Why gender diversity should be a personal responsibility
By Helen Sutton, VP Enterprise Northern Europe, DocuSign
I was invited to present the award for DocuSign-sponsored category Security Champion of the Year at the 2019 Women in IT Awards recently. Despite terrible timing (last day of the financial year) I didn’t hesitate. I never do.
I have never needed time to think when it comes to supporting incredible events like this one, that champion women’s accomplishments in IT. Looking back, my avid support of women in business was more of a realisation than a conscious decision. I’m an engineer by background. One of six women in a class of 100 students, it didn’t occur to me to be anything other than bold in pursuit of my goals. Intuitively, that’s always been something I’ve been enthusiastic about passing onto other women.
So, when I stood on stage waiting to present Carly West of The Bank of England with the accolade of Security Champion of the Year, I was filled with pride for her incredible accomplishment in what is arguably one of the most male-dominated areas of IT.
Truthfully, I don’t know why women shy away from IT careers. More than one source suggests that the number of women that occupy IT roles could still be as low as 17%. Nor, do I know why we need to have events like these specifically for women. But I know that today we do. And, I hope that one day it will no longer be necessary to hold women up to prevent their achievements being lost in the noise.
If you have ever attended an awards dinner of any kind, you will know these are noisy affairs. Now imagine what a room of more than 1,000 sounds like when it’s heavily weighted towards a female audience. They say that women use three times as many words as men during the course of a day and sitting among my IT peers I could well believe it. The energy was palpable.
So, when two students from Townley Grammar School took the stage to share their experiences on Amazon’s AWS Get It program, and you could suddenly hear a pin drop, it occurred to me that our youth holds in their hands a tremendous power to influence change. The students articulated with confidence and perfect clarity their experiences in getting hands on with app-building aimed at solving real issues within school life. I’d challenge any female listening to them on the night to feel anything other than immense pride for being part of such an incredible industry. Time and again we see that messages from our younger generations are delivered with emotion and without bias, therefore people want to listen! Which is why, if we wait until our youth are already in the workforce to on-board them as ambassadors for equality, we are leaving it far too late.
Instead we should be encouraging young women to be bold every day. We should be checking our behavior in our daily interactions with them, making sure we are not unintentionally perpetuating stereotypes.
When I talk with my daughter about her dreams I am mindful to ensure I’m not imposing any ‘parent’ barriers that don’t exist for a child. (A 10-year-old girl won’t give a second thought to becoming a firefighter when she grows up).
That was my major takeaway from the evening. That bold is a mindset we can pass on through all of our daily interactions.
I’m grateful that organisations like Women in IT exist to provide incredible opportunities, like the Women in IT Awards ,for us to recognise our female pioneers. I’m equally grateful to work for a forward-thinking company that places top priority on the efforts of its D&I council and takes its role in driving equal opportunity seriously.
But, I’m also a passionate believer in personal accountability. It’s not enough to attend an annual event or establish a corporate quota.
For me, this is an everyday effort – and it does require mindfulness to overcome the unconscious biases we have built up over years when it comes to women in the IT workplace. When I have a role to fill in my organisation it’s up to me and nobody else to ensure there’s diversity in my candidate pipeline. While some candidates may come to me, I might well have to go looking for others. But, they should still all be there because the best person for the job can only result from a diverse pool.
When we treat gender diversity as a behavior instead of a cause, it’s easy to imagine a future filled with the likes of Carly West. And, the IT industry will be much stronger for it.