International Women’s Day: Fostering Inclusion & Diversity in tech

International Women’s Day: Fostering Inclusion & Diversity in tech
Published: 10 March 2022

To conclude our ‘Women in Tech’ series and the celebrations around International Women’s Day earlier this week, Fran Grant, Consultant in our Technology Leadership practice spoke with a number of female technology leaders about their career, experiences and their experience of ‘breaking the bias’. In this article, we discuss how best to foster inclusion & diversity in tech.

What can organisations do to ensure they are being more inclusive/diverse?

Fostering an Inclusive and Diverse organisation takes time and commitment, it’s not an overnight ‘one and done’ activity. Key actions an organisation can take include:

  1. Have a clear understanding of how and why I&D is of benefit to their organisation e.g. capture new market share, solve complex problems, mirror our communities…
  2. Authentic commitment and visible actions from leadership
  3. Clarity on how to measure progress and accountability throughout the organisation (not just within HR and the top leadership team, everyone is accountable for fostering the workplace culture)
  4. Omni-channel communication plan on what is happening, how to get involved, what has been achieved, what’s next etc
  5. A governance strategy, ensuring the I&D strategy is steered by a wide representation of the organisation employees
  6. Celebrate success, for example an innovation/team inclusion award, of how employees have partnered with their communities, solved complex problems, provided innovation to products and services
  7. Educate their workforce on the topic, what is I&D, what are the behaviours/language of an Inclusive employee, what are the watchouts when making decisions, embedded into technical and employee training cycles
  8. Give it a budget, not just volunteers, treat I&D as you would any business challenge, put it on the meeting agendas, set targets and empower people to be agents of change

Sue Johnson, Managing Partner - Inclusion & Diversity, Odgers Berndtson

Do you believe women in tech have a harder time getting promoted?

Statistics show that women are promoted more slowly than men, with women in tech progressing at an even slower rate than women in other industries. Gender bias is holding women back from reaching their true potential in many cases. Unconscious bias sees us naturally gravitating towards others who look and think like us and who share experiences and backgrounds and so it’s not unreasonable to conclude that a male dominated industry is perhaps overlooking people through these unconscious biases. Exact reasons behind this varies from company to company and industry to industry, but there are actions that we can all focus on that will help drive change. These can range from encouraging more women to share their experiences and become role models, developing champion and mentoring programmes through to building the confidence of individuals to call out bias when we experience it and share our personal views on bias and diversity without fear of recrimination or a negative impact on our careers.

Tracey McDermott, Chief Technology Officer, McCarthy Stone

Have you ever felt resistance or come up against any barriers that have been a direct result of you being a female leader in a predominantly male sector?

As a female and a Mexican American, I have come up against barriers, especially early in my career. This has been a learning experience. I have self-educated on the topic of misogyny, and I can now spot this type of behaviour.  There are a lot of tools you can use to disarm bad behaviour.  I think if you love your field, like I do, don’t let bad behaviours sway you from you work.  For me it is about doing everything I can not to allow this to happen to females in the industry. 

Michele Hanson, Group Chief Information Security Officer, Micro Focus

How do balance your career with home / family life?

Mostly on a knife edge! I have to set firm boundaries and I stick to them. For example, I am incredibly efficient during work hours, but I don’t work late into the night as I have responsibilities at home. I may start earlier or log on later in the evening, but there are boundaries at the start and end of each day when family duty calls. That said, since the pandemic and working from home, those boundaries have become more blurred which I have found difficult.

Jane Boyle, Digital Transformation Leader

The challenge for working mothers – can you have a successful career and a family? Are companies doing enough to support this?

I am a working parent to a four and five year old and am the first to admit that everyone’s experiences are different, and so what was helpful for me is not going to be suitable for everyone.

A child is a full-time job (for the first 5 years at least anyway). You can choose to outsource some of it, share it between partners (if you have one) or nominate one parent to take the lions share. Having a child does not automatically mean the female parent is now the automatic primary care giver or must step away from the professional world. This should be a conscious choice reached in agreement with each other. My (male) partner and I have both had stints working part time to manage childcare and now both do 9-day fortnights which gives us every other Friday off for childcare. This makes the most sense for both of us and our working arrangements have always been around what makes collective sense for us as a family unit. In my opinion you can have a successful career and a family, but you may need to adjust your definition of success! I believe companies have a role in holding up examples of an attainable successful balance – I don’t mean stories of Senior Execs with full time nannies which are out of reach for most, but healthy relationships where both parties take responsibility and utilise flexible working arrangements. Internal networks of parents can also be a great support mechanism, especially in those first few months of returning from maternity leave when everything feels so overwhelming. International Women’s Day is seeking to Break the Bias in 2022 and the bias of women having to take all caring responsibility for children is an easy starting point.

Mary Hogg, Regional HR Director, Hilton

Can more be done to support women who are juggling career and family?

There has to be. As female leaders we need to support and mentor other women and be open and honest about how difficult it can be, and the logistical challenges that can make working really hard. Similarly, it is contingent on male counterparts to actively seek diversity in their recruitment and progression decisions. The pandemic however has shed light on how tough home life is, the reality that everyone has homes, family, elderly relative, pets etc outside of work and that actually they have more than one job to do. I reflect often on the supply of women and how limited it is. Few of my senior female peers have children, and few of the mums in the playground have senior jobs. I am often the exception, to have both. Perhaps organisations or society could do more to target women who have left the workplace for a period of time, support them in re-skilling and re-entering the workforce. There’s an untapped pool of talent here. And truly understanding and embracing flexibility – flexibility isn’t just ‘work from home on a Monday and Friday’, I mean true flexibility, at a deeper level, again understanding that women often have more than one job.

