A seat at the table: How including women fuels innovation and drives business results
Many may be surprised to learn that prior to 1973, women in the United States weren’t permitted to have a credit card in their own name. Fast forward forty-six years, and while women's rights in society and in the workplace have come a long way, there’s still a lot of work to do.
I’m proud to work for an organization that gets this. Sitecore is committed to gender equity. You can see this in our employees, in our executive team, and increasingly in our broader community, as evidenced by the affiliate group Women of Sitecore. And if you were at our first ever Sitecore Experience, in London this April, you saw it during our lunch panel where I was fortunate to lead a discussion with successful women in the technology industry, including:
- Pamela Maynard, Avanade’s President of Product and Innovation
- Allison Simpkins, SVP of Valtech North America
- Una Verhoeven, Managing Partner and CTO, AmpleEdge
From the role of women in the workplace to how women can construct and climb their own professional ladders, it was a lively discussion. Research shows that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams. Nevertheless, women make up only 12 percent of engineers today, and in the technology industry, only 10% of executives are women. These facts make the advice shared during the roundtable discussion all the more invaluable.
There is no innovation without diversity
Before the panel discussion kicked off, Pamela (Pam) Maynard – who’s also the global sponsor for the Female Employee Resource Group at Avanade – shared her inspiring story. Pam was born in London, but her parents, immigrants from Barbados, moved their family to a village outside of London in search of a better education for Pam and her sister. Pam recalls that at one point she thought she would become a Lawyer. She changed her mind, however, choosing business studies instead.
The decision was a difficult one as it ran against external expectations, but, she said, “One of the reasons I did that, was because I thought it would create options.” Her experience taught her that it’s “okay not to have a firm plan, but it’s important to know what energizes you.”
After an internship at IBM, Pam joined Oracle. She was soon recruited by EY, and then again by Avanade in 2008.
“When I joined Avanade, I joined a team that was 150 men – and me. I had to go through the process of winning hearts and minds as the leader of the team”.
Two years later, Pam was promoted to UK GM, leading a team of 250, before being promoted again two years later to lead the 3,000-strong team working in the EU, Africa, and Latin America.
Today, Pam is Avanade’s President of Product and innovation, and she’s allowing her strong, feminine will to creatively influence the company.
“I'm passionate about inclusion and diversity,” Pam said, “and personally I don’t believe there is innovation without diversity. With diversity, we challenge our thinking, we have alternative thoughts and mindsets. Also, with a more diverse team around the table, we get a better product – faster.”
Making yourself heard, and earning a seat at the table
After Pam shared, I invited Allison Simpkins and Una Verhoeven to join us on the stage. We weren’t at a shortage of things to discuss, but to ensure our discussion addressed the question on everyone’s mind, I asked:
“How did you each earn your seat at the table – and what advice do you have for other women working their way to the top?”
Appropriately, given her response, Allison went first. I love her advice, as it’s something I think many women could learn from:
“It’s about being brave and not being perfect. Go for the job, go for the thing you don't think you can do. Sit at that table with all those men and know your voice is just as important. So, don't wait until you're perfect before going for a job or opportunity. That’s the key to getting to where you want to go.”
Allison also said finding “your authentic voice” is another way to stand out in a male-dominated work environment. “It takes time and energy to not be authentic. Don't try and be something you're not, because authenticity is so important in business.”
Una provided a key insight by explaining the importance of choosing – and winning – key battles in the workplace. “We’ve all been in the situation when a woman says [something in a meeting], and nobody replies, but later, a man [repeats that same point], and gets a great reaction.”
In these situations, Una said she would “always address this – but there's a time to address it.” She explained that she wouldn’t make a scene during the meeting or call out the behavior in front of a client. Instead, she’d choose her battle, and her setting, in order to make herself heard loud and clear. Although, she did say that “If it happened a second time, I would call it out once again, and make a big deal about it.”
Pam also highlighted the importance of taking risks:
“Risk-taking doesn't mean quitting your job, small risks count too. But why deprive yourself of a risk or opportunity? What's the worst that can happen? The biggest learning moments of my career have been failures.”
Finally, Pam hammered home the point that mentors are so important.
How can organizations recruit, retain, and empower more women?
Following on from Una’s not-so-hypothetical story about women’s ideas being stolen during meetings, Pam and Allison imparted some wisdom for the men in the audience, specifically on how they can recruit, retain, and empower more women.
“It all starts with the mantra of attracting and developing women,” Pam said. “For us [at Avanade] it’s important that women are out there as part of the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process.”
“We’ve also pushed our recruitment and headhunting companies to include females on shortlists and in interview processes,” she added.
Pam went on to explain how Avanade tracks the development of female employees and balances male and female annual promotions. She also stated that it’s important to have a CEO with an inclusive vision.
Approaching the issue from another angle, Allison stated that the onus is on males to help females up the ladder:
“This isn't just a female issue. Men: go and sponsor a woman in your organization if you’re in a leadership position. Invite them to meetings. Invite them to learn. This can help develop the women in your company. This could change the trajectory of any person's career.”
Speaking more broadly to companies in general, Allison said, “you don't need to do grandiose things like female employee events and programs. Small steps are [also] needed, like making sure there are 50% men and women resumes on CEO’s desk. Also, the small things you can say to your recruitment team that will bring more participation of women in leadership roles.”
All of the panelists agreed that men could be great allies, not just obstacles. And Pam stated that reverse mentorship is a great way for her as a leader to impart knowledge and learn a few things for herself.
“I actually partake in reverse mentoring, where I work with some of the junior and young people [in our company]. This helps me personally stay in touch with what's important to our younger employees, which is helpful for retaining and growing talent.”
Invest in diversity, invest in your future
As we concluded the panel, I encouraged all participants to think about the things that they could do personally to support women in technology. And here’s the deal, women and other diverse groups, are knocking on the tech industry’s door, and the companies that not only open the door to them but also INCLUDE them and invest in them will benefit. As Una stated, “you need a 360-degree view. You need diversity because, with diversity, you're investing in your future.”
How is your organization helping to promote and nurture the role of women and other diverse groups in technology?