On Jun. 7, Red Hat hosted its annual Women in Technology event, which celebrates the importance of women’s involvement in the technology industry, and gives women in the industry a space to talk about the barriers that still exist in tech today.
From the venue in the Microsoft Canada head office on the 43rd floor of 81 Bay Street, guests had the opportunity to nosh, network and comment on the smokey haze that had settled over Toronto before the event kicked off.
Opening remarks came from Red Hat account executives Kim-Chi Tran and Alessia Grano. After words from Paul Pinkney, general manager of Red Hat Canada, and Rekha Narang, director of partner technology at Microsoft Canada, four panels focusing on role models and personal success stories filled the evening.
The third of such panels was called Empowering Change: Unleashing the Power of DEI Champions for a Diverse and Inclusive Future. The main speaker was Shuchi Sharma, Red Hat’s global chief, diversity, equity and inclusion officer, who sat down with Pinkney in a fireside-esque chat where she shared a bit about her job as a DEI officer.
“I joined Red Hat about a year and a half ago, and I describe my role as a builder, a plumber, sometimes a corporate therapist, an advisor, a partner, a coach, a connector, a compass and sometimes GPS,” she said.
Sharma shared a bit about her previous roles, and how male-dominated they were. “I spent most of my career in the consulting space, and I moved to Germany and I took a leadership role for a large consulting firm there,” she said. “And the first day I walked into the room, I had a team of all-male leaders that reported to me.”
As the only female and person of colour in that sector of the business, Sharma says her male colleagues took her leadership as a bit of a shock. After leaving to have a child and returning six months later, a male colleague asked her why she wasn’t home with her children.
“He says, ‘I don’t agree with what you’re doing…you’re already back here at work, your children are at home.’ And I just looked at him for a second. I said, ‘Do you like to feed your family?’ And he said yes. I said ‘Yes, so do I.’”
This conversation highlighted what women have experienced since entering the workforce, and Sharma said she had to really advocate for herself to navigate through her organization.
In terms of the changes in attitude towards women and people of colour, Sharma described the transformation process through three concentric circles: systemic change – finding and understanding where in processes there are potential for bias; behavioural change – how teams can ensure leaders understand what it means to be an inclusive leader; and accountability – putting accountability mechanisms in place.
But to be an effective leader and role model in the field, Sharma said, humility is the most important quality.
“Just understanding that you don’t have all the answers, and it’s okay,” she said. “I think as leaders, it’s our responsibility to think not only in this role, but to think long-term for our employees.”
You can read more about Shuchi Sharma on her LinkedIn profile.