Delivering diversity in tech “Mommy, what are you doing?  Can I help?"
My eldest son asked me this question literally as I sat down to start writing this blog. It’s not as if he’s unfamiliar with the sight of me crouched over my laptop – an unavoidable consequence of lockdown, home schooling and working from home.
But his question did give me pause. My initial idea was to start this piece off with some eye-catching statistics. Did you know, for example, that WomenTechNetwork has found that only 17% of ICT specialists globally are women and only 34% of STEM graduates are women? And in the UK, a recent Tech Nation report revealed that 77% of tech director roles are filled by men. And believe me, when I say there are plenty of other scary statistics I could highlight.
But my son’s enquiry made me think a bit deeper about what it is I am doing now? What does it mean to be global head of diversity and inclusion at a company like BAE Systems Applied Intelligence?
Writing blogs and other forms of written content is, of course, an important part of any leader’s role – transparency and communication matter hugely – but creating a more diverse workforce is not something that occurs overnight.  It takes a constellation of activity over a continuous period of time to really turn good intentions into tangible change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it – quite the opposite in fact. 

Why diversity matters

So, why do we want to do this? It’s not as if companies and organisations – public and private – haven’t got a lot on their plate already. For starters, they’ve got to navigate the post-pandemic world and this won’t come easy. Working practices have changed in many cases – will hybrid take root or will people stay working remotely? Maybe there will be a mass return to the office? All of these questions are yet to be answered.
But this is precisely why we need more women at the decision-making tables. Firstly, diversity of approaches, points of view and thinking contributes towards improved performance. Diverse teams help encourage innovation and new ways of problem solving, and also offer a variety of skills to meet changing needs. This means more women in leadership positions.
And secondly, the pandemic itself has thrown a harsh spotlight on gender inequality in countries around the world. When Covid-19 emerged, women were 1.8 times more likely than men to lose their jobs. And at the same time, unpaid work such as childcare and countless domestic chores – which are still being reported to mainly fall on women – also massively increased and this created yet another obstacle to a gender balanced workforce for those women that were already experiencing a disadvantage.

Barrier busting

I’ve spent my entire career in the technology industry which now spans more than 20 years and I believe that the issue starts back in schools where the curriculum is not fit for purpose.
We need role models in those schools dispelling myths about what it is like to work in technology and the myriad of jobs available.  We need families and carers to provide the confidence and security to become role models that can encourage the pursuit of careers in this industry knowing their young women will be supported, developed and advanced as they should be.
To create those role models, we not only need more women in the tech workforce, but we also need them in visible leadership positions where their mere presence can paint a powerful tableau about diversity in action. This means we also need to ensure that the women we do have are retained, so this requires carving open clear career paths for these women to move in to decision making, budget holding roles.  As global tech leaders our organisations need to take a prominent role in casting a spotlight on these issues and leading the change.

Getting down to work

At BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, we do this by setting clear objectives, monitoring and reporting on gender across our organisation. In other words, we identify where the leaky valve is and work to plug it. That’s because we business leaders all know these leaks exist for women at all points in our pipeline and we have a duty to address them.
We also want to help women to broaden their understanding of the multitude of tech roles they could transition into as we head in to the future world of work, whatever shape it holds.  From data engineers to software developers, agile scrum managers to cyber security analysts, no job should ever be off limits.
The more we are able to fully embrace gender equity and equity across all backgrounds, the more sustainable and successful we will be. And, quite simply, it is the right thing to do.
And to both my young sons who too frequently find me in my office after bedtime and ask me, “Mommy, what are you doing?  Can I help?” my answer is the same every night:
“Just trying to help change the world buddy, and yes, I’ll lay with you for a little while and talk about it. I know you can help.”

About the author
Theresa Palmer is Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
Diversity and inclusion

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Diversity and inclusion at BAE Systems

Embracing difference - the best people for our business come from all walks of life
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Recommended reading: 

  • International Women’s Day 2021: Choose to Challenge. Spotlighting the voices and perspectives of leaders from the UK public sector and BAE Systems about the importance of tackling gender bias and inequity
  • Setting sail for gender equality – Navy style. The Royal Navy’s Captain Steve Prest tells Mivy James why everybody deserves an equal opportunity to thrive and maximise their potential
  • A city region that #ChoosestoChallenge in 2021. Greater Manchester is on a mission to be recognised as a world leading digital city-region. Here, Beena Puri sets out her own perspective on this year’s International Women’s Day and examines how we can all #ChoosetoChallenge
  • Smashing the status quo. The time for talking about diversity is over, says Mivy James. While progress has been made, we need to go faster and further – including those in leadership roles
  • Women in Tech: action stations. Bridging the gender gap in the tech industry remains unfinished business, says Mivy James. She explains how employers can talk into action

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Theresa Palmer

Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence