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How to use data to create a more equal and inclusive workforce

Article by Sruthi Mohan, Senior Solutions Engineer, Cloudera

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives are crucial to creating and fostering a thriving workplace, helping to spur creativity and innovation as well as to improve employee engagement and business performance.

For DE&I initiatives to be successful, organisations should not treat them as a box-ticking exercise but rather an opportunity for using data to better inform and equip their programmes. By doing so, businesses can establish a truly equitable and inclusive workforce.

Data breaking down bias

There has been much discussion about using the power of data to enhance technological efficiencies and customer solutions, but what about when it comes to developing a more equitable environment and breaking down biases?

By capturing data on employee demographics, a business can better understand the diversity of its employees, the equity of its internal policies, and identify any trends of potential concern.

For example, rather than only outlining the ratio of males to females within a business, it can go further to highlight how many of those females are in leadership positions compared to their male counterparts. At the same time, it can spotlight anomalies when it comes to retention, engagement and promotion rates.

Tapping into data for the use of DE&I crucially allows businesses to diagnose internal discrepancies and eliminate any unwanted bias that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

At Cloudera, we are doing just that by using data to examine and address wage gaps between employees who are comparable in terms of years of experience, role and responsibility – ensuring compliance at all levels and eliminating discrepancies.

Moreover, to level the playing field for underrepresented communities, we have committed to regularly providing financial contributions to non-profit organisations dedicated to creating a more equitable environment for those groups.

 Using data to enact change

To better understand how we use data to drive diversity forward and create positive change, we spoke with renowned civil rights activist and former chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Dr. Mary Frances Berry.

She noted that many DE&I projects that companies engage with are not as effective as they could be due to inefficient and unproductive use of data. As such, it is important that organisations collecting a high density of diversity and inclusivity data find a way to disaggregate that data.

By doing so, businesses can discover the nuances that need to be overcome for them to create initiatives that truly tackle the related issues. In turn, they are better positioned to communicate their intentions and take action that manifests into positive change for employees.

At Cloudera, we believe data is vital in the pursuit of diversity and organisational effectiveness, and it’s this belief that led us to create the Technology for Equality (TeQ) Consortium – an open digital platform that enables individuals and groups to address bias and equity using data, analytics, AI and open-source technology tools.

It’s human nature to have blind spots when it comes to interpreting our understanding of how others are feeling, and often our biases are unintentional. Here, the goal should be for each of us to recognise and have a greater awareness of our unconscious biases and develop methods that are able to overcome them. Only then can we truly create policies and initiatives that are inclusive of the entire workforce.

Diversity of thought

While we have discussed how data can be used to highlight where marginalised demographics persist, it is also imperative to understand why it is important for businesses to achieve a diverse and inclusive workforce. One reason is that it encourages and facilitates diversity of thought, meaning a greater range of mindsets, thought processes and perspectives can be found within an organisation’s workforce.

Having diversity of thought at all levels is critical for businesses to have a better chance of troubleshooting problems and for fostering innovation. These differences can then be harnessed to an organisation’s advantage.

Take for example the role of the data scientist. Research indicates that the discipline has a gender gap which is problematic as its related fields play a key role in shaping society, so having equal and proportional representation is important. It’s no secret that men and women think differently – with women typically being more empathetic and compassionate – so it stands to reason they are likely to interpret data differently. This is important when working with data models that impact real-life decision-making especially when we consider that women are more communicative than men, enabling for better collaboration and problem-solving.

For this reason, businesses must look to create a diverse workforce that encapsulates different groups and backgrounds as it allows for greater representation and the bringing of new perspectives and insight to the table.

If not, businesses might find themselves recycling the same ideas and be out of tune with their customers’ needs – limiting their potential growth. To help tackle this problem, we’ve launched Cloudera Now, a initiative we’ve built to illustrate best practices when it comes to how companies can use their data for the greater good, such as their DE&I initiatives.

