On International Women’s day, I pause to think about the changes that has come about since the whole Active Inclusion and Diversity drive kicked off, not just within Capgemini but in the tech industry as a whole.
I wonder how it all came about, who had the Eureka moment and realised we need more diversity in the technology industry. But, it is not as dramatic as it sounds. Turns out, bad publicity from an investigation into diversity at workplace in Silicon Valley seems to have propelled the whole thing off. Of course, the rest of the world woke up to it much later and jumped on the band wagon.
Whatever be the reason, the effects and side-effects have been very interesting. For me personally, some have been encouraging, some alarming and others downright funny.
Historically, Engineering was never perceived as a profession for women but after the IT boom late last century and the innovation explosion of this decade, it is fast becoming a popular profession for women to take up. Casting my mind back, in the past 10 years, I have rarely worked in a project with more than 2 women engineers in a team. Certainly, the fact that there are fewer women in engineering seems to have gained enough attention and motivated many organisations to change it.
Diversity and Active Inclusion are like two sides of a coin. When you have a diverse workforce, how do you make them feel included? Diversity might be a good motivation for hiring from different pools of candidates, but without Inclusion, you can’t retain them. Inclusion is tricky because there are almost no ways to measure it. Check out our engineering team’s Diversity Manifesto.
But, it’s not just an organisation’s initiatives that must drive these policies. Every individual’s action has an impact on the dynamics of the diverse and inclusive workplace we envision.
As a senior engineer, I morally feel obliged to contribute to this just as anyone else. When I am usually offered an opportunity to speak at a meet-up or a conference with an explicit statement to say that they need more women speakers, it makes me wonder. By taking this up, how am I helping the cause? I began to see myself as a catalyst or a stimulus for a better future and as long as I felt qualified to give a talk, that was good enough for me. Hopefully in few years, we would have achieved enough balance that we don’t have to hunt for women speakers any more. But I draw a line between that and being asked to just stand in a stall at an unrelated conference to create an illusion of having women in a team.
Inclusion is a different beast altogether. Signs for lack of Inclusion are very subtle and sometimes unconscious. Sometime people try to sound inclusive almost as an afterthought but it’s just downright funny. Imagine in a meeting, where there is a single woman in a room full of men and some one makes a statement - “Suppose the defendant had committed a burglary and does a run, what is the process for bringing him to the court … or her to the court ”, after a well intended nod in the direction of the woman. It’s really hard not to laugh. This is not inclusion. Instead of consciously using gender specific pronouns in a generic statement to imply inclusivity, we should do more to realise and avoid the unconscious bias we have towards people similar to us.
Nowadays, there are more WomenInTech meet-ups, events and conferences - places to meet women with similar interests, hear their inspiring stories and journeys and build a network. Not just at a macro level, we should have such networks within each organisation, build support structure and promote Diversity from within. There have been some great initiatives to bring women back after a career break, plenty of groups and academies aimed at training women in latest technologies and many more. There is definitely more happening to promote female role models to follow in this industry.
I believe there is more momentum around these issues at the moment than a decade ago. It’s important to be mindful that every one of us has the power to reinforce or undermine the cause by our actions.