The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 10

Chasing the dream of a truly diverse workplace

Christine Bongard
President, Women In Tech Network

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On this episode of the Intelligent Workplace podcast, I explore a bit of a broader issue. Diversity in the workplace is something that all companies strive for, as it allows them to incorporate a broader range of perspectives within the business. Diversity in the workplace can promote faster problem solving, better innovation, increased creativity and a more engaged workforce.

But its not an easy task, especially in the technology field. This episode focuses on one of the major challenges for employers in the tech space seeking to diversify their workforce, attracting women into the field.

I invited the President of the Women In Tech Network, Christine Bongard, on to the podcast to help me explore this topic. The WIT network is a community of professional men and women who encourage and assist women and girls to pursue careers in the technology sector, enable women to attain leadership positions and advance their career and support female entrepreneurs.

In this episode, Christine and I explore some of the major issues companies are facing in trying to create a more diverse workplace, and how to address them. For me, this discussion was a real eye opener, as even though I thought I was helping to create a diverse workforce, it seems that I still have a lot more than I can do to help.

Chris L.:                               

Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the Women In Tech Network?

Christine B.:                       

Sure. First of all, thanks for having me and giving me an opportunity to have this conversation with you. I’m really excited about this.

Chris L.:                               

My pleasure.

Christine B.:                       

The WIT Network, we started this non for profit organization back in September, and really we are here to try to help coach, mentor, support, inspire women to progress in their careers, whatever that looks like. Whether it’s to find some lateral positions that will round out their career experience, to gain promotions, to sit on corporate boards. Really, any of their aspirations, become entrepreneurs, start their own companies. We do that through partnership with Women in Cloud. We’re also about getting out there and inspiring the youth. Trying to open up their minds and their eyes to all of the great opportunities about being involved in this wonderfully fascinating industry.

Chris L.:                               

That’s great. That’s great. I’ve got to say, you’re less than 12 months old and already here you are at one of the biggest events on the tech calendar at the Microsoft Inspire Partner event.

Christine B.:                       

That’s right. Well we were born out of the IMCP community. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that. That’s a P2P networking community within the Microsoft ecosystem. We started up there about four years ago and we’ve been building ever since. Then, as you can imagine with diversity inclusion just being such an important topic right now, it was important for us to have our own name and our own brand and really focus on the objectives that I mentioned to you.

Chris L.:                               

Perfect. Wow, fantastic. All right, well let’s open this up and talk about the importance of a diverse workforce. With diversity, it can come in many forms; age, gender, ethnicity, experience and social background. But as I said in the opener, we really want to focus on females in tech for the sake of this conversation, because it’s actually a bit of a tough battle isn’t it?

Christine B.:                       

It is. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in even the latest reports that have come out, the research and studies show that the numbers are actually still declining. Everybody is surprised by that because we do have a focus on it now, but that just shows there’s still more work to do.

Chris L.:                               

It’s something that’s really, really worth fighting for. Like I mentioned in the opener, some of the potential benefits, did I miss anything? I think we got it covered there.

Christine B.:                       

You can Google this and find a lot of great information about the fact that diverse workforces not only do creativity and innovation and better employee satisfaction, but drive higher sales, higher profits, higher stock price and customer satisfaction. Those are facts. It’s not made up information.

Chris L.:                               

As we say, it’s definitely worth fighting for.

Christine B.:                       

Exactly.

Chris L.:                               

Yeah, for sure. I often talk with my wife about this topic. She’s been a CIO in an energy generation company. Two very male dominated industries coming together and she now runs her own successful IT consulting business, and she’s very vocal about trying to get females interested at an early age. Despite all the efforts that are being made, more often than not, she tells stories about that, she’s still a minority in the meeting room when it’s time to discuss IT strategy or whatever. We’ve got a young daughter, so we really hope that the situation for our daughter will be different. Do you feel confident that we can work towards that?

Christine B.:                       

Well, I do, but unless we start really pushing that as an issue and, and driving that change now, it’s going to take a really long time. Let me give you an example. A Microsoft exec had told me a story where she went to go visit a partner, a very large partner. She walked into the room and there were 22 seats around the board table, and she was the only woman. She walked looked at everybody and she said, well, to all the gentlemen, ” Does anybody think anything’s wrong with this picture?” They all went, “Oh oh, we did something wrong.” But they didn’t know what.

Chris L.:                               

Did they not pick up on it?

Christine B.:                       

No. So, she went out into the office and she found a young woman and she said, “Can you please come with me?” She brought the young woman into the board room, and they got her seat, and then she said, “So, now does anybody see what’s wrong with this picture?” The light bulbs all started to go out. She said to them, I will not take a meeting with you or any other partner unless there are women at the table and people of color-

Chris L.:                               

Fantastic.

