'We need to make the channel a destination for women' - Dell EMC channel boss Shields

Marian McHugh
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'We need to make the channel a destination for women' - Dell EMC channel boss Shields

Sarah Shields advocates for the importance of companies putting in the legwork to recruit more women into the industry

Organisations must ensure that their recruitment tactics and job postings are as attractive to prospective female candidates as they are to their male counterparts, according to Sarah Shields, Dell EMC's UK and Ireland channel boss.

On average, the gender pay gap in the tech sector stands at 25 per cent, above the 18 per cent national average, according to Mercer's 2017 data. This is partly due to the low representation of women in executive roles in the industry compared with men. At Dell, 29 per cent of its executive leaders in the UK are women, a figure that Shields (pictured above) both celebrates and hopes to improve on. "For us, diversity is a key business imperative for everything that we do. We like our employees to reflect our customers," she said.

Shields, who is a judge for CRN's Women in Channel awards, is adamant that to attract more women to the channel, their interest in technology must be fostered from an early age, by encouraging girls to enter into STEM subjects. "I want to have the channel as a destination for girls as it is one of the most exciting parts of technology," she said. "It all comes from an interest in technology. Bring that interest, bring it into the minds of girls, bring it to young women and make IT and the channel a destination.

"Diversity and the gender pay gap go hand in hand. If you want to attract good female talent into your business, you have to offer good salaries and remuneration to attract, retain and grow that talent."

"Everything should be a meritocracy that is unaffected by gender and if it isn't, fix it. Fix it or you will lose your workforce," Sarah Shields, Dell EMC

Dell's graduate recruitment has a 50 per cent female intake, something which Shields attributes to the careful messaging the company uses at recruitment fairs and in job postings. It is claimed by some that women are more hesitant when applying for jobs if they don't meet the required skill set, a hesitancy that their male counterparts don't have. This "fundamental difference" has led Dell to be more careful in its approach. "Highlight stories and experiences and the support that is available, but be authentic. You have to have the programmes that are specifically designed for girls and women," Shields explained.

Shields also presses the need to lure women on career breaks back to the channel, stating that it is a great place to continue a career after starting a family. "I think it's all about making it accessible. You can encourage women back to work after having brought up families and I think that is definitely one angle that companies can do an awful lot more to encourage," Shields said.

"When you have women in your teams [it's important] that you put the right policies in place that involve flex working, working from home and the ability to manage your workload with your family life. I have two small children and I know that Dell EMC's policy around remote working has enabled me to balance a big job with an amazing family."

An "absolute commitment" to diversity should be at the core of every organisation's structure, and that includes diversity regarding race, religion, ability and countless other characteristics, stated Shields. "Bring in employee resource groups that give formal support and informal support and create networks of like-minded individuals," she explained.

"I think every organisation needs to be on point and making sure that they pay a man or a woman the same for doing the same job. Everything should be a meritocracy that is unaffected by gender and if it isn't, fix it. Fix it or you will lose your workforce - both your male workforce and your female workforce.

"I think what we have now is an awakening of consciousness that we can be more inclusive as a society and as a sector. I think that millennials and the younger generation won't accept bias. There's a new breed coming into play here and we have to get with the programme and diversity is critical [to that]."

Shields is optimistic that more women will enter the tech industry and she would love to see them "take the leap" and apply for positions in the channel. She acknowledges that for a lot of women, applying for such roles or being the only woman in the room can be a confidence issue.

"Does being a woman mean you know less? No. Does it mean you have less of a voice? No. Does it mean you are less competent? No. The only thing that will hold that person back is a confidence issue. Be in it to win it, be proud, be present. Your gender has nothing to do with your capability."

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