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Microsoft veteran turns her attention to levelling up IT industry for women

Diversity goes beyond balancing the internal workforce and should include working with partners that also have diversity as a core objective, says Gavriella Schuster

Technology companies must ensure they and their development partners have a diversity of people in senior ranks if they are to create products and services that reflect the general population.

But it is not as simple as balancing the workforce by adding more women or other under-represented groups – it requires a diversity of input at all levels, including the boardroom.

Such is the importance of diversity today that tech businesses are seeking support in reaching their goals.

After 35 years in the industry, including 26 years at Microsoft, Gavriella Schuster is now offering tech companies, through her advocacy, support in addressing the shortage and lack of influence of women in the global IT sector.

Schuster guides tech firms on ensuring that both their workforce and their products reflect the diversity of the general population.

Her three and a half decades in the IT sector included 26 years at Microsoft, where she held about 15 different jobs across such areas as enterprise services, licensing, training and certification, cloud and enterprise, and ended up leading Microsoft’s channel partner business.

Schuster has seen at first hand the struggles for women in progressing their careers in the tech sector. “It’s very difficult as a woman and even at Microsoft I was often the only woman in the room,” she said. “As you move to the higher ranks of leadership, the number of women gets less and less.”

She described some of the problems that hold women back. “There is a tendency for men to speak over women, to interrupt them and dismiss what they are saying,” she said. “As a woman, I felt like I had to build up my credibility every time I opened my mouth.”

This makes the IT industry unattractive to many women, who don’t have a strong sense of belonging within organisations, and there is a heightened need to change this after many women left the tech industry during the pandemic, said Schuster.

“There is a tendency for men to speak over women, to interrupt them and dismiss what they are saying”

Gavriella Schuster

But attracting and retaining women should not be a mere box-ticking exercise to hit diversity targets, but a strategy that offers women opportunity and improves the organisation, including its products and services, she emphasised.

In her consultancy, Schuster is focused on creating strong male allyship, as she calls it, with frameworks for companies to follow. “One framework helps men become allies, giving them clear guidance on how to connect with women, bring them into their organisation, mentor them and empower them,” she said. “Another framework offers advice on behaviours that men can practise every day to become better allies to women and integrate them into their environment.”

Schuster is working on the advisory boards of a number of tech organisations and her latest role is on the advisory board of Swedish tech company Artificial Solutions, which builds conversational artificial intelligence platforms for customer services.

“I am working with the CEO of Artificial Solutions and its leadership team to help them shape the organisation to be a leader in diversity and inclusion and to ensure the conversational artificial intelligence they building is highly inclusive and representative,” she said. “I will also help them ensure that partners in their supply chain also have a high degree of diversity and inclusion in their organisation.”

During her time at Microsoft, Schuster worked with its channel partners to support their diversity efforts. She then realised that although there was a lot of talk about diversity within partner companies, they were no more diverse than the companies that came before them.

“When I spoke to the male CEOs at many partners about diversity, they would say ‘there just aren’t enough women out there’. But that was not the case – there are plenty – but these companies have to learn how to bring them into their company. You have to have the right networks to connect to potential women recruits.”

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This is a challenge that software-as-a-service provider Artificial Solutions has identified as being vital to address.

Nicolas Köllerstedt, chief revenue officer at the company, said: “I have been in the tech industry for two decades, including working for US-based startups, and all of them have diversity as one of the first things they mention, but then they say there just aren’t enough women out there. But it is about where you look, what you are looking for and how you set up the interview process.”

Köllerstedt said organisations in the company’s native region are largely the same. “The Nordics have for some time had a reputation as a leader in diversity, but I think other regions have caught up and we are now behind or equal to other countries,” he said.

“My eyes were really opened after working with US-basted tech startups. How black people and women had been struggling to get into tech made me focus on my work in Sweden. We thought we were diverse, but that was not really the case.”

The importance of IT supplier workforces reflecting society better is indisputable, said Schuster. “There is always a different way of seeing things and women are half the world population and businesses are not seeing things their way,” she pointed out.

“You drive greater innovation in an organisation when you are inclusive of multiple points of view and perspectives with individuals with different life experiences and perspectives.”

Artificial Solutions, which has about 100 staff, said 38% of its leadership roles are held by women.

“It is doing very well, but its aspiration is to have a workforce that better reflects the diversity of the population,” said Schuster. “But not only that, it also wants to make sure from a technology and platform perspective that its products are more inclusive and diverse.”

To do this, the company not only has to ensure its engineering team is diverse, but also that the engineering teams at its technology partners are diverse, she added. “Because its platform is built through partnerships, it must ensure that partners have diversity in their business. This include development and implementation partners. You choose partners that have a commitment to diversity.”

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