WIT Summit New York Q&A — Lisa O’Connor, managing director, Accenture

Ahead of the WIT Summit New York, Lisa O'Connor, managing director at Accenture, spoke to Information Age about promoting diversity.

Lisa O’Connor, managing director at Accenture, will be delivering the morning keynote at the upcoming WIT Summit New York on 28th October.

Taking place at 10:05 am EST, the keynote — Creating Opportunity out of Crisis — will explore the doors that are opening for the tech industry in the wake of the pandemic and how tech giants shielded from current economic pressures.

If you would like to register for the event, please click here. Registration for the virtual WIT Summit New York is free of charge.

We know there’s still a problem with a lack of diversity within IT. Why do you think that is?

There is still a problem with the diversity in IT — it’s a problem that doesn’t have a single easy solution, we need to be thinking about our past, present and future to solve the challenge more holistically. There are many things we can do to bring equity and equality for women, but I will focus on two — pipeline and culture.

First, we have a pipeline problem. The inclusiveness of grade school curriculum and ten years ago drives how many women think about studying science, technology, engineering and math in college and universities today. The inclusiveness of college and university curriculum four years ago is a factor in how many young women graduate with these degrees and start their careers. How many girls opt out because they were not a part of the picture? We need to dramatically increase the number of women in these programs by allowing them to see themselves as a scientist, a technologist, an engineer or a mathematician. And when I say “inclusiveness” I mean gender neutral curriculum, teaching materials and inclusive methods; I mean teachers and professors who create a deliberate culture of inclusion and work to actively reduce bias — conscious and unconscious in their classes. Harvey Mudd already showed us how successful a school can be when gender neutral teaching is the norm—in 2016, 55% of the Computer Science undergraduates were women.

And we need to reach those girls now through organizations like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Who Code, Hackathons, through our schools and our communities. We need to share with them that their diverse thinking—their girl power–is needed in the Technology industry.

Pipeline is one part of the picture, but there are many things we know about how important culture is to keeping women in these technical careers. Having and inclusion and diversity as a core value of the company is an important start. Backing that core value up with working practices, equal pay and benefits that support women is essential to retaining and better yet, allowing women to be their best technologist at work. We need to create a work environment where everyone can participate to their fullest. And this means flexibility. We have learned quite a lot through the pandemic about what the needs are of people during this time. We all have first-hand experience to what work-life balance means as the separation is gone. I think this is a very interesting time where all of us are becoming much more aware and supportive of what all of us need to be supported, productive, contributing, creative and let’s aim for inspired.

The fact is tech needs women. A recent survey we carried out with Girls Who Code established that a widespread cultural reset would help us to drive much-needed change. Our analysis suggests that if every company scored high on measures of an inclusive culture — specifically, if they were on par with those in the top 20% of our study — the annual attrition rate of women in tech could drop by up to 70%.

Diversity in technology: The playbook of best practice

What are the best practices for improving the levels of gender diversity within technology, or any company for that matter? Read here

As a woman in IT, how have you gone about promoting diversity within the workplace?

Accenture has many programs to promote diversity within the workplace. We announced a global initiative 50/50 by 2025, an initiative to have equality of women and men, and yes, equality at every level. This was a very powerful benchmark and we are measuring ourselves and sharing our progress to encourage other global companies to do this too. We need to be data driven here and not point or rest on platitudes. Accenture was one of the first companies to support and sign the Equal Pay Act.

But let me answer this more personally. As an executive at Accenture, an engineer and security professional, it’s so important to be a mentor, coach and sponsor to women. I am an active coach/champion in our Leadership Development Program, a program that focuses on developing our future leaders. I make a point to mentor on our future women leaders — to listen, coach or mentor.

I make a point to share—there is so much power in telling our story — our journey and sharing what we would have told our younger selves, maybe someone will benefit from it. It’s so important to share as it reveals that we are all human. We have our doubts, our fears, our moments of uncertainty—and we have those great moments where everything goes to plan, you can see the solution, you’re breathing the code. We need to share those experiences so that we can all exhale and feel a little grace as we navigate the week ahead or the next challenge.

I’m also the leader of Global Cybersecurity Research & Development for Accenture Labs. Accenture Labs it the tip of the spear for the Technology Innovation ecosystem. We have to be able to think over the horizon and bring applied research to design, prototypes and proofs. To do this, I need diversity in thought, experience, ideation, problem solving and vision. Diversity on my team is the foundation for our innovative thinking.

Could you please expand on what the session that you’ll be presenting during the Women in IT NY Virtual Summit?

For Women in IT New York I am presenting: ‘Creating Opportunity out of Crisis’.

In this discussion, I’ll share what doors are opening for the tech industry in the wake of the pandemic, how tech giants are shielded from current economic pressures and which companies and industries are thriving.

I’ll also be exploring whether New York is new tech hub of the US and what the future look like for this city and growing tech ecosystem 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.