Christine B.:                       

It’s bold moves like that. A lot of men will come to me and say, “What can I do?” That right there is very simple, start changing the world around you even in small ways. If you’re having an internal meeting, a board meeting, a meeting with customers, say, “Let’s make sure we have a diverse group.” We’ve all been reading the studies. It’s beneficial for all of us. Let’s make sure we have a diverse group of people in that room. Until people start really pushing that it’s going to take a long time.

Chris L.:                               

Yep. I love that story. That’s gold. Absolutely fantastic.

Christine B.:                       

Oh wait, one final on that. She went home that day and she said to her husband, “I don’t know why …” He said to her, “You’ve been telling me this story every day for the past 25 years that this is what’s been happening. Why today did you make this change and be bold?” She said, “You know, I don’t know why.” He said, “I know why. Because our daughter just graduated college and she’s starting a job in a month, and you’re realizing that unless you start pushing this, your daughter isn’t going to have a different experience.”

Chris L.:                               

You’re so right.

Christine B.:                       

To answer your question, this is on our minds.

Chris L.:                               

Yeah. Okay. My wife has then got 10 years around about till she makes a similar move when our daughter gets to college.

Christine B.:                       

Well, let’s hope not.

Chris L.:                               

I was really challenged by a friend recently on this topic. He also works in tech and supports the movement, but believes we aren’t really seeing the change that we would like. We’re having a great debate about this, and we’re talking about how to promote STEM to girls. Often, it seems to lead to a discussion that involves coding. We’ve run expo days and the girls come along and they do their program with a Sphero to do a few commands or they get an iPad and they do some coding for some sort of game. It’s like come here, do this fun stuff, now go and become a coder.

The reality seems to be that the stereotypical coder persona that many people think about might not be that attractive to young girls. Do you think that’s a fair assessment for the situation we find ourselves in? Do you have any thoughts on how we might be able to change that?

Christine B.:                       

Yeah. I do think that that’s a fair assessment because the women that I speak to through the WIT Network will say that they talk to their daughters and they ask, “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up and what are you interested in?” They’ll say, “I want to be an astronaut and a lawyer and a doctor.” But nobody says I want to go into computers.

They’ll say, “Why? How come you don’t want to be in technology?” They’ll say, “I don’t want to do this.” That’s me typing on the keyboard.

Chris L.:                               

Just for everybody to see your fingers moving.

Christine B.:                       

Why don’t they want to do that? Well firstly, I think when they go into some of these camps or in these classes, they’re the only girl and they’re uncomfortable. At those ages, they want to be with their friends. Until the education system finds a way to make it more interesting for these girls to all participate in that together. I’m just trying to think, there has to be some sort of a creative way to encourage them to do it together. They’re probably still going to make other choices.

Also, when you get older into university level, it’s the same thing. Women or they’re the only girl, woman in the class and now it’s a safety issue. Because they’re uncomfortable. Again, back to education, I think what can education do to try to solve some of these problems. Then how can we educate these young girls that it isn’t just about being a coder. The little girl wants to be an astronaut, that’s technology. In some cases doctors are in technology. I think we have to do a marketing campaign to the youth to say it isn’t just about being a coder.

Chris L.:                               

Yeah. I’ve got this crazy idea, what if we just let the girls go off and follow their dreams, follow their education all the way through to where they’re trying to find a job. They might be anything; a doctor, a lawyer, or whatever the case may be. Then we hit them with, do you know that those skills can come across into the tech world and help people find cures for cancer or the next big thing in tech. Why do we have to get them so early to think that tech field? Is there another way to it, do you think?

Christine B.:                       

I don’t know. I think in some ways that’s happening now. People are following their paths and thinking, hey, I’m going to go down this road and I’m not going to be in technology. Then through just career progression, they find themselves in technology. A friend of mine started a marketing company and she thought, I’m a marketer, I’m a marketer, this is what I do. Now, she supports companies like NetApp, Cisco, she does all the marketing for these tech hubs. Guess what? She’s talking about servers, she’s talking about cloud. She doesn’t see yourself as a marketing anymore, she’s in technology.

Chris L.:                               

Yeah. That’s fantastic. One of my friends in the business is a fantastic example of this. She went off and studied fine arts at university and explored all those design and illustration elements of her personality. She’s a wonderful artist. And then at some stage she found her way back into tech, through the social media kind of thing. Then now she’s working with us as a user experience designer and doing some fantastic work.

But her rap to get to us was not what you called traditional. It just works. I just wonder whether maybe, do we get stuck a little bit on, I’ve got to go into tech from such an early age where maybe they’ll find their way to us if we can find a way to convert them a bit later.

