BeCOME an Ally | Breaking through the gender equity divide

Have you ever been fed up with something and thought to yourself, “WAIT! Why am I putting up with this?” I had one of those moments a few years ago and it set me on a path of change—a path that took an exciting turn a few months ago.

In November 2020, I had the honor of giving a TEDx talk about something that has brought me heartache for years: the gender equity gap in the technology industry. After 30-years of regularly being the only woman in the room, I’m hopeful that sharing my story on the TEDx stage will be a catalyst for scalable change.

BeCOME and Ally: How to achieve gender equity

In the talk, I share personal stories about feeling invisible at work, as if I’m wearing an invisibility cloak that I just can’t take off. I know many of you can relate—you know, when you share your perspective in a meeting and are met with deafening silence? I can’t tell you the number of times that’s happened to me.  

To be fair, I’ve worked with many kind and inclusive allies throughout my career. And Microsoft, like many organizations, have taken this challenge head-on—making great strides with allyship training and a clear focus on creating a culture of diversity and inclusion. It’s been encouraging to see the progress we’ve made so far.

Unfortunately, in our industry as a whole, there just isn’t enough forward movement. So, by sharing my personal experiences, I hope to create a force-multiplier effect, where we can harness collective power to make change and ultimately bring gender equity to technology. But if we don’t act fast, we’re in trouble.

When I started in the technology industry in 1991, 36% of the computing workforce was women. In 2019, that number had fallen to 27%. We’re going the wrong direction, and it will soon get even worse.

The jobs being displaced through digital transformation disproportionately impact women and people of color. And that creates a perfect storm: by percentage, there are fewer women in technology, there are more jobs in technology, and yet there are more women being displaced by the technology. This is truly a crisis.

The good news is, we have the collective power to do something about it. Through technology democratization, purpose-driven leadership and male allyship, we can close the gap of inequity and create a new narrative. 

We need to add 8 million women to the technology workforce in order to achieve gender equity in the industry. With roughly 4 million in tech today, we have a long way to go. But with your help, we can create access and opportunity. We can #BeCOME agents of change by embracing four simple actions.

Connect | Make intentional connections with women in your network. Reach out and give women access to you and everyone in your community.

Outreach | Examine recruiting practices, hiring practices, and supplier selection practices. When you post a job, do you screen out candidates or do you screen in for diversity?

 Mentor | I would not be where I am today without the many men and women who have mentored me along the way. When you mentor, you blaze a trail for others to follow.

 Empower | The most impactful thing you can do for another human being is to empower them—to lift them up and create an inclusive environment that gives voice to everyone and allows people to be heard and seen for who they are.

In my TEDx talk I share examples of people I know who are walking the walk, like @Jennifer Didier who is the President and founder of our partner @Directions Training. Tired of seeing only men in her training programs, she set aside profit and created a scholarship program to bring free technical training and technical certification to women. And through her single intentional act, she has fundamentally changed the career trajectory for 70 women.

Another example is @Mal McHutchinson from @Interactive IT in Australia. He helped sponsor an organization called Male Champions for Change, which is dedicated to driving for gender diversity in high-tech.  And within his own organization, he has made a commitment to make his cyber security practice 50% women. That’s intentional leadership.

Through connection, outreach, mentorship, and empowerment, we can build healthier workplace cultures. We can attract new employees, customers, and investors. We can increase opportunities for all women and build a new generation of leaders that understand the value of equity.

We can do it. But it will take intentional action. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

Over the next four weeks, I’ll be posting articles here on LinkedIn about each of the four actions we can take to #BeCOME agents of change and help women take off their invisibility cloak.

BeCOME an Agent of Change | Connect

A few years ago, I was having coffee with a couple of friends of mine. Like me, they were all too familiar with the struggles women face in the technology industry—being the only woman in the room, fighting to be heard and seen. It was over that cup of coffee that we decided we needed to do something about the gender equity gap in the tech industry.

During that conversation we agreed one of the biggest hurdles to gender equity is access—access to business opportunities, leadership positions, venture capital funding, and so on. The door doesn’t just swing open for women in tech. Historically, when we knock, no one answers. And that’s when we can actually find the door. Oftentimes, the entrance is hidden or inaccessible.

I remember after that discussion asking myself, how had I survived 27 years in this industry when the deck was stacked against me? How was I able to climb to a leadership position in one of the largest tech companies in the world, while others couldn’t even find the door?

