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Splunk.conf 2019: How men can be allies and why D&I has to be in your DNA

Suzanne McGovern, chief diversity officer at Splunk, told Computer Weekly how having allies can take the burden off of the minority when calling out problematic behaviour, and why D&I has to be built into an organisation from the top

When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the technology industry, there are many ways firms can implement better practices to attract and retain diverse talent. This can include encouraging internal employee groups, ensuring diverse hiring practices or addressing inequality in the C-suite.

Suzanne McGovern, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Splunk, says one of the easiest ways for those in the majority to begin acting as allies is to advocate for those in the minority.

It has been stated by many that the dial towards gender balance in the tech sector will shift quicker if those in the majority, usually men, do more to encourage and support those in the minority – and a panel of senior women at the same Splunk.conf event said that finding someone who will advocate for you and your skills can often be a huge career-booster.

“Women don’t generally suffer from a lack of mentorship; it’s usually a lack of sponsorship and advocacy,” says McGovern. “If they’re not there, have that seat at the table for them. I think it’s allies’ jobs to give women white space to run into and encourage them, because a lot of it is confidence-based.”

As well as for personal career development, this can apply for encouraging diversity and inclusion in businesses. She says having allies in the workplace to advocate for the minority can “take the burden off the minority” to point out when something needs to change – whether that’s another employee’s behaviour, or company policy.

While it’s important to speak up about workplace issues, McGovern points out that it can sometimes be better get help from an ally – it can be difficult to bring up topics such as workplace culture or diversity as it can seem “adversarial” or as if one is “moaning”. “It’s hard if the burden is you as a minority, right,” she says. “So sometimes I think that’s more powerful if the majority start to say it and set the cultural norms.”

Having an inclusive workplace will also give people the confidence they need to be able to bring up issues surrounding diversity and have confidence the outcome will be a positive one.

Member groups

Splunk has a number of internal employee groups, called Employee Resource Groups (ERG) devoted to different communities in the firm, including Pride@Splunk, Women@Splunk, Veterans@Splunk, LatinX@Splunk, BEAMS@Splunk (Black Employees & Mentors) and Disabled=True@Splunk.

McGovern says there are 2,200 members of the Splunk Women’s group, indicating that a fair amount of them are likely to be allies who “don’t necessarily identify as female”.

“Getting that energy in the system is super important,” says McGovern. “And I think many of our allies – I can’t speak for them – but the ones I know personally just know it’s the right thing to do. They have daughters, they have wives, they have mothers and they’re in tech, for goodness sake!”

“They know that it’s the fuel for innovation and that they need more diversity in their teams. Some of our most technical guys, [Splunk chief technology officer] Tim Tully’s a great example, really, really want more women in their teams. They absolutely do and they’re just willing to be coached and helped.”

The discussion surrounding diversity in the technology sector has evolved beyond the gender gap in recent years, with the lack of other minority groups such as those in the LGBTQIA+ or black and minority ethic (BAME) communities in the sector recognised and discussed just as often as the lack of women in the tech space.

Currently the technology sector is predominantly white, with only 34% BAME talent, and is only made up of around 18% women and around 8% who identify as LGBTQIA+.

While many firms are looking to make big changes to shift this, there are also small changes organisations can do in the workplace, or at events, to improve inclusion for those in the minority.

Pronoun badges

As an example, Splunk.conf 2019 attendees were given access to pronoun badges upon registration to prompt others on how they identify, as well as access to gender neutral bathrooms, among other things.

“It just gives safety and a sense of belonging that people can bring their whole selves to work, because we get it,” says McGovern.

“If folks don’t feel super comfortable and super confident, then they’ll never really perform at the highest level, and will never get to their own personal growth, and we’ll never as an organisation, so it’s super important. And it’s a really easy thing to do.”

One of the ways Splunk, and many other organisations, has tried to work in diversity and inclusion is by introducing the aforementioned employee enterprise resource groups.

Most technology firms already have women in technology groups, and members find them an important part of their work life, because it gives them a safe space where they can talk about what it’s like to be a minority in the tech space, it stops them from feeling alone, and it gives them access to role models in the space.

These groups often start as opportunities to connect or network, and evolve into something more.