But just about that great example, we still have challenges for females within our tech company. It really is difficult. We do have a diverse mix of people. We’ve got a few different global offices and there’s a large range of ages, experiences and background. We’re hovering around about the 30% overall females in the mix. But we see those mixes of the male and females, vary really widely across our departments. In our dev team, it’s about 15% or thereabouts. But in people in culture, it’s 50-50. In admin, it’s 75%. Do you see similar statistics in the businesses that you work?

Christine B.:                       

Yes. We do. As you were talking I was thinking how can we help your business and other businesses like yours to increase those numbers? We talked about some of the stats going down. For me, one of the more alarming stats that’s going down is that women are leaving the tech industry in mid-career. We monitor and measure a whole bunch of stuff. How many young girls are going to STEM courses in high school and college? How many are graduating with IT degrees? How many are getting jobs in the IT industry? Then promotion and C level and funding and all of that. But the one that is really surprising is that women who are here are leaving and not having to deal with maternity.

Chris L.:                               

That was going to be my question was it-

Christine B.:                     

No, aside from that. Here you are saying, “Okay, well we have these different percentages.” One of the things that I feel might be a great way to retain those women or even recruit more women to your company is to provide a sponsorship program where these women come in and you say, we are going to assign a sponsor here; one of the executives, one of the managers, the directors, are going to take them under their wing and help them navigate career progression at your company. Because if they come in and they say, I don’t have to figure this out by myself, how to stay here and how to excel, someone’s going to coach me. They’re going to help me understand what is my future aspiration? What is it going to take for me to get there here? What do I need to do to get there? What skills do I need to attain? What courses should I take? Right now, who helps those people with that? If they’re not getting that attention to help navigate a more male dominated workforce, they leave.

Chris L.:                               

Do you think that the mentor needs to be a female or it doesn’t matter?

Christine B.:                       

No, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think it matters. In fact, why not want one of both? You don’t need to only have one. If there are enough women in different positions that can provide that, I think that’s great. But I think having the male, female relationship, mentor relationship now is important because that relationship goes both ways. The beauty of it is when both people are open to learning-

Chris L.:                               

That reverse mentoring going on.

Christine B.:                       

That’s right.

Chris L.:                               

We’ve talked about that at our company actually, that idea that that would be really useful because we’ve got quite a young workforce in certain areas too, and there’s, there’s been a lot of interest in having that go both ways. Say the older guys, but the older people at the company seemed pretty interested in that too, that they could learn from the younger generation because times are changing. This is a very different world to some of the 40 year old guys, I say myself included, we grew up in.

Christine B.:                       

I couldn’t agree with you more. The age and then also male to female. Because many men will say, I don’t see what some of the … They don’t mean it in a bad way like they’re trying to get help. They’re saying, I don’t see some of these issues, but if we start forming more of these one on one relationships where people are welcome to share their experiences, it would be very eye opening in a safe environment though, where they don’t feel threatened that, oh, I shouldn’t talk about.

Maybe the woman would say, “I was just in a meeting and there were white men at the table. I felt very uncomfortable.” Then all of a sudden, maybe that, that leader will have, “Oh, we need to change that. You’re right, I can see how that’s uncomfortable.” Or they kept saying, dude, and they kept making jokes that I didn’t understand, or they were talking about sports. This is inclusion stuff. Sometimes men will go, “What? Oh, that makes you feel uncomfortable? I didn’t even know.” Having this dialogue-

Chris L.:                               

You’ve got things going off in my head.

Christine B.:                       

See, this is what I mean, having this dialogs, that’s what’s going to help. We just need to talk to each other more. What I love, what you’re doing about these podcasts, the storytelling is what’s going to make impact. Women are writing blogs, they’re trying to get their stories out. There’s podcasts, there’s YouTube videos, things of that nature where we were sharing these experiences, I think is opening up a lot of eyes and a lot of minds-

Chris L.:                               

Sounds great. Okay, so let’s just try and bring us back around to the overarching topic of the podcast. I’ll get you to think about a couple of things. The Intelligent Workplace is driven by some amazing pieces of technology like artificial intelligence, workflow automation, bots and analytics. But is all of this shiny tech relatively useless if we don’t have a diverse workforce to utilize it?

Christine B.:                       

Yeah. Think about what we just talked about. I have men who say, “I don’t understand what some of these issues are. I don’t know why there are problems for women in the workplace. I look around, I see women all around me at my company and they seem to be doing well. What’s the problem?” Well, if these are the people who are building these AI solutions, guess what? Massive mess. I have large concerns about that, and I think many people do, which is what you’re reading about in the news and whatnot.

I think hopefully, we have to make more of an effort in our industry to bring diverse voices, minds, tools to the AI process or we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.

Chris L.:                               

Fair enough. Good words there. Before we finish up today, maybe can give me a piece of advice how I can go away from this interview today. Because I’m sitting here thinking that I can be better. I’m one of those 40 year old white males, I don’t sit around the boardroom, But I’m one of those 40 year old white males who sometimes says things that aren’t politically correct or whatever. Because when I was first working, things were different. I’m lucky in my workplace that I’ve got a few people that call me on those things or reverse mentor me in not a formal way, but I really appreciate the input from them.

