Women in Technology: Diversity matters but so does INTENTION

For the last several years, diversity, equity and inclusion have become a priority in organizations. Even several years ago, business publications featured articles highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion because it made sense for a business’s bottom line.

Fast forward. The MeToo Movement, Black Lives Matter and even the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have moved us past the business motivation to social justice and to focus on equity not only in our workplace but also our communities.

To delve into this important topic that will affect our workplace for generations, Genesis10 hosted a panel discussion called “Women in Technology – What Can We Do Now?” The panel focused on:

  1. Raising awareness for Women in Technology;
  2. Spurring conversation to move past barriers; and
  3. Equipping each of us to help move our company forward.

I served as moderator and was joined by:

  • Mandy O’Dell – Vice President, head of HR – Technology with Northwestern Mutual
  • Eric Simonson – managing partner of research at Everest Group
  • Terry Hogan – President & CTO for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)

Here are some highlights of our discussion.

Societal bias. According to NCWIT, only 5% of CTOs of Fortune 1000 companies are women. The culprit, according to Terry Hogan, is generations of societal biases. Even though each of us probably think we are not biased, at some level we have a belief of how individuals should carry themselves in the workplace or a specific persona that could or should fill a certain position.

Simonson noted that the talent shortage, our hiring decisions, how work is assigned and even the disruption created by the pandemic all create opportunities for change. He also noted that when we think about solving problems for women, we need to think more broadly. “We have a chance to make work better for everyone.”

PREMIUM CONTENT: The Future of Diversity and Inclusion in the Contingent Workforce

Data. Companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft now publish annual diversity reports. O’Dell highlighted how she is a big fan of data but warned that data can mask reality. Data is important, but there are nuances. We need to understand the type of work women are doing. Hogan noted that workforce composition is also incredibly important in that the data could show that while a company may be considered diverse, women are primarily in mid- to entry-level positions, while men are in senior positions.

In other words, an organization may appear diverse based on the data, but that does not mean that it is inclusive or there is equity.

Planting the seed. Genesis10 Dev10 Associate Mackenzie Peters also participated in the discussion, sharing her story of how she became interested in coding. She was studying to be a graphics designer, but was required to take coding classes, which sparked her interest to change career paths to coding. Mackenzie now is a certified full-stack developer with one of the top employers in Milwaukee. Her advice: Invest in yourself, regardless of where you are in your career.

What I take away from that experience: To affect meaningful change, we need to expose the young to coding and other technology professions — as early as elementary school. Like the old adage goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

As a parent, I am a big proponent of encouraging my daughters to take a class or a summer camp program to gain exposure.

Encourage conversation. Start conversations and ask people to share their stories about caregiving for their elderly parents, coaching sports for a child’s team or training for a marathon. We all have interests and priorities outside of work. It’s okay to share them. Don’t be afraid to ask for flexibility or to share your story. After all, everything we do, inside and outside, of work shapes us and contributes to our diverse thinking — which spurs innovation and growth – personally and professionally.

Other actionable tactics from the panel:

  1. Be intentional.
  2. Demonstrate the behaviors.
  3. Use return to the office as a way to model new behaviors.
  4. Dig into the data.
  5. Don’t self-limit and let biases blur your thinking.

This blog post cannot do justice to the issues or the conversation of the panel, which yielded insight after insight. I encourage you to listen to the recording.

MORE: Introducing the DE&I Influencers list

Ami Sarnowski

Ami Sarnowski
Ami Sarnowski is chief innovation officer of Genesis10.

Ami Sarnowski

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