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  • Writer's pictureAmy Woolf

Searching For Equality

The Ultimate Quest for a Diverse Shortlist

If I had a penny for every time I heard the words "we expect a fully diverse shortlist", I would be able to retire in Bora Bora next year. The good news is that almost every business is aiming for a diverse talent pool, whether or not they fully understand why diversity is important, and they are trying to get there. The bad news is that even for a (gasp!) female headhunter, achieving a diverse candidate slate is pretty tough.

Sarah Lahav, CEO SysAid wrote a brilliant piece for Fast Company last month. She believes the movement for “women in tech” is stuck. If it wants to elevate women because of their gender instead of their skills, she says, she will not play along.

The piece prompted me to think about my own work. When more young women are going into tech and succeeding, where are the strong women in the pipeline to the executive level?

Many women I spoke to chose careers in technology because there wasn’t much competition for the “geeky” roles. Jennifer Nelson, Senior Director of Software Engineering at Rocket Software started working in tech support by chance and soon realised her unique position. Similarly, a tenacious woman from one of the leading end user technology providers said she didn’t want to follow swarms of friends going into the same industries. A technically brilliant solution architect loved her early career, but tired of the constant casual sexism from her male colleagues and bosses and ultimately decided to change careers. Even with this in mind I was shocked by a survey of performance reviews of high-performers in tech which showed that attacks on personalities appeared in 85% of reviews for women, compared to just 2% for men, including words such as abrasive, strident or irrational.

I find it hard to believe that all those women had serious character flaws.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Many women choose to leave corporate life in favour of contracting. Running your own business and being your own boss can be liberating and empowering. Those who stay often say they do so to empower the next generation; the responsibility of being a woman in tech is not lost on them.

Anjali Arora, CPO at Rocket Software, has stayed and thrived. A warm, facilitating leader, she believes her success is partly due to the support of her family – not physical but emotional – and partly due to her pragmatism:

“I have been dismissed as the tea lady before, but I found the humour in that and by being competent, confident and knowing what I was doing, people realised very quickly they were wrong.”

She is acutely aware that out of her graduating class, she is one of few women still in technology, which she attributes to lack of development opportunities, inflexibility of roles and consistent glass ceilings.

The truth is not everyone wants to stay and fight. Allison Baum tells women the solution to a male dominated corporate culture is to "quit and do your own thing."

She believes it’s really important to look at the system and ask, “Can I win this?” If you can’t win it or influence how someone thinks or how a system works, she says, then it’s much better to leave and play a game you can win.

If contracting allows women to enjoy their work, - then so be it. I just hope that when the 'real deal' business comes along, offering a place for everyone to thrive, those women haven't been burnt so badly that they miss out.

In the meantime, if organisations are interested in recruiting and retaining talented female technologists, they have to make it as easy as possible for everyone to succeed:

  • Coaching: There are so many tipping points throughout our careers where we desperately need support. Offering coaching to employees to enable them to understand how to navigate their careers could have a huge impact on productivity, effectiveness and motivation.

  • Training: Managers receive training on how to manage and handle performance and pay reviews. Wouldn't it be great if we offered the same training to those they were managing on how to ask for a pay review, understanding your achievements and being assertive in line with your value. If we are ever to reach parity, I believe support around pay reviews, training on negotiation and understanding your value would result in a stronger, fairer work force.

  • Convenience: OK, I confess. I have never once felt the urge to play ping pong at work, nor have I ever yearned to sit on a couch and play an Xbox. These additions to an office, whilst they may look funky, don't offer much to entice most women to stay with a business. Convenience, however, now that is a game changer. As Brigid Schulte said very recently, women need time. With an onsite dry cleaner, I may save myself life admin, with a shower in the office I could run to work and tick my workout off my to do list. I would get precious time back.

  • Intelligent working: Some people love to work from home, others hate it. Intelligent working means working wherever you need and want to -- wherever you get the best results. The future of work doesn't mean less bums in seats, but bums in seats wherever they get the job done. Similarly, travel is part of life for many people, but wouldn't it be wonderful if you could limit the locations of travel. Consider, within reason, where your clients are and where your colleagues are based.

This piece only touches the surface of a much wider debate. I am sure one day we will get it right, but for now I live in hope that in the not too distant future, the diverse short list will be a given, rather than a need.

Side note: I am recruiting for some of those businesses that DO practise what they preach. If you are interested in hearing more, please get in touch.

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