Jane Boyle, Digital Transformation Leader

Have you faced any barriers as a female leader?

I believe career progress is very much about individuals owning their own destiny, stating what you want, whether it’s that job, that promotion, and why you’d be good at it. I believe often women are less likely to do this, or feel uncomfortable doing this – you often hear the example of where women read a job description and focus on the things they think they can’t do or the skills/experience they don’t possess, rather than the parts they’d excel at. Perhaps women are more self-critical or not as good at self-promoting. You have to set your stall out, be clear on your aspirations, set a path… One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that high performance doesn’t necessarily equal progression. Progression and promotion is a sales and marketing campaign in some ways, particularly when it comes to senior positions where roles are rarely advertised. We need to go and look for opportunities or create ones if none exist.

Jane Boyle, Digital Transformation Consultant

Why do you think there are fewer women at the top table than men?

It's not easy for anyone to take a career break, whether that is to raise children, be a carer for elderly relatives, cope with bereavement, study… and despite some positive changes over the last few years, I know more women than men who have opted out of progressing their careers due to these factors.  Until two years ago, most companies were stuck in a very traditional pattern of ‘every day in the office with a commute’. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to change how we ask people to work, and I hope it gives a chance to fit work around life rather than the other way round which will benefit everyone - particularly women. 

Kate Smyth, Digital Director

What strategies can work well to promote inclusion in the workplace?

Education and empathy are key. Unless everyone understands the case for having a diverse and inclusive workplace then any strategy can feel like a “flavour of the month” initiative. Nobody enjoys having to meet a quota, but we know that measuring diversity at different stages of the employment journey and having targets is the quickest and most effective way to realise positive change. Clear and consistent messaging around having targets to better represent the community you serve can help to quickly align an organisation.  

We should also be mindful of letting our own unconscious bias steer us in unhelpful directions. If the challenge is around working parents, then don’t exclusively focus on mothers – why aren’t we promoting flexible working hours and childcare support to fathers too? Involving people who are different from you when forming your strategies is always very helpful and enlightening.

Mary Hogg, Regional HR Director, Hilton

As a female leader, have you been treated differently to your male colleagues, and if so, in what way?

Despite holding a senior position, there have sometimes been assumptions about gender roles which can be frustrating.  I have been in meetings where it was assumed I would organise future meetings or refreshments - and that's fine if everyone is taking a turn but if the assumption is based on gender, I'm going to call it out.  Again, it comes back to confidence, setting boundaries, and saying what you need to say, which I find comes easier with age.

Kate Smyth, Digital Director

Do you believe women in tech have a harder time getting promoted? What can be done to level the playing field?

Throughout my career in Technology, I have been passed over for males with less experience, knowledge, and ability more times than I can remember. The ‘boys club’ is a difficult nut to crack and I have seen men lining up their mates for roles (we call it ‘jobs for the boys’) and it is misogynistic to the core.  It will take generations to dissolve this way of thinking and equality is a long way off, so we have to play the long game, work as a team with fellow females, deliver, bring innovative thinking, problem solve and ultimately shine! But remember we still have a long way to go and getting frustrated and angry isn’t going to help, so see it as laying the path for the next generation to make the next incremental change.

Digital Transformation Consultant/Senior Leader

How can women support other women in the workplace?

There is a saying that women are over mentored and under promoted, and I think this applies to other groups too like people of colour, those with diverse abilities etc. Women supporting women through sponsorship (not just mentoring) is key but it does rely on there being senior women to make this effective. I would put the call out to ask senior leaders of all genders to always look around the room to make sure not everyone looks the same and if they do, to ask what they can do to change it. If you are the one seeking a sponsor, then identify the person you want and either approach them yourselves or ask to be introduced. You never know unless you ask.

Specifically for women supporting women I would ask not to accept gender bias as it plays out in front of you. If someone tells a sexist joke, ask them why they think it’s funny. If it’s expected for you to take the notes in a room of your peers, suggest it’s someone else’s turn and nominate them. If you only see imagery of men in suits and women in junior roles, call it out. There is a divisive view that once you have one woman in a team that you can shut the gate behind them. It is beholden on all of us to keep every gate behind us open and encourage anyone with talent up the ranks.

Mary Hogg, Regional HR Director, Hilton

Conclusion

Women have so many pure qualities – empathy, understanding, compassion, solidarity, acceptance, forgiveness, generosity, bravery, positivity, determination, curiosity, integrity, grace, strength, intelligence, drive, focus. The list goes on…

Women make up 50% of the population. If the tech industry is to flourish, it would be remiss for organisations to overlook the vast potential of women and deprive themselves of the countless contributions of half the population.

Here’s to #breakingthebias, and to the future of women in tech leadership!

I’d like to extend an enormous thank you to the wonderful women who contributed to our pieces this week:

  • Trish Darling, Programme & Service Management Consultant
  • Anon, Digital Transformation Consultant/Senior Leader
  • Avril Chester, Chief Technology Officer at RIBA and founder of Cancer Central UK
  • Kate Smyth, Digital Director
  • Jane Boyle, Digital Transformation Consultant
  • Mary Hogg, Regional HR Director, Hilton
  • Sue Johnson, Managing Partner - Inclusion & Diversity, Odgers Berndtson
  • Debbie Chun, Assistant Director of IT, Stonewater

To read our other article in the series, please click the links below:

Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Retail FS, Leisure and Hospitality, with a UK wide remit.

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