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Women in tech – a personal journey

Nikki Kelly

Having worked in the IT sector since 1990, I am used to seeing and managing change through digital transformation, yet in some ways the most important evolution I have witnessed in the industry is the recognition of the need for improved representation of women in the IT tech sector. Contributor Nikki Kelly, Senior Vice President Public Sector and Health – Atos UK & Ireland.

The journey for an industry known to be male dominated has perhaps been slower than many would have liked. At Atos we are impatient for change and are now enjoying some of the real benefits that are the result of greater gender balance.

My personal career journey has seen me progress from a graduate to my current role as a Senior Vice President at Atos UK and Ireland. While this brings significant personal satisfaction, what does even more so is the knowledge I can combine my role as a leader with providing practical support alongside others for our wonderful talent pool of women. This is in pursuit of Atos’ clear objective of achieving real and lasting gender parity. To be able to combine my undimmed enthusiasm for the industry with the opportunity to help others take the path I have, is a privilege.

I’m a firm believer that to successfully complete any journey, it is important to be clear on the starting point and the milestones reached along the way. Doing so allows the remaining distance on a journey to be gauged accurately; the path to gender parity is no different.

I remember being full of anticipation when the opportunity to attend my first team event all those years ago presented itself. While it is likely that anything ‘new’ or ‘innovative’ discussed at the event has long been surpassed, one memory from that day remains crystal clear; of being the only woman in the room. Out of an attendance of 50. I am pleased to share that progress has been made and while the picture now is better than it was there is much more for the wider industry still to do.

Atos is a global leader in digital transformation with more than 100,000 employees across the world, and it is wanting to set the right example for the IT sector in promoting a culture and environment where all employees can thrive and get on based purely on talent. That isn’t just the corporate line, it is a key business priority and the culture of continuous improvement in this area runs throughout our business.

To give you some sense of the challenge facing our industry, but also the vast opportunity that is presented, the Government’s UK Digital Strategy highlights that just 17 percent of tech industry workers are women. That is not good enough and at Atos we are determined to play our part to address it.

I’m pleased that we are considerably outperforming that figure in the UK with 40 percent female representation within our business. We are not resting on our laurels however and are continually working towards further improving representation of women at all levels across the business. 

Globally, our new 3-year plan, Advance 2021, sets a target of 25 percent of women in our top management. In addition, our Women Who Succeed programme includes a strategic priority  to have at least one woman identified as a potential successor in every key position.

It is the right thing to do for everybody involved as we know that organisations should better reflect society and that diversity, in all its forms brings significant benefits and a competitive edge. 

More than many industries, information technology is one which should be readily accessible as it need not face the constraints of other sectors such as fixed location working or set shift patterns. Our industry has been late to realise this and by allowing chronic under-representation of women to exist for so long, it has been missing out on a huge pool of talent for which there is really no excuse. During my seven years with Atos, I have seen the steps taken to address this pivotal matter and recently a milestone was reached which allowed all involved to celebrate what has already been achieved.

Being named one of this year’s Times Top 50 Employers for Women was a proud moment for the whole business. This was our first time entering and being included achieves one of the ambitions under the Atos Gender Programme, which was to be included by 2022.

Achieving being named on this list well ahead of schedule underlines what we are doing is working and provides further motivation, if it were needed, for us to enhance our efforts further.

Three years ago, we set up our gender network, AtosAspire, as part of our wider Atos Diversity Networks initiative which exists to recognise, develop and raise awareness around diversity and inclusion in the workplace. AtosAspire was established to help support three key elements of gender representation: the attraction, retention, and progression of women.

Across all levels of the business, both here in the UK and Ireland business as well as globally, we are intent on creating an environment and culture which allows all of our employees, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, age or disability to reach their potential.

Across society, the drive towards gender parity specifically has increased global focus and so there is still work to be done in ensuring there is gender balanced representation in senior roles. For any change to be truly effective and sustainable, it cannot be forced but must be supported by as wide an audience as possible.

It’s important for all employees, not just women, to have a clear vision of where they can take their career and to feel supported in achieving those ambitions. Everybody should be comfortable in being clear where they want to be, without prejudice or fear that their aspirations will be blocked by a glass ceiling. Taking that approach has certainly worked for me and the incredibly supportive environment at Atos has been key to helping me achieve my goals.

There needs to be a transparent pathway for people to follow and for that to be a route they can follow for as long as they wish, with no closed gates along the way. That means diverse representation at every level, with people who have already travelled further along the path acting as role models for others to follow. In the UK our Gender Programme’s ‘2022 Ambitions’ are helping to create that environment and culture, partly through working towards a series of ambitious, yet achievable, targets.

By 2022, we intend for 50 percent of our graduate hires and 25 percent of our senior leaders to be women. More balance clearly also tackles the route cause of gender pay gap, another key action area for Atos UK and Ireland also tied into our 2022 ambitions. In 2018, graduate hires had grown to 38 percent and senior leaders 19 percent, representing significant increases on recent years. Seeing momentum build within a sector-leading and globally respected business like Atos shows others how it can and should be done and gives me great hope for the future.

It pleases me there are now many more women entering the IT sector and that the same opportunities are available to them as their male colleagues. A big part of creating an inclusive culture is empowering women to feel able to share their ambitions, and then supporting them to achieve those goals. That can only be a win-win situation for the individual and their employer.

At Atos, our sponsor programme operates by having a senior team member act as an advocate for a  mid-level colleague who is keen to progress. One of my women ‘sponsees’ joined the business through our graduate programme in 2014 and in just a few years has progressed to become a bid manager. During that time, she has helped to set up our AtosX competition which encourages employees to share their innovation ideas in a TED-style speaking event.

Around 10 percent of our workforce takes part, and within that, there is an almost equal gender split. I believe having a woman colleague play a key role in setting up the competition has been an important factor in encouraging women across our business to get involved.  

Not only that, but the colleague in question now “pays it forward” by mentoring a junior colleague, passing on her experiences and further strengthening the inclusive atmosphere we are striving to continually enhance across Atos.

Central to that is not just driving the agenda for women but taking a holistic approach to gender balance and inclusion, demonstrating the benefits to everybody and taking them along willingly on the journey. At Atos we are clear where we want to be and the fact my sponsee is comfortable stating her goal is to rise to become Chief Operating Officer will hopefully inspire other ambitious young women.

Thinking back to my first industry event when I was the only woman in the room, I’m proud but not surprised that the picture is changing. It simply had to. Recognising, valuing and rewarding the talent all of us have has always been the right thing to do and we can all look to the future with optimism and ambition for a more diverse and inclusive work force for women and for all.

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