How to empower women in IT (and beyond) on #InternationalWomenDay

When I attended the Avanade’s fourth annual International Women’s Day celebration, held in Toronto this year, I expected to be impressed by the panel of women experts.  I was, but I also came away impressed with what Avanade, a joint venture of Microsoft and Accenture, was modelling beyond the platitudes to advance women in their business.

First was the commitment to recognizing International Women’s Day, holding the event which was live-streamed to 23 countries, with an additional 76 local events in 56 locations globally, aligned with the UN 2016 theme of #PledgeforParity. “What do we hope to accomplish on International Women’s Day?” asks Jeff Gilchrist, Avanade’s corporate vice-president, Canada operating unit: “Awareness, inspiration, empowerment.”

Next, I was impressed by Eddie Pate, vice-president of diversity & inclusion at Avanade, responsible for developing and implementing all diversity and inclusion efforts globally. He made it clear equality is more than a one-day effort at Avanade.

“Diversity is good for business,” he said. “Diversity brings broader perspectives, drives better business insights, and more inclusive decision-making.”

Pate and Gilchrist were just two of the three male executives at Avanade participating. CEO Adam Warby kicked off the session via live stream video. Why is that so important? Farah Mohamed, CEO of G(irls)20 Summit and keynote speaker said it best. “We have to have both male and female leaders talking about this.”

During the panel discussion, Mohamed shared that when it comes to women’s economic empowerment, “more people talking about it makes it more likely to happen.” She should know. She founded G(irls)20 in parallel with the G20 held in Toronto with the goal of raising awareness that women need to be part of economic development. With former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the presence of other G20 leaders who recognized this need, they made a 10-year commitment to keeping girls and women on the G20 agenda. “In 2014, the G20 created a commitment to 100 million jobs for women. Now we need to be holding global leaders accountable,” Mohamed implored the audience. In addition to advocacy, Girls20 has a number of leadership development initiatives to enable girls and young women.

“We need to keep having the conversation,” according to Antoinette (Toni) Hendler, Corporate vice-president of organizational & leadership development at Avanade. “And we need to measure, because as we know, what gets measured gets done. By 2020, we want to have 30 per cent women [on staff] at Avanade. Why? Because we want to change things for the better for our customers.”

What does Avanade do to work toward that goal of 30 per cent and encourage and empower women in their organization? There a number of metrics and typical programs in place, such as women’s leadership development programs, but for other tech companies who haven’t made women’s participation a priority, or perhaps haven’t advanced as far, the Avanade program offers some ideas.

  1. Employee referral program — if an employee successfully refers a female hire, they receive double the bonus than for a male hire.
  2. Candidate slating guidelines require that at least one woman be included in the pool of candidates for any director and above open position.
  3. At least one woman has to be on the selection committee internally for each director and above open position.
  4. Promotion and readiness – when a woman or minority candidate does not achieve the promotion applied for, the reasons are evaluated, and the individual is supported to develop the necessary skills and capacities to be ready for future promotion opportunity

Is it working?  There has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of women who have joined Avanade since the company initiated a formal Diversity & Inclusion program and women now account for 20.4 per cent of the overall base of professionals. After three years of the program, 16 per cent of the extended leadership team (director level and up) are women, which is a 74 per cent increase from FY12, going from 85 women to 151. And today there is a woman on the Board of Directors and two women on the executive leadership team.

“We are at a turning point in IT,” says Suzanne Gagliese, vice-president of services at Microsoft Canada. “Now IT is required to support the business, creating new opportunities. And no one is tagged for those roles. This presents a huge opportunity for women, because the shift to the business conversation vs. technology conversation equals opportunity.”

Thinking even more broadly about opportunity for women was panelist  Dr. Sam Collins, Founder of the Aspire Foundation, and a leading global voice on diverse leadership and change for workplaces, organizational culture and community.  In response to my question about the role of women’s entrepreneurship in economic empowerment and achieving parity, Collins talked about the real opportunity that women’s entrepreneurship represents across all cultures and economies. “If we gave women a phone and Internet access, we give them access to outside world, to education, and a voice…. and the opportunity to communicate with each other.”  That’s the role she sees for technology.

“It’s really not that complicated,” Collins says. “That’s my vote for parity.”

Take the #PledgeForParity on #InternationalWomensDay – and every day.

Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester is a Leadership Coach, Brand Communications consultant and W100 Business Owner. A perpetual idea generator, entrepreneurship cheerleader, and wanna-be geek, her clients include Novell, PlateSpin, Mozilla, HP, Tenscores & Polar. She writes about Leadership, Communications, Entrepreneurship and Women in technology.

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