We believe our diversity makes us stronger. An organisation that is committed to diversity, belonging and inclusion is one that enables better performance, better perspectives, more creativity and increased productivity. Together with our Gender Balance workstream, part of our Diversity & Inclusion Forum, we’re always looking into how we can better support women in the workplace. Over the last two years, we’ve rolled out Endava Rise Mentoring, a programme for mid-to-senior-level women in Endava aiming to increase the number of women in leadership and governance roles, and we’re really excited to see excellent results already.
To mark International Women’s Day, throughout March we are recognising the impactful work and contribution of women across our global organisation. We’re delighted to highlight some amazing stories, and we’re organising internal and external events for our people to get involved in to support our Women in Tech focus. For a panel, we brought together a diverse line-up of speakers to talk about the importance of diversity, the role women play in the working world, sharing some of their career journeys and giving advice to women in the tech space.
In this article, we collate some of the thoughts shared by our panellists:
- Chris Cooper-Bland, Group Head of Architecture – London, United Kingdom
- Helena Nimmo, Chief Information Officer – London, United Kingdom
- Kathryn Hollister, Endava Board Member – Ohio, United States
- Leticia Chajchir, People Director for the Americas – Rosario, Argentina
- Priya John, Global Head of Business Transformation – Vancouver, Canada
- Roxana Leatu, Senior Account Group Unit Manager – Iasi, Romania
Special thanks go to Eleanor Mills, founder of noon.org.uk, an award-winning editor at The Sunday Times and a thought leader on diversity, for brilliantly moderating our discussion and helping us tackle a global conversation.
Let’s talk about opportunities for women in IT. What attracted you to work in this field? Why do we need more women in technology, and what can we do to encourage more women to get involved in this exciting industry?
Chris: When I started as a developer on mainframes, we were working on business information systems. IT is now permeating all areas of our lives, and it stands to reason that with this vast selection of solutions, we need a diverse group of people to support it, and we need everybody’s perspective. Women are actually really good when it comes to agile development, which is emphasising collaboration, shared ownership, communication, or stakeholder management, and also architecture, which is all about making decisions and trade-offs based on our understanding of the problem at a point in time. It’s about finding the right balance and making compromises.
Roxana: I joined Endava as a senior .NET developer, and I’m sure there’s still a bit of my code in use somewhere, and I’m proud of that. Later, I decided to move into more of a management role – and here I am today, really excited to be part of this group. I would encourage ladies to go and try a career in tech. It’s not just you and your computer, there’s lots of creativity and problem-solving. You can also work with and for people if you like that. We can attract more women into tech by creating more female role models, making them more visible and recognising their achievements. That can be as easy as recognising when someone has done something really cool in your teams: praise them for doing something good or something out of the ordinary.
Priya: I come from a non-traditional IT background. I started my career in finance, did accounting for forestry companies, then moved into the world of consulting, and that’s how I was introduced to Endava. I love being in the tech sector, and if I were to do my whole education again, I would possibly go into something more technical. I work a lot with our internal teams, and I’m surrounded by women in a lot of those spaces. From an opportunities perspective, people have to be aware that there are various opportunities in tech companies, not just standard technical roles, but also roles for people from non-standard backgrounds.
Leticia: In Latin America, and in North America as well, we are still way behind in terms of gender balance in this industry. There’s still this understanding that women can’t write code or that coding roles are careers very specifically for men, and this is a historic challenge that we face. In this region, it’s very important to start working with the organisations targeting very young women to introduce them into this industry and show them the opportunities. We are seeing the change though: when I started working in IT 10 years ago as a recruiter, I had no female candidates for IT roles, and when we go to universities now, we see more ladies who want to start their IT career. There’s still a lot to do, and as female leaders, as organisations and from a community perspective, we need to help improve that and see that change going forward.
Why is diverse leadership such an important thing? And why is it more difficult to get women into executive roles?
Kathryn: The research has been suggesting for many, many decades that the best decision-making comes from a very diverse group: different genders, ages, backgrounds, countries, industries, experiences. Over the last decade, we’ve seen quite a big change in the composition of company boards, either because of legislative requirements or because people recognise that the decision-making wasn’t as good as it could have been with different people. But this is a hard task because it requires each person sitting on these boards to break themselves out of their current construct and network and force themselves into other networks where they might meet other people who would bring a different perspective.