For me, going back to my day job eventually, what’s the best piece of advice you can give me to start to make change right now?

Christine B.:                       

I would say two things. One, find a woman in technology in your company and ask her if she would like a sponsor and a mentor, and start that relationship. Because then you might become a role model to the people around you.

Chris L.:                               

But does it immediately tell her that I think, not that I’m better than her or that I’m above her, but does that mean looking down on her saying, “I would like to mentor you?” or, or is it say, hey, can we work together, might be a better way to frame it?

Christine B.:                       

I think that you should use the words that you feel comfortable with. You can say, “Hey, I was at Inspire. There’s lots of talk about mentorship and how important it is to sponsor women in technology. If you’re interested, I’d love to partner with you and be of any assistance that I can be.” That’s one thing. Then the other thing is, take a look at the meetings around you and take a look at the work groups and project teams. Even if you’re going to a client, say let’s bring a nice diverse team out to this client meeting.

Just start in your own way, pushing some of these topics even for interviewing. That’s one big focus area, recruitment and interviewing, and hiring. What is your company doing about that and how are you ensuring that more diverse candidates are coming in for the interviews and then also being hired?

It’s not about I’ll just hire a woman for the sake of hiring a woman. It’s not about that. It’s just making sure, look, if you bring three white gentleman in for an interview, right? A white gentleman is going to get the job of course. But if you can bring in a more diverse mix of people for the job, it gives you a better opportunity to find more of the right candidate for the job, and provides a bigger opportunity for those diverse groups.

I would say to you, you don’t need to do it in an abrasive way or obnoxious way, but it’s about starting to ask questions. I think the more people do that … Everybody thinks that the other person knows what they’re doing. You may think, oh, HR knows what they’re doing, but you might have an idea that HR hasn’t come up with yet or your manager may have not have come up with yet.

Again, it goes back to dialoguing and just talking to people and sharing creative ideas of how to bring diversity about in your own team. Little by little, that will all infiltrate out.

Chris L.:                               

For my 11 year old daughter, Layla, what can I do to broaden her horizons and maybe help her look at tech as being an option in the future for her?

Christine B.:                       

I think what might be great is if you know of women that are in technology, but perhaps as you mentioned, there are attorneys in technology, they work in the medical field, or they’re even in sales and marketing on the business side, but they’re in the technology field. Maybe set up some coffee day or a breakfast meeting and give an opportunity for them to share how they’re doing such a mix of different things, but being in the technology industry. They can share maybe their journey, how they went through schooling, how they did this road, and how they landed where they are, and what they love about their job, what they love about being in technology.

Because I think if she started to hear some of the stories, that’s where the magic is going to be. If you here and take this class or go to a boot camp-

Chris L.:                               

It’s not going to work.

Christine B.:                       

Unless they’re just in the inside, really interested in that. I think the stories I’m learning from the other women who have traveled that path is what will be inspiring for her?

Chris L.:                               

Nice. I think I might have her on the right path, but she has a bit of a different view of what we actually do here at LiveTiles, because she comes in our Hobart office and all she does is pick up on the fun stuff in the office. She sees a table tennis table and the computer go on, she thinks that’s what dad does. He goes to work to play computer games.

Christine B.:                       

The swing set. Your New York office has a swing set.

Chris L.:                               

It just seems like fun to her. Maybe I’ve started, maybe I’ve got her on the right path even though she needs to maybe understand that we do more than just play on the swing set at work.

Christine B.:                       

Right, right.

Chris L.:                               

Fantastic. Well Christine, thank you so much for joining me.

Christine B.:                       

Thank you. I want to take just a quick special thank you to LiveTiles because you’ve been a big sponsor for the WIT Network. You offer up your offices for our meetings and you sponsor our activities. You’re big supporter for women in tech. Even doing this, taking a few minutes to do this is going to make a difference for a couple, if not hundreds of people. So, I really want to say thank you for doing that.

Chris L.:                               

It’s our pleasure. We know it’s an important issue in the industry and we’re very happy to support it. Many of us around the country, we’ve all got daughters, we know what it’s going to be like for them when they got to find a job. What you ladies are up to is very, very important and we think it’s fantastic. Thanks for your time today and enjoy the rest of the Microsoft Inspire event.

Christine B.:                       

All right. Wonderful, Chris. Thanks again.

Chris L.:                               

Thank you. Thanks for joining me on the Intelligent Workplace Podcast brought to you by LiveTiles. If you have any feedback, or want to suggest a guest for a future show, email podcast@livestiles.nyc. Thanks for listening. I’ll catch you next time.

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