female data scientist, woman leading team

Empowering women to lead digital transformation

female data scientist, woman leading team

Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director of Sopra Steria’s Aerospace Defence and Security Business

Digital transformation has become a priority across all industries. Even more so in defence and security, as public sector organisations lead by example with digital innovations.

A recent IDC report predicts that direct digital transformation investment will total over $6.8 trillion between 2020 and 2023 – a compound annual growth rate of 15.5%. No doubt the pandemic has accelerated this – for example, the DWP digitised its recruitment for job coaches last year, which reduced the average time to hire by 40% while being able to circumnavigate face to face restrictions. We’ve also seen companies like the Pinnacle Group enhance its estate management services and experiences to better serve military personnel through new digital platforms.

Despite the vast opportunities on the horizon, there is a noticeable lack of women involved in leading transformation projects. Research shows that the percentage of women in tech leadership only accounts for 12%, while the proportion of women in technology teams as a whole is a quarter of the total workforce (24%).

More needs to be done to get women into positions of leadership, where they can provide different perspectives and skills set in shaping transformation projects. This can be especially difficult with the rise of remote working as women are more likely to have a disproportionate responsibility for caring and domestic duties. The struggle for women to progress in the workplace is well documented over the years. With the help of digital technologies, we have a real opportunity for change.

Transformation for diverse teams

The need for transformation is set to continue as businesses pick up the pace in the new world of work. Organisations have spent months adapting to the new practices through the use of new technology and processes like hybrid working. Businesses have introduced digital tools and created adaptive and fluid infrastructure to keep the workforce closely aligned even when people are working remotely.

Digital transformation is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but it is a critical pillar for businesses looking to create social and economic progress. It’s also vital for organisations to deliver these transformation initiatives in an ethical way, and that includes being considerate of a diverse team, made up of people from different backgrounds, lifestyles and capabilities. To succeed, businesses need to have more diverse leadership teams, who understand what employees want and need when it comes to transformative technology. It needs to take into account gender diversity, as well as other identity markers.

In addition, having better gender diversity in leadership teams, for example, helps organisations increase creativity and brings different perspectives. This allows for better and more nuanced ideas that are more likely to be successful, and will, thinking specifically about business transformation, lead to better decision making.

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Pathways for women leading in transformation

In order to create a diverse taskforce, businesses need to address the significant gender gap in all industries, especially at senior leadership level. Research from Cranfield University has shown that in the FTSE 100, there are not enough female chairs, chief executives, and chief financial officers.

Generally, gender diversity needs to be top of mind for businesses. For business transformation projects in particular, more needs to be done to foster leadership roles for women, whether that’s creating more leadership roles, or providing dedicated support groups and opportunities for women throughout their careers.

According to a report by LinkedIn, women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men and recruiters are 13% less likely to click on a woman’s profile when she shows up in search. Statistics like these show that the recruitment process must also be reviewed if we are to find, attract, and retain more women in leadership roles. Job adverts must be made inclusive to attract more female applicants, and recruiters must become better at removing their biases (both conscious and unconscious) when judging applications. If positive steps are taken to attract more female candidates, the gender balance in recruitment pipelines will improve and we will see the number of women naturally increase.

One of the steps businesses need to make to encourage greater diversity in their workforce is to publicly commit to championing women. This is a great way to keep organisations accountable to their goals and signals to female employees that they will be valued and respected, and are not just there to ensure diversity goals are met. Initiative’s like the UN Women’s Charter offer a great opportunity to embrace and champion our female employees.

Furthermore, championing women already in leadership gives other women role models to look up to. This can demystify leadership positions and make female leaders appear more accessible and visible. Showcasing the brilliance of these women can inspire current and future generations. It also displays a range of different leadership styles that other women can take inspiration from. Knowing and celebrating a diverse range of women in business transformation can help to tackle imposter syndrome while facilitating a fair and egalitarian work culture.

Another important step is to invest in the younger generation. Supporting reskilling and internship programmes will be pivotal in making significant changes within a small timescale. Many roles require a certain level of education or specific skills, but that is not to mean individuals can’t retrain and return to education in an area more suited to their role. Hosting and supporting reskilling programmes and internships creates room, not just more women but for those from a range of different backgrounds to bring innovative ideas from other industries and disciplines.

Solving these issues won’t happen overnight, but companies can take immediate steps to empower the women in their teams whilst attracting new talent at every level. Hopefully, as women continue to take up more roles and leadership positions, we will begin to see transformation projects and a technological world which is fully reflective of those in it.