Power of data 

While it’s positive that DE&I initiatives are becoming part of the boardroom conversation, organisations must look to ground these initiatives with insights based on data. Only then can businesses identify where inequalities persist to take the decisive action required to remedy them and be able to start harnessing workforce diversity not only for their competitive advantage but for the benefit of society.

Sruthi Mohan featured

Inspirational Woman: Sruthi Mohan | Solutions Engineer, Cloudera

Sruthi MohanSruthi Mohan is a Solutions Engineer at Cloudera in the DACH and Central EMEA region. In this role, she works across multiple industry verticals to help architect modernised data platforms.

Prior to joining Cloudera, Sruthi honed her skills and built her career working with companies such as Cisco and SAS Healthcare and Lifesciences. Sruthi is a strong advocate for diversity in the workplace and currently sits as a D&I Advisory Board Member at Cloudera.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Having studied Environmental Studies, with a focus on Chemical Engineering and a minor in Economics and Business, I’ve found my somewhat untraditional tech education incredibly useful for my career development.

For example, my minor in Economics has proven immensely helpful when navigating value management conversations, understanding what market potential exists for my customers  and informing them on why Cloudera is the right solution for them. On the flip side, my interest in environmental sciences has helped shape my understanding of the wider industry and supporting our customers in this space. In both cases, it has been the problem-solving mindset I’ve learnt throughout my education that has really equipped me for my role today in technology. It’s all about the skills you learn and how you apply them. It doesn’t matter so much how you get them or what you apply them to, so long as you can align the two, you’re on the road to success.

At present, I am focused on ascertaining where my key strengths are and how I can optimally make use of them for my current job role and industry that I work in.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I was never the girl in school who sat down and had her year on year career plan. However, as I’ve developed through my professional life I have started to curate a plan around my own board of directors to ensure my career is going in the direction I want. Simply put, this is the idea of having not just one career mentor but multiple, offering different perspectives and helping to shape your career progression. After a colleague first brought up this notion of having a personal board of directors for your own company – yourself – it made me question; what does a board of directors mean to me, who do I want to have a seat at the table and what role will they play?

For me, it was important that the members of the board were invested in my life, willing to let me vent when things weren’t going to plan and there to give me honest feedback at crucial moments. Having input from people who are going to cushion the truth and tell you what you want to hear is ultimately not going to take you in the right direction. As such, these members have often been those closest to me, such as my mum and dad as well as my best friend.

Secondly, I realised at this stage of my career, it was important for me to include people that I didn’t know that well and who I didn’t work closely with. This has been invaluable for me in gathering an ‘outside’ perspective as sometimes you can be too close to a task to have clarity. I was able to receive guidance from others on things I was or wasn’t doing well in a way that meant no long-term relationships were in danger of being damaged.

Lastly, and what has been most important for my current board of directors and career, is ensuring that I am accountable as chairman. And this would be my advice to anyone looking to build their board of directors – you can get counsel and guidance from your board but it is you who is ultimately responsible for the decisions you make.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I first started out, I suffered a lot from imposter syndrome. Questions of whether I belonged there were asked on a daily basis and I had an initial worry I wasn’t capable enough. Looking back, I suppose it was nothing out of the ordinary for someone working their first ‘proper’ job. I’ve managed to overcome this feeling by learning to accept within myself that I am good enough for the role I was hired for. On this journey, I have actively requested advice from others, asked questions and sought mentorship to lay these self doubts to rest. My managers have played an important role in bolstering my confidence in the technical sales space and making me recognise that not only could I achieve my goals but I could always go that one step further.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date would have to be dealing with what seemed a major professional setback at the time in a positive way. It all started with keeping a positive attitude throughout it all which led me to see the “setback” as an opportunity to reflect, reassess and act, rather than a disappointment.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Mentorship has and always will be key to my development. Part and parcel of this is having access to a blend of strong male and female mentors to provide fresh perspective and guidance on the journey.

