Proactive gender diversity enhances IT culture & productivity

August 03, 2021

Nicole Devine

Nicole Devine

Chief Operating Officer, Versent

Gender representation is still a significant challenge for the IT industry. While the issue is slowly being addressed, as of 2020, women still only account for 30% of roles in major tech companies, even though they make up 59% of the wider workforce. The figure is even more disproportionate for women in technical roles, accounting for only 20%.     

Desiree Kelly is nearly a decade into her software development career but relatively new to the Versent team. Speculating about the reasons the IT industry is still so male-dominated, she said, “sometimes joining a new company, there were questions in my mind about how I may be treated as a female software engineer; whether I’ll receive the same level of respect as my male colleagues.”     

Software engineer, Tina Boyce, sees gender equality in IT as a work in progress. “A lot of companies talk about inclusivity, but workplaces need to provide an environment that actively caters to people’s needs in terms of family,” Tina stated. “Simple measures like flexibility of work times make a big difference to people balancing a career with child-raising. We also need longer-term strategies like access to tech education for young women. If we can achieve those things, we’ll improve the industry culture, and hopefully, gender representation disparity will be less of a problem in the future.”    

Many IT companies still treat gender equality as a duty rather than an opportunity. But, there’s substantial evidence of correlation between workplace gender diversity and improved business performance. McKinsey research found that companies scoring highest on measures of gender diversity are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability figures.   

Proactively nurturing gender equality     

Diversity is a key component of Versent’s commitment to creating a great place to work as well as delivering great outcomes for our customers. As a result, it is a foundational pillar of Versent’s hiring strategy.  

In 2019, Hamish Ridland, Head of Delivery at Versent, was tasked with leading a new project team. In building out the team, Hamish committed himself to hiring a more inclusive and diverse group of people.     

“This was an opportunity for us to act on our Versent diversity values,” Hamish said. “I questioned what a successful team really looked like. I wanted to assemble a group that was representative of the society we live in and the diversity of our clients. Initially, our team was very male-heavy. I found that there was a bit of a deficit in our communication style, and our ability to work smoothly was lagging as a result. We were about to enter into a rapid growth phase, and I speculated that a more diverse team might help us communicate more effectively and be more productive.”      

Hamish has seen the gender imbalance in IT first-hand: “For my entire career in our industry, I have worked on teams where there was only one woman or no women in the team. The way all-male teams communicate is often less than ideal. Sometimes, that sort of environment can lead to heightened stress levels, and I think that’s a disincentive to some women thinking about entering those workplaces.”    

Hamish made an active choice to be a role model for how to build diverse and inclusive teams. He made a conscious choice to prioritise diversity in his hiring process, Actively seeking out high-quality female talent and onboarding four women and one man to help balance the gender ratio in his team.     

“Once we achieved better gender balance in our team, there was a significant improvement in the overall communication style. Our ability to serve our customers also improved simply because we had different perspectives on circumstances; new ways of negotiating and collaborating.”     

Diversity demands cultural leadership

Diversity and, more importantly, inclusion don’t just happen by accident. Deliberate strategy and action are required to achieve real results.  

Desiree Kelly: “When I first joined Versent, I was assigned a mentor and given support to plan my career development. That mentorship has been invaluable in helping me map out my professional development to senior software engineer. I’ve also been offered plenty of support for training and courses, particularly for working towards completing technical certifications.”     

Concrete action in the form of mentorship and training for women is fundamental to closing the IT gender gap. Versent’s mentorship and training pathways for women help ensure that the company – and most importantly, our customers – get the benefits that come from a diverse workforce.  

Talking about her experience at Versent, Iteration Manager Loretta Cain commented, “I have two mentors here at Versent, and they are both males. They’re passionate about what they do and passionate about helping others learn despite being extremely busy themselves. They push me to do better, to research more, and to take classes. I’ve never felt that they treat me differently because I’m a woman. I’m a mother of two young children, and my mentors are both fathers of young children. I think that their experience as leaders and fathers has made them more compassionate and understanding humans. I feel like at Versent, there’s a strong focus on me as an individual. Versent excels at facilitating personal life goals, both within the IT industry and at home.”    

Another challenge many women face is taking a career break when they go on parental leave.  The way organisations approach parental leave and women returning to work is critical for retaining female employees and encouraging women to join an industry or organisation.     

Some women are concerned that they’re going to want to go on parental leave or spend more time at home, and they’ll be set back in their career goals as a result. Having less time for work and greater responsibilities at home shouldn’t necessarily mean you get fewer career opportunities. Having pathways for those who want to take on senior roles in part-time employment is crucial to continued business growth. I’ve worked part-time since 2006 myself while continuing to pursue a challenging career path.   

Shifting the dial on diversity in the tech industry is up to all of us. The deliberate work that Hamish Ridland has done at Versent highlights the important role that men can play in bringing about equality in a male-dominated industry. Change comes through strong, committed leadership and positive action.   

Work/life balance   

In addition to hiring with greater diversity, Versent strives to support its employees’ diverse lifestyles. Paid parental and adoption leave, partner leave, and flexibility in both work location and working hours are vital pillars of Versent’s human resources policy. Across the company, leadership practices what it preaches, with both employees and senior leadership working flexibly.  

Tina Boyce: “One reason I joined Versent was the family-friendly flexibility in working conditions.  Before going on maternity leave for nine months, I worked a standard five-day week. Now, since returning to work, I’m working part-time three days a week. My team supported me, looking after aspects of my role while I was away on leave. I don’t feel pressured to choose between my career and raising my child. At Versent, rather than just talking about inclusiveness, they actually act on the policy.”    

“I feel so fortunate that Versent supports me and gives me the flexibility to be near my family,” said Desiree Kelly. “I was cut off from my family many times during COVID, and I’m now able to move closer to them. I’ve seen the support that my colleagues have received when they’ve started a family, and I feel that I too will be supported when I decide to start my own. I feel very fortunate to work for a company that has that sort of people-centric culture. I think we still have a way to go towards improving gender equality and representation in the tech industry. But, since joining Versent, I have experienced what we can achieve in moving towards this goal. Our clients are a diverse group of people, and I think we’re better positioned to meet the needs of our clients when we have an equally diverse team. Diversity fosters creative thinking, and that’s what drives tech innovation.” 

Would you like to join the Versent team? We’re always looking for motivated, creative people, so please get in touch.

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