Women working in technology roles or at IT vendors who are looking for a better way to climb the career ladder could benefit from regular social networking events and a new approach to mentoring, according to Dell's diversity manager.
Ingrid Devin is an active member of Connecting Women in IT, a networking group organised by Dell, Microsoft, Google, Nortel, Intel, IBM, HP and Cisco. Events are held twice a year, and Dell hosted the fourth meeting yesterday.
The events include a mix of motivational speaking, networking coaching and a Q&A panel with vice presidents from the member firms. Perhaps most importantly, Connecting Women in IT allows female professionals to mingle with their peers on a large scale, something that is not usually possible in individual companies.
"Networking is a crucial thing; you have to know what other people are doing [about equality] and how other firms deal with the issues," said Devin.
"There is a lot to learn. [Meetings give] women an opportunity to network within their own industry. We discuss things with people who are in more senior roles, and see whether we are doing things in the right way.
"We are like-minded people facing similar challenges. We have a mixed panel, as it is important for men to be involved and give their opinions."
One way in which men have got involved at Dell is in a reverse mentoring experiment which sees high-level male executives mentored by middle-management females.
"The feedback from the men was great. They realised that they have a lot to learn about the challenges that women face in the workplace, especially learning how to do the 'right thing'," said Devin.
Employers will sometimes do the wrong thing with the best intentions, she added, explaining that workplaces should be inclusive environments where everybody, whatever their background, has the ability and opportunity to do their job well.
"Sometimes there is an unconscious bias," Devin explained. "It can be small things, but women find being offered less intensive roles very demoralising. This just needs highlighting."
Dell also runs two programmes for workers designed to encourage and maintain career advancement. Devin pointed out that women who had excelled at school and university often fared less well in an office environment, and needed a bit of a kick-start.
"We ask them whether they want to progress to the main stage, and coach them in the ways of doing that," she said.
The programmes include voice coaching, presence and the type of expressive language that women use. However, Devin added that she is "not teaching them to be like men, just to make themselves heard".
Other elements of this involve mentoring with female directors, all of whom will have progressed through the firm in the same way.
Devin added that women face tough decisions in their career, which they do not have to face on their own. Mixing with their peers allows them to see that many of the issues they face are common, and that there are people to talk to who have been in the same position.
"The key time in a person's career seems to be in the 30s to 40s, but this is also the key time for getting pregnant. You want to keep doing the job, not move up the ladder, and just be a bit more flexible," Devin said.
"But, once your children are grown, how do you get back on the ladder? That's a real challenge for people. One of the panellists discussed her experience of taking on a new role at Dell when she was pregnant. Sometimes you have to take a risk."
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