Within such a male-dominated industry as tech, I’ve found it extremely useful to first have a fleet of male mentors. Men often don’t see the same ‘ceilings’ on ambitions that some women have grown to internalise. In my experience they have helped challenge and provide alternative viewpoints to support my progression. Seeing that men don’t encounter the same challenges as women, and that they tend to focus on what they can do – rather than what they can’t – by default, has given me the encouragement to adopt a similar mindset and do the same. That being said, it can’t go unmentioned that female mentors are equally as valuable. Unlike our male counterparts, I’ve encountered first-hand how female leaders can relate to the issues that we as women face, offering a level of empathy and understanding.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Go for it! We want you in the tech industry to shake up old ways and bring a fresh perspective to the field so we can drive positive change for future generations. By bringing true diversity to the tech sector, you and I can help overcome gender biases and challenges such as better informing AI to lessen prejudice and inspire new talent into the industry. My overall advice to women is to be your authentic self, be bold and don’t hold back.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are certainly still many barriers for women in tech. This was an industry predominantly designed by men and they continue to be the heavy majority today. So first of all, for example, less representation is a starting barrier. This then also bleeds into other obstacles experienced as well. But they can all certainly be overcome and I think the best approach to do that is to change the obstacle into an opportunity. For example, I can use my lesser representation as an advantage – I am able to really hone in on my uniquely different perspective to challenges we face on a daily basis. This has particularly come in handy in customer conversations to add diversity of thought to an issue.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

The technology industry needs and wants more women in tech, to bring a new, more diverse, offering to the business. However, to make this happen, we need to see an institutional interest in attracting more women into the space. Companies need to drive greater awareness around the avenues available to women, the benefits that come, and how they can create real societal impact. What’s more, this encouragement for women into technology roles should also be reflected in educational systems and via government support. It is only when this holistic approach is taken will we really start to see meaningful change.

The accessibility to support systems and internal programs within companies is also vital to support women’s progression within technology. It is for this reason that I am a D&I Advisory Board Member at Cloudera, working to encourage a more diverse workforce. As part of this, we have a committee in place that meets on a regular basis to discuss and reflect on these matters. The committee also arranges inspiring sessions from a DE&I perspective on a monthly basis. Beyond this, we have multiple newsletters that guide us with suggested books and blogs on this topic. Most importantly, we are a group of employees who genuinely care and prioritise diversity issues and that is reflected in each and every one of our day-to-day interactions with one another.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

This is a tough one, as I’m not sure if there is one thing that can change but rather it is many small things changing all at once that usually results in a large acceleration. However, if I had to pick one, I might choose to invest more in getting young girls into STEM programs. Your career progression unbeknownst to you, can start at such a young age, based on the types of content and situations and opportunities we are exposed to. As such, it is crucial we get in there as early as possible to help inform and shape the minds of the next generation and open them up to every opportunity available to them.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I love reading and so I can recommend many books, but I don’t believe they necessarily need to be women specific for women to be able to benefit from them. HBR’s Managing Yourself which is a collection of articles on this topic was one of my recent reads that was a favorite. Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion was also wonderfully insightful especially given that I came into reading this book from a pre-sales perspective. Grit by Angela Druckworth, while also not just about technology was also inspirational in that it made me question and find the source of my “why” or “raison d’être” which then further helped me find the grit to push through challenging situations – a lesson learned that is relevant for life but also specifically my professional role.

Inspirational Woman: Ana Gillan | Senior Solutions Engineer, Cloudera

Ana GillanAna Gillan is a Senior Solutions Engineer at Cloudera who works with organisations across industry verticals to guide them through the complexities of big data and streaming technologies, both on premises and on their inevitable journeys into the cloud.

Ana has spent the last five years stressing the importance of comprehensive security and governance when implementing technology in the enterprise, so she knows how much value data platforms can offer when organisations know their data is good quality and safely managed.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I don’t have a particularly traditional tech background, but have spent the last 7 years very much immersed in the tech world nonetheless. I’ve always loved languages which led me to my undergraduate degree in German and French, but technology was always something I was curious about. My dad was a ‘computer guy’ and so tech was a part of our lives: as a 12 year old, whilst other kids were playing outside, my friends and I were in the IT room at school, building websites from scratch! So it was an area that was always buzzing around in the back of my mind. Then when I came to graduate, I discovered it was also a sector which had some of the best jobs. I am a big fan of self-improvement through education and having completed some online courses and dabbling in a bit of self teaching, I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Data Science in 2013.