It was because I had access to opportunities that eluded so many others. Of course, I worked my tail off to make the most of those opportunities. But it was the connections I made—and that others made on my behalf—that set me on a path to success. There was a key in connection and networking. I was one of the lucky ones who had found that key.

With that in mind, a group of women I work with created an organization called Women in Cloud (WiC). It’s a community-led economic development organization focused on access, action, and acceleration. Working with global leaders, corporations, and policymakers, WiC’s goal is to help women entrepreneurs create $1 billion in economic access and opportunity by 2030.   It is led by an incredible woman, @Chaitra Vedullapalli, who is a force!  Without her drive, commitment to action and dedication, we would not be able to reach each of these critical milestones.  And my friends in that discussion, @Karen Fassio and @Gretchen O’Hara, have continued their support alongside me to create access for all women. 

As WiC has evolved over the past three years, we’ve watched the community of women business owners grow exponentially, connecting hundreds of entrepreneurs to a network of peers and investors. Through its Cloud Accelerator program, WiC has helped 22 women-led companies build and market enterprise-ready technology solutions, creating $50 million in opportunity.

That’s what can happen when we take intentional steps to make a difference. And we need to do more.

I recently had the honor of giving a TEDx talk about the gender equity gap in technology. I am on a mission to bring gender parity to the industry. To get there, we need 8+ million additional women in tech roles than we have today. It’s going to take a lot of work. But together, we can do it.

During my talk, I shared four specific things every single one of us can do to close the gap and #BeCOME an agent of change. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be posting articles here on LinkedIn about each deliberate action we can take. The first is CONNECT.

Connect | Make intentional connections with women in your network. Reach out and give women access to yourself and to everyone in your community.

This intentional action can make all the difference in the world. Think about the introduction someone made for you that led to a new role or business opportunity. We all have those connections that changed our path and opened a door. What if that connection hadn’t been made? Would you be where you are today?

It’s time to return the favor by connecting. Join an organization like Women in Cloud or @The Women in Technology Network—another organization I sponsor. There are at least a dozen organizations that are dedicated to connecting women in the technology field and creating access to opportunities. When you #Connect, you #BeCOME an agent of change.

Next week, I’ll share the second way you can make a difference, through #Outreach. Until then, here are some organizations you can #Connect with:

Women in Cloud (Women in Cloud: Overview | LinkedIn) – Women in Cloud is a community-led economic development organization with a massive mission: to take action with global leaders, corporations and policymakers to help women entrepreneurs create $1 billion in economic access and opportunity by 2030. With its Cloud Accelerator program, Women in Cloud helps entrepreneurs build and market their distribution channels.

The WIT Network (The WIT Network: Overview | LinkedIn) – The WIT Network is a global community of professional women and men who encourage all women and girls to study STEM and pursue careers in technology. With more than 80 communities in more than 30 countries, they enable more women to attain leadership positions and career advancement, and help companies change the landscape of gender equality within their business.

Women in Tech (WOMEN IN TECH – Global Movement: Overview | LinkedIn) – Women in Tech is an international organization with a double mission: to close the gender gap and to help women embrace technology. They focus on 4 primary areas of action: Education, Entrepreneurialism, Social Inclusion, Science & Innovation. With a global footprint, Women in Tech aims to educate, equip and empower women and girls with the necessary skills, confidence and opportunities to succeed in STEM career fields.

Girls in Tech (Girls in Tech, Inc.: Overview | LinkedIn)– Girls in Tech is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the gender gap in tech. With more than 60,000 members in 50+ chapters around the world, organizers host hackathons, coding bootcamps, startup pitch competitions, and more.

mBolden (mBolden: Overview | LinkedIn) – mBolden is a global community of 10,000+ women working together to support and empower female leadership. They strive to help women raise their voice and visibility in the mobile, digital marketing, and online industries. With 10 chapters in cities across the US and worldwide, mBolden connects female entrepreneurs and leaders.

Girls Who Code (Girls Who Code: Overview | LinkedIn) – Girls Who Code is on a mission to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmed looks like and does. They’re reaching girls around the world teaching not just coding, but also the values of bravery, sisterhood, and activism.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWiT AiC (The National Center for Women & Information Technology- Aspirations in Computing) | Groups | LinkedIn) – NCWIT is a non-profit community chartered in 2004 by the National Science Foundation. They convene, equip, and unite change-leader organizations to increase the influential and meaningful participation of girls and women in the field of computing, particularly in terms of innovation and development. NCWIT help 1,400+ organizations recruit, retain, and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers by providing support, evidence, and action.

