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IWD: Channel has made progress, but there is more to be done

Diversity across the industry has improved, but women working across the channel say that efforts to drive positive change must continue

The occasion of International Women’s Day (IWD) provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on the progress that has been made on the diversity front and the work that still needs to be done.

There is no doubt that the channel has taken strides in improving diversity, with more women holding senior positions across the industry, but that trend needs to continue. And, as organisations such as CompTIA have warned, the skills gap demands that more girls and women are attracted into the industry if it is to ever improve.

To get a sense of what the current landscape looks like, women who work in the channel spoke to MicroScope to share their views, with it clear that the world has changed and will continue to do so.

Catherine Mwololo, chief financial officer at Westcon-Comstor for Middle East and Africa, takes stock on IWD and looks back at her own journey as well as her hopes for the future.

“I view IWD as a chance for me to reflect on my journey as a woman. I’m a wife, mother, sister and career woman, and I often reflect on the impact I can have in the world. The world I envision is one where women have equal standing and opportunities, and to have a voice, socially and beyond. From where I am today, I see myself as a role model to young girls, or those hoping to follow my path,” she said.

Her colleague, Elmien Du Toit, chief operating officer at Westcon Group, also looks on IWD as a moment to celebrate women’s achievements. “There’s still a fair bit of room for improvement and stereotypes to address today to get to where differences can truly be celebrated. This is why #Breakthebias is so important,” she added.

Both agree that they have seen changes in the channel in a relatively short period of time as a more positive approach is taken to gender equality. 

“The technology sector was a male-dominated sector just a short while ago. I’ve always wondered why that wasn’t changing, but I’m pleased to say today that we’re starting to see that change. We’re not only seeing more women in various IT roles, we’re also seeing more women talking technical languages, taking up technical roles beyond just sales or marketing, and more girls taking up STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] programmes, which were, again, traditionally male-dominated,” said Mwololo. 

Du Toit agreed that the landscape is improving. “I’ve seen that happening over the past few years. We used to often only see women in HR or marketing-led roles, but today, more of us are being recognised for the value and knowledge we can offer to the business,” she said.

“More businesses need to put equality and breaking gender-related biases on their agenda, demonstrate that they support diversity, and walk the talk with policies to support women to make it comfortable for women to thrive.”

As well as changing attitudes, technology can also play a role to break down barriers and make working in this industry more attractive for girls. Both of the Westcon executives talk about using IT to foster better workplace practices, to make STEM more attractive as a career option, and to continue to remove the idea that technology is a male-dominated space.

Kathleen Pai, chief people officer at managed services specialist N-able, echoes the view that the perception of IT continues to put some women off entering the industry.

“The tech industry is largely considered male-dominated, subjecting women to a range of biases, both conscious and unconscious. Women often feel the need to adapt to this construct, but it’s important they feel comfortable to bring their full, authentic selves to work,” she said.

“We all need to work together to break the bias. Whether it’s being talked over or not having a seat at the table, women in tech experience gender discrimination. The industry needs to work better at creating an equal working environment,” she added.

Pai fears that when there is a failure to listen to female voices, the needs of women will go unaddressed, and she called for greater efforts to be made to create an environment where all employees can thrive.

She cited the example of the recent launch by N-able of its women’s Community of Interest (COI) called Wonder (Women of N-able Defining Equality and Respect) as an example of what could be done.

“This community provides women an environment of belonging, allowing them to share feedback and learn from fellow members and allies,” she added. “It’s important for tech companies to create a similar space to listen and learn from their women colleagues because, ultimately, this is how we can work together to take action and drive change.” 

Ayshea Robertson, people and culture director at Zen Internet, shared a view that the industry needed to look at how the past couple of years of remote working and the opportunities for hybrid working could benefit women.

“The past two years have certainly exacerbated some of the pressure points faced by women, but amidst these negative knock-on effects, the pandemic has also accelerated the move towards flexible working, creating newfound opportunities for businesses and employees alike,” she said.

“But there’s still a lot to be done to break the bias. To truly make tangible, worthwhile progress going forward, change needs to come from the top and trickle down – it’s a collaborative effort. Business leaders need to drive it and take ownership through bold, progressive initiatives, which will help prompt enterprise-wide behavioural change. Eliminating discrimination and gender bias should be prioritised as a key business consideration for employers looking to recruit and retain talent,” she added. 

Six ways to enact change

Ayshea Robertson, people and culture director at Zen Internet, has six tips that could make a positive difference to diversity:

  1. Enact change from above: Change needs to come from the top and trickle down – it’s a collaborative effort. Business leaders need to drive it and take ownership to prompt enterprise-wide behavioural change. It needs to become a priority amongst leadership teams.
  2. Engage with your people: Form networks ran by people within the business who care about the topic. A collaborative effort is essential to make a difference.
  3. Hold the business accountable: Make sure you have a vision, as well as targets and objectives to make that vision a reality. Stakeholders need to see progress and change, and business leaders need to be held accountable. Ensure this priority is reflected in your business model, strategy and KPIs.
  4. Be transparent internally and externally: Keep everyone updated on the progress that is made, as well as the focus areas where there’s room for improvement; this will help everyone realign their priorities and refocus their attention where needed.
  5. Create bold new initiatives: There is often a reluctance to take proactive action. Businesses need to gain confidence in enacting bold, progressive initiatives rather than being constricted by legacy protocols. Progress will be slow or stagnant otherwise. Rather than relying on momentum from elsewhere, businesses need to push themselves.
  6. Work collaboratively: Nothing great is ever accomplished alone. Work with other companies to make a bigger impact, using their new perspective and expertise to make a more effective difference.

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