Read more about diversity and inclusion in tech

  • Women in technology have claimed diversity is still not a focus for their company in a majority of cases, according to research.
  • Several women in tech spoke about the importance of diversity at Splunk.conf 2018 in Florida, some about shocking diversity statistics and others giving advice from one woman in tech to another.

Speaking about Splunk’s LGBTQIA+ group, Pride@Splunk, McGovern says: “[The group] really evolved over the last year they’ve really moved that ERG along from, to be totally candid, some more fun flags and parties a couple of years ago into policy making, education and awareness.”

As an example of ways the group has been working towards improving inclusive culture, McGovern says most recently Splunk’s C-suite attended a session from an external consultant about the best ways to interact with, and advocate for, trans and non-binary colleagues.

She says the session explored “all the questions you’re afraid to ask, because our leadership they are aware but like many of us they don’t have always have the [appropriate] language.”

Starting with the C-suite in this case was important, and like many McGovern believes that an organisation’s culture should come from the top.

Diverse DNA: Top down, bottom up

Creating employee groups for subsections of firms is an example of grassroots actions to make all employees feel more welcome in an organisation, but a drive for inclusion also has to come from the top.

Using Splunk as an example, McGovern points out there are four women in Splunk’s C-suite; Haiyan Song, senior vice-president, Susan St. Ledger, president of worldwide field operations, Tracy Edkins, chief human resources officer and Carrie Palin, chief marketing officer. “These are all incredibly powerful females” says McGovern.

People in the Splunk C-suite are also a variety of different cultural backgrounds.

Not only does this help to provide the role models many who have rejected the tech sector claim it is lacking at the top, but it also means those who are in a position to actually incite change are aware of and talking about some of the issues faced by the sector’s minorities.

McGovern says of diversity and inclusion: “You’ve got to have leadership talking about it. You’ve got to have it is just part of normal. We set goals quarterly. It’s got to be part of the goals and we just have to be talking.

“They have to know that they’re measured on it, the people underneath are measured on it,” she says. “And so it’s just it’s a business imperative as well. D&I is in our DNA.”

Publishing gender pay gaps

It’s now compulsory for companies over a certain size in the UK to publish their gender pay gaps, and recently industry collaborative the Tech talent charter launched a benchmark to measure the progress of gender balance in technology roles – the idea behind both of these is it’s important to measure to see what’s working and what isn’t.

The D&I at Splunk Council (DISCo) is the group responsible to monitoring these things at Splunk, and each function and geography is responsible to meeting diversity and inclusion goals.

“We believe that if you can’t track it and can’t make the data visible, it won’t get done,” says McGovern.

This approach also puts an emphasis on reaching D&I targets being everyone’s job, not just McGovern’s as the chief diversity and inclusion officer – the appropriate people in the firm meet every quarter to look over the data and determine strategies that can address what is and isn’t working.

“It can’t be one person’s job, it has to be everyone,” she says. “But I think if it starts from the top, then that really sets the tone for the organisation and it makes everything else a bit easier.”

Data points

One of Splunk’s diversity campaigns is focused on emphasising each individual is made up of a “million data points” that make them unique. Part of the campaign involved filming videos where employees shared some of the things important to them in a bid to increase inclusion in the firm, some of which McGovern calls “deeply courageous and emotional and personal”.

“It’s the nicest culture I’ve been part of in 27 years in tech,” she says.

And what about buy in for those who aren’t willing to admit a lack of diversity is a problem?

McGovern says point them towards the data. “Many people know it’s the right thing to do, but there are some others that are on the fence and, others who vocally don’t get it. But I think if you go with the business case [for diversity], the data is irrefutable.”

Referring to research from McKinsey, she points out gender diverse teams outperform regular teams, which improves even further for teams with people from a range of ethnicities, and a majority of CEOs with a D&I strategy say it impacts the bottom line.

Splunk publishes its diversity stats, and while she admits it’s not all down to this, McGovern says: “It’s a good starting point, that companies like ours who actually post the data, see an uptick and share price.

“It’s a business imperative, right? And who doesn’t want a better share price, bigger bonus and more salary? It just makes sense,” she says. “So I think that's easiest way to go for it.”

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