In an exclusive interview with Information Age, Amy Lynch – head of diversity and inclusion at ThoughtWorks UK – discusses how industries can strive for equality and inclusivity within the workplace.
At ThoughtWorks she describes a number of initiatives including the Women in Leadership Development programme, mother and baby rooms, over 50% graduate female intake and a 50/50 gender split in ThoughtWorks’ general Leadership Skills Development programme and an impressive return to work rate after maternity leave.
Through these, and similar workplace initiatives, businesses can start bridging the gender gap and nurture talent and progression.
What is the key factor in addressing the gender imbalance in tech?
This is such a complex issue and, as such, there are a number of factors that are key to addressing the gender imbalance in tech. We need to work hard to engage with children from an early age and eradicate gender stereotypes & biases that might put women off considering a career in tech.
Organisations need to take inclusion seriously and create spaces and cultures where women and other underrepresented groups will feel safe and welcome, otherwise, at best, they just won’t consider joining your company and, at worst, they might join and leave soon thereafter (either the organisation or the industry as a whole), bruised by a negative experience.
We need to look at how we support women in their lives and careers, being flexible and providing opportunities to enable them to balance their needs whilst growing and learning.
>See also: Diversity in public sector IT must improve
Addressing the gender imbalance in tech starts right at a grassroots level with education, through to attraction, recruitment and retention and we all have a responsibility to hold our organisations and ourselves accountable for our role in that.
How can a women become a role model in an organisation?
The term role model is an interesting one. It often conjures up the belief that, in order to be a role model, you need to be in a senior position with a significant career already behind you. Whilst this is important and valuable, we need to recognise that anyone can be a role model in an organisation, regardless of tenure or status.
By definition, a role model is ‘a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated’ so really, the question should probably be ‘what can organisations do to help make their women role models more visible?’ Take an interest in them as individuals, support them in growing their network and connecting with others, amplify their interests and achievements and providing them with opportunities to learn, grown, share and mentor are useful ways for organisations to make their role models more visible.
What is the business value of diversity?
Diversity in teams has a positive impact on innovation, creativity and overall productivity, all of which impact the bottom line. Teams with a variety of different people, with different life experiences and perspectives, will be able to challenge one another and make suggestions that might otherwise have gone unconsidered.
When it comes to recruitment, retention, learning and development, valuing diversity and providing an inclusive working environment is also advantageous, giving people a safe space with more opportunities to grow and learn.
At ThoughtWorks, we want to be representative of the communities we serve, so that we can build the best, most valuable software for everyone and work to tackle social injustice.
What diversity programmes are ThoughtWorks working on?
Diversity is baked in to everything we do at ThoughtWorks, from office design to community engagement and internal initiatives. We’re proud to support community groups like Ladies Who Code, Ladies that UX, Lesbians Who Tech and Mums in Tech as well as hosting weekly Code First: Girls courses where coaches from ThoughtWorks teach young women how to code. We’re offering alternative routes into tech, an example of which is our scholarship programme, which brought six high-potential women into tech by offering funding for a coding bootcamp alongside professional coaching.
We’re also offering flexible working options to current and future employees and exploring how we might support women coming back into the industry through returnships. We offer enhanced maternity and shared parental pay and we run a Women in Leadership Development programme to ensure more women are supported earlier in their careers in order to counter the gender imbalance in leadership roles.
As a combined result of all of this, we’re proud to have met or exceeded 50% intake of women graduate technologists over the last five years and to currently have 38% women in tech roles against an industry standard of 17%.
How important is a flexible working initiative?
The future of work is changing. With an increasingly high demand for tech skills and a workforce which is often balancing complex needs, people are looking for different things in their careers. For many, status and remuneration aren’t the only/most important factors anymore and instead, having flexibility and autonomy takes precedence for those in pursuit of a fulfilling, rewarding career.
It is important that we recognise the way the world of work is changing and respond to it accordingly, not only to attract and retain people at different points of their journey, but also to remain competitive in the marketplace.