Gender Equality in Technology

Alice Marshall and Serge Lachapelle on gender equality in technology. #GETBlog is sponsored by Google.

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B3IT is a growing IT consulting company with approximately 350 employees that was just listed on Sweden’s Nasdaq First North Premier stock exchange on Monday, June 13th. The company has been working to improve its gender equality for several years. GETBlog caught up with the CEO of one of their 14 subsidiaries (dotterbolag), Maria Beronius, to talk about the company’s gender equality work.

Can you tell us a little about how you’re working with gender equality at B3IT?

It’s definitely been a journey for us. I joined in Fall 2011 as a Business Developer. In Spring 2012, I took on the CEO role of the B3IT subsidiary B3IT Ledning (which means B3IT Management in English). At that time, we were aware of gender equality at B3IT, but we didn’t have the structural work in place, and equality wasn’t really on the agenda. Of course when I started as CEO, it was 99% just getting everything up and running. However, there was another woman in management, and we began starting to plant seeds already then about this work. We talked to the men at the company, over lunch and coffee. We asked them, if the topics come up, it would be so nice if it wasn’t just the women talking about how it’s important. If it’s just the women, when it’s 1 or 2, it can easily turn into “now she’s starting again.” We did some lobbying to make sure that this is not just 1 person having 1 crazy idea. And then you get backup.

It was important to be persistent. We really didn’t think it was good to have a Board with only men. It’s better for the company with both men and women. And the Group CEO listened. In 2014, we really increased the structure of the work. In 2015, we got the first woman on the Board, a female COO, and several more female CEOs at the subsidiaries. We also have a female CFO.

We’re proud of what we’ve done, but there’s still more to do. We currently have 1 woman out of 7 Board members. Five of the 14 subsidiary companies have a female CEO, 9 have male CEOs. If you look at all management teams, there are 30% women and 70% men. This is actually a higher level of gender balance than we have in total employees, where 21% were women in 2015, and 79% were men.

It’s especially important to not only focus on hiring more women, but to also focus on management. Management needs to have the same or even better balance than the rest of the company, because otherwise it’s a glass ceiling.

At the B3IT Management subsidiary (dotterbolag), we’re 15 employees total, and we’re very proud to have recently reached 50/50, although now we just hired one more man so it’s now 8 men and 7 women. We celebrated when we reached 7 men and 7 women because we had been working for so long to achieve that.

At the same time, we also understand that to get gender balance in project management is easier than in the whole group, where many people are working with software development, infrastructure, and networks.

Can you tell us about how you have changed your recruiting?

When we first started looking at how we do recruiting, we realized the importance of looking at communication: how we talk to people on social media, pictures, written text, and even how we interact with each other in the office. It’s important to look at the tone in conversations.  

We looked at all the pictures that we use on the web and in social media, and realized that it was a lot of men. We ended up hiring a photographer to take new pictures, where we included both men and women. We updated all our materials - for presentations, the website, the Annual Report.

In terms of the interview process itself, it’s important to remember that it’s a two-way process. You’re not only interviewing them, they’re also interviewing you. They’ll pick up on small things. Also, make sure to have both men and women involved in the interview process.

We also looked at how we write job ads. What are the core skills? Key competences? We write it once, and then we check it again with our gender glasses on. Have we accidentally used words that are more attractive to men or stereotypically male?  

Another thing we started to look at was the CVs themselves. We realized that some women’s CVs didn’t come across as very strong because they were being overly humble. We realized that if you interview people like that, sometimes they have more experience and had more responsibility than they’ve put on their resume. It does end up taking a bit longer to do those interviews, and you may end up meeting more people, but it’s worth it.

Finally, we still use networks to recruit from. We’ll never say no to qualified candidates that come to us via our networks. Now, though, we try as much as possible to specifically ask the people recommending only men to us, to see if they also know any women. And it’s working - we’re getting more and more women.

The beauty is that you don’t have to keep working so hard. In the beginning, it seems like a lot of work, but then you a reach a tipping point. You no longer have to work so hard. It’s worth the struggle in the beginning to get to the tipping point.

The process of really actively looking took us about one year.

One of the things that I want to stress here is that we certainly haven’t used any quotas. We’ve always been hiring the good men - we just added on good women as well. Qualifications always come first. Also, to reach a good gender balance, we needed to meet more people and look broader.

One of our CEOs at one point had hired 12 men, and he asked “what am I doing wrong?” He wanted to hire more women, but they kept turning his offers down. He interviewed some of the women in the different departments and asked them what they liked about working here at B3IT, so that he could emphasize that. He also sent out little mini-surveys with questions. He needed to understand how to think differently, and he was asking what he could do differently. Now, he has 5 women on his team, so he effectively changed his hit rate.

Do you use external recruiters?

We tried it out, but we found that the best way is to do the recruiting ourselves, because you get the culture of the company in the process. External people can’t do that.

What benefits have you seen?

Sometimes the customers want more women on their teams. We’ve had several customers who’ve said, we need this type of competence, but we’d really like to see a woman because there are so many men in the project. Again, the competence is always the first requirement, but if they had two people to choose between, they’re thinking about the gender equality in their own projects.

 

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Alice Marshall

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