Diversity and inclusion: more than checking the box

These days you might be forgiven for thinking women don’t face challenges in the technology sector. There’s Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook and Susan Wojcicki at YouTube. The CEO of IBM is Ginni Rometty and Safra Catz is a co-CEO at Oracle. Women are breaking the glass ceiling in technology – so what’s the problem? As a woman working in technology and Fintech, I still see a need for more women in key roles throughout our industry. So how do we get there?

Perception vs. unconscious bias

A good place to start is unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are built from the time we are born and continue all through our lives. It affects our perception and how we see people, it impacts our attitude and how we react towards certain people, it impacts our behaviors and how receptive and friendly we are towards certain people, our attention and who we chose to give it to and our listening skills – how much we decide to listen to what others have to say. We need to be conscious of them when hiring, making promotions and other decisions that require an inclusive mind-set. Being more aware of this and being open to relearning means that we can really make a step change with how we can create more positive experiences for our colleagues who are different from us.

Policy – from education to mentorship

Education is a clear route to progress. A logical way of increasing the numbers of women in our sector is to steer girls toward Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects, producing more female programmers, engineers and the like. But recent research from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) shows that the number of Computer Science degrees awarded to women has decreased since 1984 – and the reasons range from unequal pay to lack of mentoring opportunities, fuelling a cycle where young women are discouraged from pursuing a technical education and entering the industry in the first place.

To deal with this problem, we must continue to enact HR policies which eliminate real and perceived differences in the industry. Progress has been made, but ISACA’s research shows that unequal pay, for example, is an ongoing issue. 43% of women believe male colleagues are paid more for the same work. Workplace flexibility continues to be critical to balancing professional life with family: 65% say their employer has flexible work arrangements in place; 60% use them.

Once in the workplace, women see mentoring and coaching as a key factor to overcoming career obstacles. ISACA’s research shows that 48% of women see the lack of a suitable mentor is the greatest barrier to progress in their technology careers – and 42% say a lack of female role models is a major barrier too. Finastra’s own Women@Finastra program aims to grow the numbers of women mentors – with several APAC countries selected as testing sites. Leading@Finastra – a dedicated program for women as part of the Learning@Finastra program – will focus on a tailored development plan that will continue to equip and inspire women to progress into leadership roles.

Role of executive leadership

Most of all, the key initiatives need to be driven at the leadership level in order for them to be successful and well adopted across the organization. Gender diversity is our first priority right now at Finastra as part of our wider Inclusion program. We want to drive to engage, develop, attract, and retain women at all stages of their career in partnership with men and women across Finastra. Executive leaders at Finastra are working directly with high potential women to give them more visibility, exposure and be their advocate internally and externally.

Soft skills or software?

Here’s an area which could be quite controversial: the default perception that men are more logical and technically-minded, while women’s talents (associated with motherhood and nurturing) are ‘softer’, suiting us for roles in HR or Marketing. Whether there is some truth to this perception or not, it poses a question: should women leverage their ‘soft skills’ to reach the top in the ‘soft’ roles, or challenge perceptions and show that women, too, are able to be brilliant programmers or system architects? We may be accused of being ‘strident’ if we do, but our soft skills bring new insights to these areas – and diverse groups generally make better decisions, create more innovative solutions, and often make more profitable businesses. Either way, perceptions of our abilities are there to be examined – it’s up to us as individuals to decide whether to leverage them or to challenge them.

The power of belief

I strongly believe that while the onus is on organizations to make changes, women can and should help themselves and each other too. No-one understands the fears and frustrations we face better than another woman; no-one can speak to the solutions that enable us to balance our professional lives with our home lives. If too many mentors are male, we should become mentors – for every one of us who has benefited from a mentor, someone has given their time and commitment to mentor us. If we draw on our so-called ‘soft skills’, we can be more strategic and nuanced in negotiating more flexibility and fairer pay. Above all, we must be our own cheerleaders with the confidence in our abilities to promote our own interests and speak our minds without the fear of being labelled ‘strident’.

At Finastra, we’re doing pretty well. I acknowledge the progress that has been made; I’m encouraged by initiatives underway that will sustain this process; but most of all I want to rally my female technology colleagues and say: we can help each other; we have the power to give each other the support we need and opportunities we deserve. Men are getting better at understanding what we need – but we women are still our own best allies.