Accenture’s global MD on improving diversity and inclusion in technology

Ahead of the Women in IT Summit USA, Information Age spoke to Salwa Rafee from Accenture about the importance of diversity and inclusion in technology.

Salwa Rafee, global managing director, healthcare and public sector security at Accenture, will be the opening keynote at the upcoming Women in IT USA Summit 2021 on the 28th April.

Taking place at 10:10am EST, the session will explore the current levels of diversity and inclusion in technology, how these figures can be improved in third world countries as well as the first world, the importance of role models in driving change and the responsibility of leaders to drive change.

If you would like to register for the event, please click here. Registration for the summit is free of charge.

Ahead of the keynote, Information Age wanted to find out more about the importance of improving levels of diversity and inclusion in technology. In this Q&A, we explore this topic with Salwa Rafee.

Diversity and inclusion in technology has been a problem since the industry’s inception — how do you think representation has evolved in the most recent 5 years?

Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, everyone is much more aware of the current situation.

However, the situation is still disheartening. In 2021, women make up 52% of the population in the US, as of last year stats, and yet, only 6% are in IT, science and STEM in general. We have a long way to go.

The challenge has been increased by the pandemic. According to an article published by the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has set the technology industry back by 36 years, in terms of the level of diversity within it — now we have 135 years to go in order to achieve gender parity.

Did the report say why?

Yes, the report said that because of the pandemic women lost their jobs much faster than their male counterparts. Because there were no schools, there was a greater need for women to be home with their children, and this has affected the number of women in the workplace tremendously. To this date, women are struggling to get back to the workforce.

What do you think the biggest focus for improving diversity in technology will be this year and next?

Despite the challenges of the last year and the historically low levels of diversity and inclusion in technology, I’m very optimistic.

Once the vaccine has been rolled out across the globe, corporations like ours and other large companies, small and large businesses, will have to play a major role in enabling the workforce to be more welcoming to women.

Accenture is actively addressing the impact the pandemic has had on women in the workforce. We’ve partnered with The Mom Project with a pledge to hire 150 moms for technology and consulting roles

Every business should put in the adjustments necessary to encourage women, not just to be hired, but to be retained, and to be empowered into making decisions and having long term careers with them.

Can you provide an example of how you have hired, retained and empowered women?

I recently joined Accenture, leading the global healthcare security department and I’m building my team from scratch.

My aim, across every region, is to prioritise hiring women in IT, engineering and cyber security.

Also, as an organisation, Accenture has pledged to have 50% women in the workforce by 2025 — which is a fantastic, ambitious and entirely necessary initiative.

Many of the equality challenges that we face today are systemic — what role do you think that businesses and tech corporations have in addressing these issues?

Big businesses have a huge role to play in addressing the equality challenges of our industry.

They need to have a positive and determined policy to hire women from all walks of life and get them trained.

I’m a big advocate and a big proponent for engineering. Being an engineer myself, I think women can excel tremendously in STEM and cyber security as well.

Big companies and all industries have a role to play to encourage women not just into the middle management, but into executive roles and into the boardroom.

This is important, because when companies don’t have women in the boardroom, they risk having biased opinions and bias decisions that will be of detriment to their business strategy. The consumer market is dominated by women — women make the biggest decisions as buyers of technology — and therefore, we need to have women in organisations who are selling, who are producing, who are developing software and hardware in order to address the market.

Businesses have a huge role to play in improving levels of diversity and inclusion in technology, but  it starts at schools and universities, with educators and ourselves as female role models.

What are you most looking forward to — besides your own keynote, of course — at the Women in IT Summit USA, 2021?

I’m very thankful to organisations like the Women in IT Summit and Awards for highlighting the importance of this topic.

In particular, I’m looking forward to connecting with everybody and establishing an empowerment network at the Women in IT Summit USA.

It’s also an opportunity to highlight and champion role models to the next generation of women looking to follow a career in technology. It’s important for them to have someone to look up to.

Hear from Salwa at the Women in IT Summit USA, taking place on April 28 2021. To register a free place, click here.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.