Driving Diversity in IT — The Journey Continues

In the April Edition of Cloud Quick Hits I raised the question, “How do we drive diversity in IT?” In it I describe the journey I have been on to not only understand the barriers, but to do what I can to challenge and remove the barriers. This path has introduced me to many amazing and talented people, people willing to share their experiences and insights and to help guide me on this path.

Photo by #WOCinTech via http://www.wocintechchat.com/

Once such person is Julie Kratz, speaker, author and coach at Pivot Point. Through our conversation, she led me to the book “What Works for Women at Work” by Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey, a study of gender bias in the workplace. That’s the way it works, you pull on a thread, you meet someone who introduces you to someone, they point you in a direction and you “pull on the thread”. In the end, we are all stronger, we are all smarter because we learn and grow.

The news has been filled this year with sexual harassment in the tech sector. The recent blog post from Susan Fowler relating her experience with sexual harassment while at Uber has encouraged others to come forward. It is hard to imagine in this day and age, people are still facing sexual harassment at work.

I am sure all of you are thinking, “We don’t have that problem at XYZ company”, or “I would never treat anyone that way.” While sexual harassment is still a huge issue and it is headline grabbing, gender biases can be a hidden barrier. Biases whether conscious or unconscious can have a devastating impact on a woman’s career.

In doing the research for their book, Williams and Dempsey identified four main patterns of gender bias.

  • Prove It Again — We all use stereotypes to one degree or another. We build “mental models” based on these stereotypes. One such mental model is that leaders are men. Men’s performance, contributions and potential are often over-estimated because of this bias. We also tend to underestimate a woman’s performance, contribution and potential. This leads women to feel the pressure to “prove it again” and again and again.
  • The Tightrope — Many women walk a tightrope, trying to balance being seen as overly feminine, or coming across as too masculine. Too feminine and they risk seeming likable but not as competent. Too masculine and they may seem more competent but less likable.
  • The Maternal Wall — Motherhood (and the lack of motherhood) raises even more biases. A woman who wants to raise a family is seen as less competent and less committed to the job. It is assumed they can’t be focused on work and committed mothers at home. This bias can enter into hiring decisions, promotions, and project assignments.
  • The Tug of War — In the majority of companies, women in leadership roles are in the minority. One of the side effects, whether intentional or not, is that it exacerbates the tendency to compete against one another for those top jobs. This pits women against each other in a zero sum game of tug of war.

Last month, I had the distinct pleasure of hosting a panel discussion on the topic of Women in IT. The panelists were:

Valerie Osinski, CTO, Project Lead the Way

Anna Hanson, Sales Director, ByteSpeed

Robin Fleming, SVP, Technology, Angie’s List

Christine DeWeese, Sr. Director Marketing Cloud, Salesforce

As you might imagine, the discussion was quite lively and engaging. The session was one of the most attended sessions of the day and the attendees asked some thoughtful questions of the group. While I can’t begin to relate all of the discussion, I would like to summarize some of the key advice.

  • Know your stuff — have confidence in your skills and experience
  • Never stop learning — have an endless thirst for knowledge
  • Lean on the data — come with facts
  • Take time to network — a strong network is vital to success
  • Don’t apologize for your point of view — again, confidence
  • Be a mentor — look for talented young women to mentor for executive roles
  • Be inclusive in your meetings — examine the attendee list, is it diverse?
  • Be open minded in your hunt for talent — suspend your biases and look the gems
  • Be strategic — recognize individual strengths and avoid endorsing diversity for the sake of diversity alone
  • Build an advisory panel — don’t just have a single mentor or even two. Surround yourself with a diverse group of professionals who can provide input from all perspectives.

In the end, some outstanding advice from some great leaders. To the women reading, I urge you to heed their advice, to find your voice, and to call us (males) out (gently at first) when we screw up.

To the guys, this is an issue that impacts us all. I encourage you to do what I have done, read about the topic, recognize and suspend your biases, and when in doubt…ask!

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