After that I joined Hortonworks (now Cloudera). That’s six years ago and I’m now part of the Solutions Engineering team. I work closely with customers across different industries to help them solve the complex data challenges facing their organisation. The area I specialise in is around data security and governance and in the last twelve months I’ve taken over the leadership of our security Subject Matter Expert group. This is an important role within Cloudera, as we’re passionate about helping our enterprise clients handle their customers’ data safely. It’s a role that’s given me wider exposure within the organisation talking to people I wouldn’t otherwise have connected with, which in turn has broadened my own knowledge.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I can’t say I ever did a big “career planning” session or anything, but I have had several instances where I’ve taken a pause in order to think about what I want to achieve next. It’s easy when things are busy to get swept away, but taking the time to refocus on what you want from your career is invaluable. In my first years within the company I took the time to speak with people working across multiple different roles in order to reach the conclusion that Solutions Engineering was a role for me. Definitely no regrets there, as I’ve had such a great time. It’s a job I didn’t even know existed until I saw people doing it around me, so it shows how you don’t always know what might be around the corner for you! I also have an extremely supportive line manager who has taken the time to understand what it is I’m looking to achieve and has connected me with senior members of the exec team, such as our CTO and CISO. These conversations really helped me learn more about the skills I need to have in order to achieve my goals.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

A lot of people who work in IT have degrees and masters in the field and are techies through and through. In that sense I can sometimes feel like a bit of an outlier. Whereas they can have the answer on the tip of their tongue, due to their long experience, I don’t always know the answer. That used to knock my confidence in the early days and imposter syndrome has often set in! I’ve had to reconcile myself with my non-traditional background throughout the years and I’ve realised that that having a different background has a good upside - by asking more questions or seeking to clarify, we often get to understand more about our customers, the challenges they are facing and so get to the root cause of the problem much faster than by just assuming we know the answer. I’ve since had plenty of my own experience, so my confidence continues to grow by the year!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m very proud and grateful to have been the first female Solutions Engineer outside the United States in the early days of Hortonworks and when I joined, I was actually the first woman in any technical role in the UK! It can sometimes feel a bit daunting and challenging to be a trailblazer, but I’m trying to turn what i’ve learnt in these past six years into inspiration and advice for other women who want to pursue a career in tech. I take every chance I can get to speak at events and share my experience. Last December, for example, I attended theEuropean Women in Technology conference in Amsterdam and wrote a piece about what I learned there, spoke on a Women in Big Data panel at Dataworks Summit Barcelona, and I am currently mentoring another Solutions Engineer in Europe. I want to show to people that IT is also a place for women, and that it can be an exciting place to be, whichever route into tech we choose.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Without a doubt my education. I had great teachers throughout my life that taught me to express my opinion, ask questions and didn’t make doubting myself an option! This gifted me with a great sense of curiosity and also resilience. When I got to Uni, I couldn’t understand why people weren’t asking more questions or taking part in discussions. It was then that I realised how lucky I had been. This, and the fact that I’ve always had technology around me growing up, helped build the foundation for me to grow my way into tech. I’ve also been lucky to work in a team with both female and male allies, who never treated me differently because I was a woman.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

