In her Ted Talk, Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President of Commerical Partner Team at Microsoft, shares that in 1991, 36% of the computing workforce in the United States was women. In 2020, that number fell to 25%. We're going in the wrong direction of gender equity in high tech.
In order to close this divide, we need more people to serve as allies. In a recent SAS Global Forum panel discussion, Paula Henderson, Executive Vice President and Chief Sales Officer for the Americas at SAS; moderator Ayana Littlejohn, Data Scientist at SAS; and Gavriella, offered actionable ways for people to become allies to women in technology.
What is allyship?
But first, let’s start at the beginning. What do we mean by “ally?” The panelists say being an ally means:
- Bringing a voice to everyone in your network.
- Creating a sense of belonging so people can be their authentic selves.
- Being a selfless leader who goes out of their way to help others.
These four key takeaways offer actionable ways you can make a difference.
Need an ally? Ask.
Gavriella shares that one easy way to gain the support of an ally is to ask for their support before beginning a meeting. If you’re going to be presenting a project idea, ask someone beforehand if they’d be willing to verbally build off your idea after you speak. By asking them beforehand, the person has already been included in the conversation and their participation helps eliminate the chance that your idea will fly past meeting participants.
Create a seat at the table… literally.
Gavriella says that creating an inclusive environment is all about empowering individuals. In order to prevent women from sitting away from others or standing in the back of a meeting filled with men, Gavriella suggested physically making space for them. Whether offering the seat next to you or specifying the exact seat between people where the person should sit, physically creating a spot for women at the table helps everyone feel more comfortable expressing their authentic selves.
Tap into your curiosity.
If you are looking to become a better ally but don’t know where to start, try channeling your curiosity. Your simple questions about someone’s background, hobbies and experiences will not only help you get to know them better so you can be a better advocate but will also help you build trust so they feel comfortable giving you their honest feedback on ways you can improve your allyship.
In order to be an ally to others, we have to be aware of our own shortcomings and opportunities for improvement. We can often become desensitized to the prejudices we may have experienced or we may seem unapproachable to people wanting to provide us feedback for growth. By remaining open and encouraging transparent discussions, people will feel more comfortable providing feedback to us, helping us learn, grow and improve.
Want to learn more about driving for gender diversity in high tech? Check out the SAS Global Forum panel on demand. Also be sure to join the SAS Women in Analytics Network to join a community of women in technology advocates.