At Sitecore Symposium 2019, Allison Simpkins, Senior Vice President of North America at Valtech, was joined by Adriana Shulman, Talent Acquisition, Valtech, and Blair Roebuck, Practice Leads, Marketing/Data Science, Valtech, to discuss Tech Girl and some of the other ways Valtech is supporting gender equity in tech while building the next generation of female leaders.

Diversity: Ethical mandate and business imperative

Research has shown there’s a sure path to improving both innovation and financial performance — increased diversity.

This makes sense. Groups of diverse people bring different experiences and perspectives when framing issues and finding solutions.

In addition, a wealth of research from various scientific disciplines — psychology, sociology, economics, and demographics — has brought to light more benefits.

For example, individual members of groups composed of various races, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations prepare better because they’re anticipating differing perspectives. When we’re surrounded by others like us, we tend to assume we all share the same information and perspectives. Where we’re not, we don’t.

Another finding of the research suggests that when we hear perspectives from someone from a different background, we tend to think it through more thoroughly. In short, difference drives more thoughtfulness, deeper engagement, and better business outcomes.

Driving change in tech

While much of this data on the benefits of diversity was available as early as 2009, Simpkins was increasingly concerned how tech wasn’t reflecting it. At a tech conference in 2011, she noted how many women were on stage — zero.

This didn’t sit right with her. As a mother with a young daughter, Simpkins knew she needed to work to change it. She didn’t want her daughter to have to deal with the same frustrations when she was ready to enter the workforce.

Then she met Jodi Kovits. Jodi started #movethedial after switching from law, where she didn’t notice a gender disparity, to tech, where it was glaringly apparent. After attending a tech conference where the lack of female representation was clear, Jodi put out a call for what she thought would be a small gathering of women to discuss what to do. The response was astounding — over 1,500 women signed up to participate. She quit her job 3 months later to start #movethedial.

Allison didn’t quit her job, but she did use her position at Valtech to start Tech Girl in Valtech’s Sweden office in 2014.

This year, in May, Valtech took the program global — reaching 250 girls, across 14 offices, in 24 hours. (And, yes, we at Sitecore were happy to be a sponsor.)

One woman’s road to tech

One of the best things about the session was seeing how Allison’s commitment to women in tech is paying off. She was joined on stage by two of her female mentees. Shulman went first, sharing how her path to tech was anything but linear.

Adriana studied the arts in college. She didn’t even consider tech, thinking it was a career for men versus women. However, after working in a career she wasn’t finding fulfilling, she decided to take some time to travel.

During her travels, she met new people, including lots of developers. She realized that web development wasn’t some unattainable thing. She loved the logic of it and decided it was something she could do. She joined a coding boot camp where she learned JavaScript, back-end and front-end development, and new ways to approach problems.

She met Allison and joined Valtech as a recruiter, where she strives to increase gender parity. While for most job openings at Valtech, where women make up less than 50% of applicants, Valtech has increased its female employee representation from 7% to 34%.

Tech is more than coding

Roebuck then took the stage. Blair ’s story is similar to Adriana’s in the sense that in high school and college she couldn’t image a career in technology. But it wasn’t because of her gender; it was because she didn’t code.

Like many other women, Blair was reluctant to seek opportunities she didn’t feel entirely qualified for. When she applied to Valtech, she highlighted her passion for data analytics and connecting the data insights it provides with stories to drive business impact. But even with this obviously beneficial skill set and passion, she felt compelled to include a postscript: she didn’t code and wasn’t a developer.

Allison made it clear to her that Valtech did a lot more than just code. There was a place for Blair at Valtech.

In light of her story, it makes sense that Blair is passionate about redefining the way people, and specifically girls, view technology. She wants girls to know that technology includes marketers, data scientists, product managers, business analysts, UX designers, and more.

The Tech Girl program starts with development, teaching girls HTML, CSS, and Scratch. But it also includes a relational component — helping girls discern what they like and don’t like, while also introducing them to the women of Valtech.

As Allison said early in the session:

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

Tech Girl helps girls see the broad array of options open to them within technology, spurring their imagination of what’s possible at a young age. It also helps girls connect with each other and realize they’re not alone.

This is powerful, as two common sentiments stood out in conversations with Tech Girl’s participants:

  1. They thought coding and technology was a boys’ club
  2. They all had aspirations to learn, but were afraid they’d be the only girl in the room

By introducing them to coding through development projects that allow them to express their unique personalities, the Tech Girl program instills confidence while teaching tangible skills for self-expression.

The next iteration of Tech Girl will include JavaScript, as well as different streams such as UX design, product owner, data science, and entrepreneurial streams.

What can I do?

Allison ended the session with 3 takeaways for the attendees:

  1. Building commitment – ask yourself what you can do to increase diversity in tech
  2. Talk about technology as more than just coding
  3. Purposeful recruitment

When it comes to No. 3, purposeful recruitment, she recognized that businesses obviously need to hire the right person for the job. But she also offered some clear ideas for how to increase potential talent pools: ask your HR department to do their best to include a broad spectrum of resumes; reach out to different networks to access new connections; develop inclusive internship programs; ensure the language in job descriptions is inclusive.

Men have an essential role to play

One of the last things Allison hit on is the need for men to be involved. The evidence is on her side on this: in companies where men believe they have an important role to play in driving gender parity, it’s 3x more likely to happen.

If you’re interested in how you can get involved with Tech Girl specifically, you can learn more about it here.

Mohan Kasibhatla is Vice President of Product Marketing at Sitecore. Find him on LinkedIn.