Helena: If you are a leader, you build your team around you to support you. And you often choose individuals who think like you, and often look like you too, so straight away, you’ve accidentally created that bias. Once you become aware of that, it’s more about focusing on and actively creating a team that is very different from you. For a leader, that actually makes your job harder because suddenly you have six or seven individuals who will debate things with you and bring a different viewpoint. But it makes you a much, much better leader, and it also gives those individuals opportunities to learn how to interact with people who think differently from them. So, when they then come up the rank, if they repeat what you have taught them, that is the next step up.
What can we as female leaders do to make an impact? How can we get more women up the ladder?
Kathryn: I think women leaders – actually everybody – should have the experience of learning that, sometimes, the difference that you bring to the table can be the most valuable thing that you bring to the team, and so to not shy away from experiences and environments where you’re the different one. Also, there is both rewarded risk and unrewarded risk. It’s really important that women appreciate the rewarded risks in life, that means the reward for seeking opportunities and the great things that can happen from that. If you are risk-averse, you might not see those things.
As leaders – no matter what gender – it’s incredible for us to sponsor younger women coming through, and not just younger women, but all kinds of diverse people that are going to make us successful in the future. So, sponsorship is an accountability and responsibility that I think every leader ought to feel very beholden to. There’s a great tagline that we use in the US all the time about mentors, coaches, sponsors: a mentor listens to you, a coach tells you what to do, and a sponsor sticks their neck out on the line for you.
Helena: One of my big career breaks happened when I was moving from middle management into senior management. I had just come back from maternity leave, and I changed jobs. I had sponsorship from two male peers, and they absolutely believed in what I could do and achieve. They showed me the ropes and guided me in a way that, once I was comfortable in my role, I was able to develop my career further from there.
So, sponsorship – it doesn’t matter from which gender – is hugely important. If you have women in your team who have the potential, put them forward for promotion, for example. They might not be comfortable at first, but what is the worst thing that could happen? At least they learn, they have experiences, they get feedback – which helps them see that they do have the potential and can move forward.
Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career, that moment when you were put on a fast track – or maybe you asked for a seat at the table?
Roxana: The pivotal moment in my career was when I was running the Iasi delivery unit, and I had been doing that job for about a year and a half, and I had small kids at home. A mentor of mine trusted me, put me in front of a client and said, ‘This is the context, go and do it’. I remember freezing, but then I just internally set myself and said, ‘Come on, you got this’. I was very proud of myself for doing that, and I was then offered the opportunity to join client-facing teams. That was the moment that pushed me forward, and I cherish it because I was lucky to have somebody trust me enough to give me the opportunity – this was an awakening moment for myself.
Leticia: I was working as an HR manager in one of the IT companies pre-Endava. I was the only female leader in a group of leaders, but I was not part of the leadership team meeting that they had. I was always sharing my ideas on a 1:1 basis with those leaders and was waiting for an invitation until I actually said, ‘I want to be part of that meeting. Can I please join next week?’ The message here is that we need to speak up for what we want, what we really think we can contribute and be authentic. It was the moment when I truly advocated for myself and didn’t wait for the others to recognise my potential. It’s about speaking louder, saying what we really want and not doubting ourselves.
Priya: For me, it was back in my consulting days when we were working on a financial transformation project. I was asked to stand up and lead as a financial controller and, later, as a treasury manager for that company, which was quite a stretch for me. So, I stood up for that role and said yes. My recommendation to everybody is just to really go after it when you see a ‘stretch opportunity’, as I call them. Go after them, they’re exciting! Nobody wants you to fail. Lots of people are there to catch you, guide you and help you along the way.
What advice would you give to your younger self or other women navigating the tech environment? What do you wish you’d known?
Helena: Don’t settle for second best if you’ve got your eye on the goal. Go for it. Don’t accept the second best if you know you can achieve the best.
Chris: Yes, if you want something, go for it. Put yourself forward. Be brave. Make that statement: I think I can do this. What’s the worst that can happen?
Priya: I would say it’s to believe in your abilities. Be curious and don’t lose that as you get more senior. And look for those stretch opportunities – they’re always paying dividends for your career.
Leticia: I think it’s being authentic, being ourselves and taking risks. Don’t be afraid of taking risks.
Roxana: Exactly, be brave. You’re better than you think, and you’re the only one stopping you from achieving your goals.
Kathryn: Also, change is the biggest opportunity to shine. And so, as there’s change in the technology industry, make it a point to sense what’s going on and figure out if you can actually be in a role to shape how that new thing will play out.
Thank you so much to our incredible panellists. It was just so interesting to hear the different cultural angles on women in tech as well as their stories and advice. They are all evidence that women do reach senior positions and become real role models to our Endava women all across the world.