International Women’s Day 2021: Choose to Challenge who and what women can be
MARCH 8, 2021 • BLOG POST • RASHMI KUMAR, SVP AND CIO
IN THIS ARTICLE
- “Choose to Challenge” is the theme of International Women’s Day 2021
- Women need to be empowered to make choices as they face challenges
- The challenges facing women in the workplace and in IT have existed since before COVID-19
- HPE has taken clear steps to increase hiring of women in technical roles by 40% and diverse hires 46%
- How we each can contribute to pushing the boundaries of who and what women can be
We can push for better and against the setbacks of COVID-19
Last month it was reported that there has been a loss of 2.3 million women from the labor force since February 2020. Undoubtedly the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the key factor in this unfortunate loss. As we now come upon International Women’s Day (IWD), nearly one year since the world began its first lockdowns, I find myself reflecting on this year’s IWD theme of “Choose to Challenge”. While reports estimate that the pandemic has set women back years, and possibly as far back as the early 1980s, I believe we must choose to challenge these grim predictions. It begins with understanding and addressing the issues that have existed since before this pandemic even began. These include how we choose to see ourselves, how the world chooses to see us, and how we choose to challenge the systems that hold us back.
In order for individual women to Choose to Challenge they must feel empowered as women to make choices and see themselves as equals. Growing up in an industrial village in India, I was fortunate to have a family and support system that encouraged me to focus on my education. If I am honest, I had never heard of the term “glass ceiling” until I came to the United States. My mother had long since instilled in me the spirit that whatever the challenge was, I could do it if I committed myself to it. My father was also incredibly supportive. While my brother was able to go to tutoring in the evenings at 8 p.m. and safely return home at 10 p.m. - I was not. So my father had to drive me. Both of my parents chose to challenge systems and ideas that could have otherwise held me back from seeing myself as an equal.
This does not mean that the world around us is always ready to see women as they see themselves. Natasha Browne, HPE Aruba Engineer, shared an important story on The Element Podcast, about how she was not seen as an engineer, while attending a conference featuring both technical and non-technical attendees. This experience, while disheartening, is not unique. According to the U.S. census women working in engineering occupations has only increased from 3% in 1970 to 15% in 2019. Women are not as immediately associated or seen in these spaces largely occupied by men. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that women will see fewer of each other in these spaces too. According to a McKinsey study on Women in the Workplace for 2020, the pressures of the pandemic are causing many women to consider downshifting their careers, and for every 100 men promoted to a manager level, only 85 women were promoted.
These numbers, while not encouraging mean that there is room for us to make change. As CIO, and a woman of color, a priority of mine is to choose to challenge the issues and systems that hold all women back within IT. It means using my platform to advance change, set clear expectations of success, and pushing for better through action across my organization. At HPE we know diverse teams make better decisions resulting in stronger outcomes, we know that inclusivity aids in recruitment and retention, and we believe our teams should reflect the diversity of customers, partners and communities. So increasing diverse representation and creating inclusive teams is a key goal for HPE enterprise-wide, and the IT function sought to meet or exceed corporate expectations. We worked with external partners to create a new operating model with clear expectations, ongoing, frequent communication and consistent guidelines for success. This resulted in several initiatives including seeking out and insisting upon diverse candidates, looking beyond the IT industry to find candidates from more diverse backgrounds, and creating a more inclusive interview process with at least two qualified, diverse candidates, and at least one diverse person on interview panels. As a result of these efforts, we increased our hiring of women in technical roles by 40% and diverse hires 46%, and we are seeing strong outcomes from our diverse team.
As we each determine what we choose to challenge during International Women’s Day 2021, and acknowledge that there is much more work to be done, I hope that each of us recognize that the challenges can be overcome. Many of us are familiar with the saying that a woman’s work is never done – whether the work of motherhood, pushing for better in the places we work, or seeing ourselves as brilliant and wonderful as we are. We must all make the choice each day. If leaders choose to challenge systems and individuals choose to challenge their personal perceptions, then all women can continuously challenge the boundaries of who and what we can be.
Join the #ChooseToChallenge conversation and share your promise to support #WomenInTech.
Citations in the order they appear:
- Loss of 2.3 million - https://fortune.com/2021/02/05/covid-unemployment-rate-january-jobs-report-2021-jobless-job-loss-us-economy-working-women/
- Rashmi at IWD 2020 (her referenced story begins at 1:11:24): https://media.now.hpe.com/program.aspx?key=InternationalWomenMarch2020
- US Census - https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/01/women-making-gains-in-stem-occupations-but-still-underrepresented.html
- Mckinsey study on Women in the Workplace 2020- https://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2020.pdf