Author: Mari Emilia Haapala, Motion Digital Lead, ABB
It is an absolute pleasure to write this blog for Women in Tech. I feel it is my responsibility as a female leader to advocate for diversity and inclusion – and here, a few thoughts on what it feels like and what it means to me to work in diverse & inclusive environment.
A DIVERSE TEAM THINKS BETTER
Four out of ten are women. Two out of three business line managers are women. Six nationalities and an age range from thirties to sixties. Would you expect this description to be from a senior leadership team of a global engineering company? I am pretty sure many of you said no. The good news is, it is a real team, the one that I am part of. And we can feel the difference.
For me diversity and inclusion are intuitive but there are also tons of evidence supporting this intuition. Group of people of diverse background will make better (and potentially faster) decision as they have access to more diverse data (knowledge, skills, experiences, empathy, insight etc) than a group of people of more homogenous background. Group of diverse people also come up with more innovative ideas – for the same reason.
Mari Emilia Haapala
Our team has witnessed this in action many times. All of us have worked before in “not so diverse” teams, and we feel the difference – it’s energizing! Let me put it this way: If we need to do some big and difficult decisions, we step out of our office environments for a day, spend an intense time in a space together, and we are done by dinner – clear decisions made and actions recorded, with plenty of empathy involved. We still surprise ourselves every now again on how agile we can work as a team. A lot of this is the result of the diversity and the leadership environment supporting it.
DIVERSITY ATTRACTS DIVERSITY – IF DONE RIGHT
Sounds intuitive again, doesn’t it. Somehow though diversity does not always attract more diversity. And I think I know at least one reason why this is so. I was the only woman a lot of times, maybe even first woman on some occasions. I used to be a bit complacent about it. Now I see this as a responsibility – a responsibility to speak up and reach out, to open my door to other women, support other women, advocate for other women, and to lift them up. It’s not a trophy to be the only one or the first one – it is the most precious opportunity to make a difference and role model.
I get approached by many women inside and outside of our organization, and this gives me an opportunity not just offer my support to them but to create a powerful network of talent. However, here is a direct indication of the missing intuition – something I still hear occasionally. I find it mostly awkward when some people (men & women) comment that I am brave (?!) when I pull other talented females into roles that compete with my career plans – what nonsense! It is simply offending to hear such things, as it suggests my career progression is simply due to my gender position. This line of thought will have to go to the bin for good.
We need to lift each other up but another success factor of fostering gender diversity is that men champion the women and diversity. They are still in majority when it comes to leadership roles, so it is paramount that men step up for women too.
“I was the only woman a lot of times, maybe even first woman on some occasions. I used to be a bit complacent about it.
Now I see this as a responsibility – a responsibility to speak up and reach out, to open my door to other women, support other women, advocate for other women, and to lift them up.
It’s not a trophy to be the only one or the first one – it is the most precious opportunity to make a difference and role model.”
… AND INCLUSION?
But how to create diverse teams and make everyone feel included? Some of the favorite excuses for not being able to create a diverse team include “there is not enough female talent available”, or “we are trying but it takes time”. Whereas this indeed is partly true, the reasons behind are what matter and there is more to the picture.
Is the job description inclusive? How included might a female colleague with two kids will feel when male colleagues around are working extra long hours and get credited for it? Some ambitious women drop off the workforce entirely when they feel they cannot bring anymore 150% effort. Societal challenges like no access to day care that is affordable can hinder female talent on their pursuit of both family and career. Why should women need to choose family or career, when men don’t?
The concept applies to other types of diversity, too. Inclusion is about removing barriers to success that have often have little or nothing to do with the capabilities that create value.
Lately, I have spoken quite a bit about mental health as well – I went through a major struggle and kept hiding it for very long. Modern work life is hectic and at worst toxic to our wellbeing. Expectations are built around rather homogenous and dare I say, old fashioned, concepts of what one must do and how it is done – this is where I find parallels between mental health and diversity. Thinking inclusively means that you focus on individual contribution and work outcomes and not so much how it looks like to arrive to those outcomes. This will allow all of us to bring 100% of ourselves to the workplace! And that is true inclusion.
Wishing everyone a colourful autumn time and great WiT event!