It’s very important to take time to do some regular introspection and think about what you’re good at and where you want to be. This way you’ll identify the gaps that you need to work on to get there. Just as important, is not being afraid to ask questions, to reach out to people and learn with and from them. I follow a lot of business leaders on Twitter and Linkedin, and have been speaking to Cloudera leaders to learn more about the different areas I’m interested in. Creating this network of people that aligns with those gaps that you’ve identified goes a long way to gain confidence and grow your career.  It’s hard to have the courage to ask people to speak to you, but I’ve learnt that leaders are happy to share their learnings and take pleasure in doing so. If you have someone you’d like to speak with, my advice would be to message them being clear about why you’d like to speak with them and see what happens. The worst thing that can happen is getting a “no” but in my experience it’s very rare someone would come back and say this. It’s also important to recognise that your peers are often trying to find out and understand the same things you are, so you should feel comfortable working with your technical community to solve problems you can’t grasp on your own. My experience has been that people are always happy to help, especially if they know you’d help them too!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Unfortunately there are still barriers for success for women in tech. I still hear assumptions all the time that women aren’t as good at working in tech, or that they don’t have the same level of interest in it. This also impacts how women are treated in education systems and in job applications, and there’s even a real risk of these human biases impacting automated hiring.

One fundamental thing we can do to address this, is by making sure women’s work in tech is more visible. I often find it frustrating that when talking about women in tech, we default to the well known examples like Ada Lovelace. Don’t get me wrong, what a brilliant woman, but we have a responsibility to tell more varied stories if we’re going to showcase the profound impact women have had on this industry. What about Mary Lee Berners-Lee? She was Tim Berners Lee's mother, but was an amazing IT pioneer in her own right! She set up one of the world’s first software consultancies, worked from home and campaigned for equal pay for male and female programmers. When I read her obituary after her death I couldn’t believe this was the first time I was reading about her as a professional, as opposed to being Tim Berners Lee’s mum. Dame Steve Shirley is another great example of a software entrepreneur and pioneer who doesn’t get mentioned as much as she should. We have to do better at getting these stories out into the wider world and show what a varied industry tech is.

What do you think companies can do to support / progress the careers of women working in technology?

Visibility is absolutely key in encouraging more women to succeed in technology. Companies can nurture this with online courses and panels that make female workers visible in the organisation.

They should also take action to bring more women into tech. Cloudera for example just appointed a Chief Diversity Officer, and created an equality committee with some really incredible people. Making women in tech more visible, both internally and externally, is key to supporting people to progress their careers and to bringing new young women into the field as well.

There are currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

The key aspect to bring more women into tech is education. For younger generations, technology has been a part of their lives since birth. It’s a second nature to them, yet girls in particular still don’t see it as a career option. Subjects such as coding and logic need to become part of school curriculums, and be incorporated in a fun and interesting way. The options are out there, there’s a website, for example, that teaches kids to code with Anna and Elsa, but we need to make them accessible for parents/schools  and interesting to younger generations. So if I had a magic wand to accelerate the pace of change for women in tech, I would make sure that every girl has access to these kinds of tools, and is taught that they’re welcome in whatever field they decide to pursue. If I hadn’t learned this growing up, I would probably not be where I am today.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

In my early tech days, I used to feel a bit weird going to tech meetups or conferences, as I was super conscious of being one of maybe a handful of women in the room and I know not everyone is confident to go out of their comfort zone and attend in person events. Oddly enough, I think the COVID era brings an unforeseen benefit where all events going virtual means women will have more access to the big tech events, and won’t feel out of place since it’s all online. So I’d say first to check out the major conferences and MeetUp groups for the particular tech field you’re interested in and just attend!

For those women wishing to read a little more into issues of diversity and find like-minded women to help guide their path, there are plenty of resources too. SheCanCode, for example, have an excellent blog and host great events on subjects from leadership through to industry-specific challenges. I’d also recommend attending events by the Women in Tech World Series (online and in person when we can again!), as last year’s European conference was a wonderful experience. Different fields within tech also have specific groups, like Women in Big Data, for example.

I suppose the biggest recommendation I can give is to start following content from one or two industry influencers you admire and then see who they repost or recommend. For example, I have recently taken a huge interest in the ethics of artificial intelligence, so I followed some key thinkers on Twitter (e.g. Shannon Vallor and Dr. Rumman Chowdhury) and have taken it from there!

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