dover Heights TAFE in Sydney and completed my HSC in one year. I went to school from Monday to Thursday and then worked weekends.
I remember travelling two hours to get there and two hours to get back home. I’d leave at 7am to reach school by 9am and then arrived home at 11pm; school didn’t finish until 7pm. I took a train to Central and another to Bondi and then a bus to Dover Heights – there was no easy way of getting from Ashfield to Dover Heights unless you had a car.
To be honest, these types of challenges didn’t surprise me. Anyone who has moved to a new country understands that.
Coming from an Indian background, we were middle class and not rich. When you convert India rupees to Australian dollars, we literally had nothing. Dover Heights was not a very diverse area in 1992, although the students were nice and accepting of me.
I can’t complain. I never thought I was discriminated against. My approach has always been glass half-full. Believe me, I thought people made up discrimination, because I didn’t think I had such biases and I assumed others didn’t either.
After finishing my HSC, I enrolled at the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) and gained my Bachelor’s degree in Engineering. I studied part-time and worked full-time to help with expenses and to be financially independent.
At university, I didn’t feel discriminated or see any lack of diversity. There were students from all over the world.
When I was 19 years old, four classmates and I started a business called iSystems (a software development consultancy). One was Lebanese, the others Sri Lankan, Philippines, and one born in Australia. We all got along well and we’re very good friends still today. We all had the entrepreneurial instinct.
The first year I earned $44,000. It was good money. After that, I worked at a few companies, including Telstra and Fairfax on the digital side.
I was happy plodding along and after five years at Fairfax my wife said, “What are you doing with your career?" I said, "What do you mean? We have a nice house and car? What else do you need?". She said, “I know you’re capable of more.”
She pushed me to change, so I took the opportunity to join Carsales which was just starting. It meant a pay cut and a move to Melbourne. The risk paid off.
My wife stayed in Sydney while I commuted for two years. She moved there in 2010, and in 2011 my daughter was born.
Over time, my friends would say to me there were a lot of biases and discrimination. Again, I felt that there wasn’t and I would say, “it’s all in your head!” I certainly hadn’t experienced it, maybe because I have this glass half-full belief. I still hold true to that advice.
Carsales has no place for any discrimination. I was lucky to get into a culture that embraced diversity from the get-go. Greg Roebuck, the founder of Carsales, probably unconsciously, was inclusive all along. It’s in his DNA. He employs people from all over the world. Subsequently, Cam who took over from Greg has the same attitude.
When I started, we had 50 to 100 employees. Today we have 1,200 plus. In terms of market cap, we’re in the top ASX 100 companies in Australia.
I feel discrimination exists but, more aimed at others rather than myself – particularly for women entrepreneurs and in leadership roles. This is my area of interest. I saw this with my mother. Since I had my daughter, it’s strengthened my resolve to do something about this. I want her to grow in an equal world, with opportunities based on her talent, not gender.
Personally, I sponsor two scholarships with UTS to advance the cause of women in entrepreneurship. The goal is to develop two women and provide $25K to each. I only ask of them that when they’re up and running to pay it forward and sponsor another two.
One woman I’ve sponsored is already helping children learn coding and STEM subjects. I have signed up with UTS and am funding them to help promote entrepreneurship in schools.
At Carsales, we have a diversity inclusion committee and report regularly on issues, such as gender, not just now but looking into the future. You can’t build diversity inclusion change in a day. You have to work at it.
We have unconscious bias training and we bring in speakers into companies, both men and women. We currently have 40 percent women in senior leadership roles. Our aim is for equal representation.
Carsales has scholarships with Swinburne University to support women in technology and support computer studies in schools.
I would say to anyone who is feeling discriminated that there is no point working for a company that is not focussed on diversity and inclusion. Right now, we have a talent-strapped market – if you’re stuck, find another one. Carsales is a good one!
* Story as told to writer Emily Chantiri.
This Diversity and Inclusion series is brought to you by the ACS National Diversity and Inclusion Council (NDIC). The role of NDIC is to provide strategic advice addressing challenges related to diversity and inclusion within both ACS and the wider technology community.
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