Women Who Code (Women Who Code: Overview | LinkedIn) – Women Who Code envisions a world where women are proportionally represented as technical leaders, executives, founders, VCs, board members, and software engineers. Through a global community of networking, they empower women for professional achievement. They educate companies to promote, retain, and hire talented women. And they develop role models to support today’s generation of engineers.

Change Catalyst (Change Catalyst: Overview | LinkedIn) – Change Catalyst builds inclusive tech ecosystems through strategic advising, startup programs and resources, and a series of events around the globe. Using culture and behavior change strategies, we convene and advise the tech ecosystem to drive solutions to diversity and inclusion together: across education, workplace, entrepreneurship, policy, media/entertainment and ecosystem builders.

BeCOME an Agent of Change | Outreach

In 2016, @Enavate, an IT organization focused on Microsoft Dynamics, was at a crossroads. Revenue was down and the leadership team was unsure about the company’s future. During a meeting, a bleak report from the company’s Chief Financial Officer triggered something in the mind of Enavate’s CEO @Thomas Ajspur. 

 “I had forgotten why I started the business, which was to create an amazing place to work that inspired our team members. So, we made a conscious decision to focus less on the numbers and more on our culture and our people.” 

 As Enavate’s leaders set out to turn things around, they realized it wasn’t just a revenue and culture problem they had to solve. They had a gender equity problem too. Only 20% of the company’s workforce were women. So, they changed their hiring practices—not by creating policies to require diversity, but by changing their approach to recruiting. 

 Instead of hiring based on skills or “people they knew,” hiring managers were expected to look at candidates for who they were as individuals. They started hiring for quality rather than skills or expediency. That approach has doubled the number of women at Enavate. 

 “I‘m proud of getting to 40% gender equity, but I’m not happy. We need to get to a 50-50 split,” said Ajspur. 

 This is the kind of intentional leadership I was talking about in my recent TEDx Talk, BeCOME an Ally: How to achieve gender equity. It’s going to take the kind of allyship demonstrated by the leaders of Enavate to bring 8 million more women into the technology industry. That’s how many more we need to reach gender equity in high tech. 

 How do we get there? We need to scale. We need force multipliers. We need more men and women to become agents of change. That’s why I developed the BeCOME framework, which is made up of four actions every one of us can do to help move the needle:  

In a recent LinkedIn article I talked about Connection, and how critical it is for us to open our networks and create access points for women to connect with business leaders and with one another. The allyship demonstrated by the leaders at Enavate exemplifies the second action we all can take: Outreach. 

 Outreach is about examining your recruiting and hiring practices. When you post a job, do you screen out candidates, or do you screen in for diversity? And what about the suppliers you work with, or the vendors you hire—can they do more to create access for women? 

 A few years ago, I challenged the leaders in my own organization to stop hiring for expediency and to intentionally go outside the company and generate truly diverse candidate pools—and then ensure a diverse panel conducted the interviews. We were all inspired by the high-quality of diverse candidates that emerged. It changed the culture of our organization, and as a result, the gender diversity in our team improved dramatically.  

There’s something special that happens when you have gender equity in your team. There’s more collaboration. You get new ideas and fresh perspectives. And as an organization we’ve become more empathetic. More vulnerable. More human. We talk about our feelings and we’re more open about our opinions. We aren’t afraid to share what we think. Overall, we’re just a healthier organization because we have equitable representation.

Pushing for gender equity in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for your business. According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, organizations with diverse leadership teams have 19% higher profitability. They have greater levels of employee engagement, and higher levels of customer satisfaction. When you think about it, that makes sense. A diverse leadership team is creating products and services that better reflect their diverse customer base, right?

Enavate has experienced that first-hand. The company has doubled in size since making the conscious decision to change the culture of their company and move toward gender equity in their workforce. Today, 40% of its team members and 40% of its leadership team are women. And Enavate is now one of Microsoft’s largest Dynamics partners in the United States.

“We have an obligation as a company and to society to help people who have a harder time getting access to roles in technology,” said Ajspur.

By creating a culture of diversity and access, Ajspur says Enavate is now a favored destination for top IT talent, “It’s well known that you can be a person here, not just a number.”

To Thomas, and everyone at Enavate, thank you for being allies and leaders. Thank you for being agents of change.

Be sure to watch for my next #BeCOME LinkedIn article where I’ll share another way all of us can drive for gender equity in tech and become agents of change, through Mentorship.