Making IT Equal

IT services firm Pythian brings gender diversity to a heretofore homogeneous profession. VP of HR Heidi Hauver explains how.

If you ask Heidi Hauver, information technology is one of the most diverse industries in the world. At least, it could be.

“IT is a very special industry because it’s about the technology more than anything else, and technology skills are universal,” says Hauver, vice president of human resources for Pythian, a global IT services company that helps companies adopt technologies such as databases, cloud, DevOps, and infrastructure management to advance innovation and increase agility. “If you’re a talented Java developer in Canada, your Java skills are universal to a company in the United States, to a company in Australia, and to a company in the Philippines. It doesn’t matter where your skills were developed, or how; it just matters that you have the talent, skills, and experience in the first place.”

Fields like healthcare and law require practitioners to possess a very specific pedigree when establishing their qualifications within a highly regulated, hyperlocal system. As a result, barriers to entry are high and career pathways few, both of which restrict the flow of diverse individuals into the workforce. According to Hauver, that’s just not so in IT.

“We live in a diverse world, so I feel the responsibility as an HR leader to champion diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

“In many ways, IT companies face fewer challenges when it comes to embracing a diverse workforce because the skills the industry is looking for are truly global in nature,” continues Hauver, who points out that Pythian has employees in more than thirty-five different countries. “There’s no reason for IT companies not to champion and embrace diversity because IT doesn’t face the same barriers that many other industries face.”

Unfortunately, the potential for diversity in the IT workforce remains largely unrealized: According to a 2015 analysis by data-publishing platform Silk, blacks and Latinos make up just 4 percent and 5 percent, respectively, of today’s tech workforce.

Women also are underrepresented, according to tech-news website CNET, constituting just 30 percent of the tech workforce—despite making up half the world’s population.

Although diversity comes naturally to IT, it clearly has room for improvement. Hauver has therefore made it her mission, and Pythian’s, to make IT as diverse in reality as it is in theory.

STEM-ming Sexism

What is especially concerning to Pythian is the underrepresentation of women in IT. The startling lack of women in computing jobs bothers the Ottawa-headquartered company so much that in November 2015 it launched “Pythia,” a program designed to increase gender diversity both internally and externally.

“Although we had done a great job attracting top talent in our industry, and were really pleased with the diversity of our workforce, we recognized that there was still an opportunity for us to improve in gender diversity,” explains Hauver, who has devoted her sixteen-year human resources career to developing and leading diverse high-tech talent. “Some of our teams had no women at all, so we really wanted to widen our talent pool by deliberately engaging more female talent,” she says.

adv27_pythian-group_portrait_72

Having a gender-diverse workforce, Pythian maintains, will help it attract better talent and deliver better services to its customers. To realize its objectives, the company launched Pythia with the goal of increasing its female workforce from 24 percent of its total workforce at the end of 2015, to 25 percent by the end of 2016, and 30 percent by the end of 2017.

The first step was transparency. “We were inspired by companies like Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, who were showcasing their data by demonstrating what percentage of female talent they had at various levels within their organizations,” explains Hauver, who says Pythian began publishing the gender composition of its workforce in order to establish benchmarks for itself and its peers. “We want to make sure we’re not just average, but above average, and that requires us to track our progress.”

An area of particular emphasis in recent months has been recruitment. “We reviewed our recruitment practices to see if there were any evident unconscious biases,” says Hauver, whose team “scraped” gender pronouns from all job descriptions and internal hiring procedures. “We’ve even removed names from résumés so that the focus is on the candidate’s background and what they’re bringing to the table—only when we get to the face-to-face phase of our hiring process do we reveal candidates’ name and gender,” she notes.

Because retaining and advancing women is just as important as hiring them, Pythian has developed a number of training and development programs for its female employees, and has benefit packages that appeal to employees in search of better work-life balance. Offerings include flexible hours, work-from-home options, generous leave provisions, and professional development programs and opportunities.

Pythian has increasingly focused on community engagement, believing that in order to achieve diversity in its workforce, it must first encourage diversity in its community.

“There’s no reason for IT companies not to champion and embrace diversity because IT doesn’t face the same barriers that many other industries face.”

“We want to support other organizations that are already advancing women’s and girls’ participation in the STEM fields,” says Hauver, who offers as an example Technovation Ottawa, whose spring 2016 challenge was supported and sponsored by Pythian. Designed to inspire teenage girls to pursue degrees in technology, the twelve-week challenge pairs high school students with professional mentors who work with them to develop a concept for an app addressing an issue or need in their community, create a business plan for it, and build a prototype. “We had five mentors participating in that program in spring 2016, which was a really effective way for us to encourage female talent in STEM,” Hauver says.

Impact and Influence

For Hauver, the Pythia program is personal. “I didn’t grow up wanting to work in human resources. I wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “When you peel that onion, though, I think I wanted to be a teacher because I enjoyed helping people. That’s why I love HR, too. It’s an opportunity to make an impact and influence people in a positive way.”

HR’s impact and influence are especially pronounced when its purview includes diversity. “My interest in diversity is more than an interest,” continues Hauver, who has supported diversity on her own time as a volunteer for the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO), which provides services—including career development and mentoring—for immigrants and refugees. “We live in a diverse world, so I feel the responsibility as an HR leader to champion diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

DID YOU KNOW?

The number of women that are CEOs in companies listed in the S&P/TSX 60 Index, which contains sixty of Canada’s largest companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is only one.

AND ONE OTHER THING…

The goal set by the federal advisory council for women on boards is 30 percent of Women by 2019.

Since launching the Pythia program in late 2015, Pythian has increased the number of women on its executive team in two quarters from 33 percent of executives to 38 percent and the number of total women employed from 24 percent to 24.9 percent. After one quarter, it increased the number of women working in technical positions from 9 percent of employees to 9.2 percent. Its success, Hauver says, reflects employees’ passion as much as it does her own.

“Your executive team doesn’t necessarily have all the answers; we make a point of engaging with our employees to find out what matters to them,” she concludes, stressing that the Pythia program has been a collective effort built by employees, for employees. “If you find out what employees think is important, and what their ideas are for improving diversity, they’ll be champions of your programs and your impact will be much bigger.”