Four young strong women or girls standing together. Group of friends or feminist activists support each other, women supporting women

What does International Women's Day mean to leaders in the tech industry?

Four young strong women or girls standing together. Group of friends or feminist activists support each other, women supporting women

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity – a particularly relevant issue in the tech industry which continues to have a noticeable lack of women at every organisational level from Board members to new recruits.

Vice President of Sales at CDW UK, Penny Williams has worked all her professional career in the technology industry and has experienced both progress and setbacks towards the ongoing goal to build a more equal and inclusive industry.

Here, with input from other team members at CDW UK, she shares insights on what #breakthebias means to individuals and what businesses need to do to encourage diversity and inclusion.

Penny Williams CDWInternational Women’s Day (IWD) isn important way to celebrate women’s achievements, giving everyone a voice and a seat at the table is an essential part of sustainable social and economic development, but it also creates room for diversity of thought which leads to greater innovation. In other words, gender equality means progress for all.

However, simply recruiting more women to fill tech roles is not enough. Change must come from company practices and policies, that can, often unintentionally, be biased toward one group of employees. Companies need to create and foster an inclusive and diverse workforce that respects each individual regardless of factors like their gender, religion, age, background and personal beliefs.

I’m proud to work for CDW UK, which has women in key roles across the business. From the top-down, women are championed, and our wider DE&I strategy aims to foster a diverse, fair and inclusive culture across the business to build pipelines of talent that focus on capability. But I know we, like many in the tech industry, still have a long way to go to achieve full gender parity. That’s why we invest in programmes to improve diversity and inclusion in the business, such as our Women’s International Network (WIN). WIN is an evolving and inclusive group for all employees that promotes equality, agility and personal development while also establishing a community and culture that supports women in their progression – both personally and professionally.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my career to have strong role models that have helped me to find my voice and believe in myself. Over to my coworkers to let them highlight what IWD and #BreakTheBias means to them.

Talent is everywhere but companies need to make more of a proactive effort to look outside the usual places. To change this and create opportunities for the many, companies should take a chance on those who may not necessarily fit the job description. This includes young, aspirational women with limited experience, those from different industries but have transferrable skills, or those who may not have had the “conventional” career path so far.

— Jessica Poulter, Apple Partner Development Manager

It takes courage to address biased and offensive language and conduct in the workplace. Key to this is creating a safe space for workers to have candid discussions around social injustices. Not only does this promote self-awareness, so that people can recognise and combat the biases they hold, but it also allows us to make the necessary changes for future generations of women in IT. We can all #BreakTheBias, but it will require involvement from every individual of the organisation.

— Hannah Hodkin, ITIL Principal

Organisations must provide equal opportunities for development and progression, not just in empty words but in policies and systems. In instances where individuals disregard these policies and continue to be influenced by bias, finding an ally, or a community of these, can help to support with the escalation and correction of this behaviour.

 

The saying ‘strength in numbers’ resonates strongly here as a unified challenge of discrimination, conscious or unconscious, becomes incredibly difficult to ignore and will lead to senior intervention designed to #BreakTheBias. Taking the first step may seem daunting but the faster that education to harmonise company culture is conducted, the faster behaviour leading to prejudice, and discomfort will be eliminated.

— Rajiv Narayan, Product Manager

#BreakTheBias is about creating a level playing field that does not marginalise any groups or individuals. This means allowing room for everyone to show up as their authentic selves, without any fear or second guesses, and recognising that our differences are what moves us forward.

 

However, we cannot build for the future without having everyone in the room, this goes for all genders, races, religions, cultures and backgrounds. Senior leadership teams must be aware of the position they’re in and the power they have when it comes to implementing change. Business leaders should take the time to get to know individuals across the business, listen to their needs and take the required action. Through this process, organisations can review their existing policies to ensure that they are meeting the needs of their employees. At CDW UK, policies around menopause and maternity leave, supporting women into leadership roles, flexible working, hiring processes and attracting diverse talent are constantly being evaluated within our WIN group.

— Jessica Whellams, Head of Community and DE&I

#BreakTheBias is about moving forward from antiquated notions that career paths and industries should be determined by gender. For me, this evokes an image of tearing something down and reconstructing it in a new and better way – I think the tech industry has a huge opportunity to do this, as do many other industries.

 

People are often inspired to do something when they see others like them do it which is why visibility and representation are key. For example, when women see other women in roles, they find it easier to imagine themselves in those roles and are more likely to put themselves forward. I was fortunate that my mom worked in IT and inspired me to explore the tech industry, and I’m so glad I did as it has led me to an exciting career path.

— Flannery Devine Gibbons, Category Lead – Cloud

#BreakTheBias goes beyond gender and women are leading the charge towards a more inclusive workplace across the board. To me, seeing a diverse world, where difference is valued and accepted and decisions are free of stereotypes and discrimination, is what it truly requires for the bias to be broken.

 

Considering my personal actions, I strive to listen, learn, and engage in conversations to challenge the status quo. In other words, I embody the change that I want to see at work, home and in the communities that I am a part of. But it takes more than a few voices, we all must come together in a collective effort to drive change.

— Mobeena Iqbal-Ahmad, Marketing Manager

#BreakTheBias involves slowing down the decision-making process to make sure that I can challenge my own thinking, dig into my initial responses, determine if there is bias influencing me and correct my actions accordingly. Even those individuals that embrace diversity and enjoy leaning about different cultures may still be engrained with unconscious bias stemming from their social upbringings. In many cases, this type of bias can be more challenging to break based on its hidden and seemingly harmless nature. Therefore, I believe that the first step is to accept that we all have some degree of bias as this will allow us to correctly challenge our thinking to ensure that it does not impact our actions.

— Mark Murphy, Head of Technical Operations and Physical Security

Achieving dreams is hard work but that ‘door or ceiling’ should be non-existent. I’m delighted to see this increasingly become a reality with women beginning to step into roles where they can help build environments free of resistance, discrimination, harm, and fear. As these barriers continue to be broken, I would advise all women to truly believe in themselves and their dreams. Having faith in your abilities, your drive, and your determination to succeed will go a long way to empower the next generation of resilient female professionals who recognise that the views of others shouldn’t, and won’t, impact what they want to do in life.

— Julie Marsh, Head of UK Coworker Services

Too often, women are hindered by self-doubt therefore reiterating the crucial role that mentors can play in encouraging career progression. Building on from this, it is important to have visibility of senior women role models who take a proactive approach to knowledge and experience sharing – after all, ‘You Can’t Be What You Can’t See’.

 

It is vitally important that assumptions about women’s personal lives stop characterising decision-making. These private factors, such as backgrounds or relationships, should never play a role in professional career decisions or restrict a woman’s opportunities. People need to break down barriers and stop forming assumptions as these generalisations are currently leading to the denial of opportunities for women.

 

I’d encourage all women to embrace big steps in their career. If you don’t believe in yourself and don’t seize chances when they arise, you’ll simply be holding yourself back. You’ll never know your real potential unless you take the next step. Be bolder.

— Susan Cotton, Head of Brand Marketing

Meet our 100 incredible leaders breaking the bias & calling for societal change this International Women’s Day

As part of our #WeAreBreakingTheBias campaign, we will be sharing the thoughts of over 100 leaders who are calling for societal change for women. We hope you will join us so we can amplify why we should all #BreakTheBias for gender equity.

VIEW OUR 100 INSPIRING LEADERS