ARA New York

Sharing the Male Perspective: What You Missed in NYC

With some exciting debate ahead of our March 18 panel, “Women in Tech: The Male Perspective,” our ARA New York team was eager for an evening of strong insights and good discussion. The crowd of more than 160 and our distinguished, all-male panel of technology leaders did not disappoint.

Blog author Anna Frazzetto with panelists (from left) Vikram Menon, former CIO, Institute for Integrative Nutrition; Dave Villano, CTO, Operative; Yuri Aguiar, Strategic Portfolio Director, WPP Coretech; and John Pavley, SVP Engineering, Viacom

Blog author Anna Frazzetto with panelists (from left) Vikram Menon, former CIO, Institute for Integrative Nutrition; Dave Villano, CTO, Operative; Yuri Aguiar, Strategic Portfolio Director, WPP Coretech; and John Pavley, SVP Engineering, Viacom

 

You might wonder whether there were any surprising revelations from those who came to discuss the challenge of getting more women into technology. Indeed, there were. Did we learn why achieving gender balance across the IT industry is proving so challenging and how to fix it? Both the panelists and the audience shared powerful insights, personal experiences and industry knowledge that demonstrated the many ways people are confronting the challenge. Here is just a sampling of the valuable lessons shared and solutions offered.

Know Your Culture, Shape Your Culture
One potent revelation from the panel was acknowledgement of how hard it can be for leaders to recognize cultural issues that contribute to workplace gender gaps. For example, a panelist shared a story of the day one of his very best project managers came to him to say she was going to quit to go and teach. He was shocked because she was the best of the best—a top performer on a team made up of 10 other engineers, all male.

After some discussion, he learned that she was tired of the company’s “old boys’ network.” And this floored him. Old boys’ network? He had never thought of his organization as one that could or would have such a network. It opened his eyes to something he had never seen and created an opportunity to reshape the environment in order to retain a talented and valued employee.

This story was an excellent reminder that it’s not easy for senior managers to understand the day-to-day work environment employees navigate. To understand the cultural challenges workers face, managers and leaders need to talk with their employees openly about the issues and values that shape the corporate culture. They need to sit eye level with employees and see the workplace from their perspectives. The more work leaders do to understand any business challenge—be it margins, productivity, efficiency, diversity or gender balance—the more effective they are at building solutions that fix the problem.

Eleanor Mastracchio, Vice President of Corporate Systems, Viacom addresses the ARA New York audience.

Eleanor Mastracchio, Vice President of Corporate Systems, Viacom addresses the ARA New York audience.

Top Down, Bottom Up & Inside Approaches All Required
Increasing the number of women in IT is going to take a multi-front offensive, according to the panel and the audience. Education for young elementary and middle schools is of course a critical bottom-up strategy for building a future workforce of female IT professionals. But to address the gaps today, the panel agreed that business leaders must also encourage top down programs—training, development and mentoring—that pull talented female professionals into and up the IT ranks.

The work of organizations like Girls Who Code, which encourages and promotes the tech work of inspiring women, was cited as an important example of a group tackling the IT gender gap head on.

The consensus was that it is going to take effort from many sides—schools, businesses, industry associations, government and nonprofits—in order to make serious and lasting progress in closing the gender gap.  

The Emotion Question
The challenge of being seen as “emotional” and “dramatic” when you speak up as a women in IT was brought to the panel by more than one audience member. As moderator, my job was to give the panelists the floor, but I also felt myself itching to weigh in. The panel provided strong advice on leadership and collaboration best practices. For example, one of our panelists, encouraged the audience to remember the value of professional awareness in the workplace, including self-awareness, organizational awareness, and situational awareness.

If you have clear awareness of the situation, the organization and yourself, don’t hold back. Speak up and own your opinions, your ideas and your passion.

I was glad to hear many people from the audience and the panel encourage women to be confident and not to question their seat at the table. That has long been my philosophy in the global IT work I do. I am confident that I have value to contribute and smart, capable professionals should feel that way. But even confidence takes time to acquire—this was not my first panel by any means. So how do you gain confidence? You have to try and you have to train, building the hard calluses that lead to true confidence. You have to be a workplace Kunoichi—a female ninja—a word we learned from our knowledgeable panel.

Practice confident engagement by questioning, contributing, daring to lead and allowing yourself to fail. Your confidence will grow with every effort you make.

The Best Teams Are Diverse Teams
Every panelist agreed that diverse teams are stronger teams. As business leaders, they want technology teams and leadership teams that include people of different genders, backgrounds and experience.

The consensus was that the IT industry needs to focus on cultivating diversity of all kinds—gender, culture and age—at every level.

More to Come
By the end of the night it was clear that there is much work to be done to create an IT industry that reflects the diverse world around us. It was also clear that there are many bright and passionate people committed to making the change. Is your business or employer succeeding in narrowing the IT gender gap? Share your best practices here in our comments section and help us keep the momentum towards greater workforce diversity and gender parity strong.

We invite women from the tri-state area to join the conversation: ARA New York on LinkedIn.