Anna talks about the biggest opportunities for businesses and individuals when it comes to diversity & inclusion in tech and offers advice to businesses who are looking to implement a D&I strategy.
Anna also mentions how businesses can ensure they are not only attracting female tech talent, but retaining them as well.
W.I.T. Republic (WR): To start, could you tell us a bit about your journey and how you got into a career within diversity and inclusion?
Anna Mäkinen (AM): It all started when I was really young; I didn’t know it was called D&I but since I was a little girl, I was always challenging gender norms and what one is supposed to do and act like. The topic was always close to my heart naturally, but when I moved to a new country, and started working as a woman in tech recruitment, my role started shaping due to those unwritten rules and expectations of society and workplaces and I didn’t really know what to do as I didn’t fit into these labels that were given to me.
During my career in People Operations and Recruitment I got to know that I wasn’t the only one feeling isolated and perhaps because of my lived experiences having been bullied, discriminated, talked over, and harassed, I’ve always felt this sense of responsibility to do something about injustice.
Seeing the cold hard facts and statistics of the lack of diversity within tech, I knew that a change was needed, and I wanted to be part of the change, so I wanted to understand how I can make a difference. Not only because of my gender but any other characteristics I have. This passion has led me to my dream job within Diversity and Inclusion.
WR: What is your perception about diversity in tech pre and post pandemic? What lessons should be learned from the challenges we’ve faced over the past year and a half? What could be the effect on underrepresented groups like women or ethnic minorities?
AM: It’s a well-known fact that underrepresented groups have had the biggest negative impact due to covid-19.
In recent years, Diversity and Inclusion as a function has significantly progressed. In times of crisis, D&I can often be seen as a bolt-on or a ‘nice to have’ when in fact, inclusion becomes even more relevant and important than in less turbulent times.
There is now an opportunity for employees in some companies to truly be their authentic selves. Like never before, employees are getting to know colleagues in different ways; whether it is learning about their family, home life, preferred ways of working, hobbies or interests but also sharing the struggles of mental health. Because home and work life have become so intertwined, most people have realised you never know what someone is going through.
Organisations who have acted in the interest of their employees, customers, and communities, will enhance their employer brand and sense of belonging significantly which is a step to the right direction especially for us in underrepresented groups.
WR: Looking more broadly, what are the biggest opportunities for businesses and individuals when it comes to diversity & inclusion in tech?
AM: Innovation, reshaping the “norms”, culture transformation, future of work, growth, and well-being. When we take D&I seriously it creates clear business and individual benefits that reflects the society that we live in.
WR: What advice do you have for businesses of all sizes, who are looking to develop and implement a D&I strategy?
AM: Firstly, none of this is easy as D&I is not a tick box exercise – it’s all about continuous development and it’s a journey we’re all in for the rest of our lives.
If I have to say one thing to get started with; it all starts with ourselves. We need to be self-aware and interested in changing our own behaviours and attitudes.
D&I strategies are about cultural, mind set and mentality change. All of us can be role models, not only business leaders but anyone reading this, you have someone looking up to you, whether it’s your family member, friend, mentee, client, applicant: your attitude towards D&I matters.
Building D&I programs/initiatives must be integrated throughout organisations, they can’t stay just within Recruitment or HR. Senior leadership buy in and appetite for change is needed.
D&I strategies often start with gender without realising the importance on intersectionality (race & ethnicity, disability, age, neurodiversity etc); make sure you are not assuming or labelling people for the sake of it, but always offer support and be curious to learn, and unlearn. Do this by actively listening, particularly to underrepresented groups.
WR: How can businesses ensure they are not only attracting female tech talent, but also retaining them?
AM: Recognize that retention starts with recruitment and onboarding starts within recruitment; inclusion doesn’t stop once you’ve hired someone. As is the case with any steps of talent management processes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Creating the right environment for an individual to work in will improve their performance and is linked closely to their happiness.
Inclusion is a fundamental part of a high performing culture and to staying ahead of your competitors.
It is useful to understand the reasons why people leave your organisation. The reasons might simply be more attractive opportunities elsewhere including the ability to reshape lifestyles, but many people leave their jobs because they are dissatisfied with their current situation. It’s insightful to review salary and benefits, work life balance and opportunity to work flexibly, as well as access to training and development opportunities. Quite often the reasons people leave are also the fact that leaders and managers invalidate promoting diversity and inclusion through their behaviours.
Retention strategies are all about creating an organisational structure and framework that encourages inclusivity so make sure you involve your employees when taking decisions that affect them and make sure that your employees can perform at their best.
WR: What changes would you like to see in the tech space in the coming years? What changes would you like to see in the way recruitment is done to empower underrepresented groups?
AM: I would like to see D&I becoming business as usual in all sectors, but especially in the tech space since tech is everywhere. I’d like to see authentic change that encourages and is inspired by all the diversity we human beings have. I want to see more diversity in board rooms, more investment to female founders, more girls studying and graduating within STEM and a more welcoming culture for all of us.
My goals are about D&I awareness and actions again, so not only does the tech sector have to have the right policies and processes in place and use the right language and tone so it can first of all be successful with inclusive sourcing and shortlisting, but also there should be a great focus on training, collaboration, allyship, and network support groups.
For years now we have seen that tech firms need to go where the talent is, not only the other way around and make jobs accessible to all.
We’ll be on the right track when we see more representation and active empowerment of underrepresented groups.
WR: As the D&I Director for Women in Tech, what do you think are the main benefits of getting involved in community groups for both women and men when it comes to improving D&I in tech?
AM: Our community is accessible for all, and it is a safe place where anyone interested in creating better equality for us women in tech globally can network, search for jobs, find mentors and coaches and share best practise, lessons learned and thought leadership content.
It has been the one place where I found my sense of belonging and realized that I am not alone with my imposter syndrome, and I am respected as I am.
A community driven platform creates opportunities and networks I would have never thought were possible to me.
WR: Finally, what do you know now that you wish you had known when you became D&I Director at Women in Tech?
AM: When I became D&I Director at Women In Tech I was in my bubble thinking everyone is interested in changing mind sets and creating more equality in the workplace, not only for women in tech but with an intersectional lens, I was also naïve in thinking how quickly change would happen. We still have much more to do in order to hold organisations and their leaders accountable, but it’s great to collaborate with organisations that take this agenda so seriously.
Lip service just won’t do it and sometimes conversations around D&I when you are trying to change peoples’ mind sets can be overwhelming and tiring. People are starting to take D&I very seriously, however it’s not on every organisation’s agenda and we all react to change differently. This is where all of us need to do more as we must hold people accountable.