CEO and co-owner, European Electronique
Name: Yolanta Gill
Role: CEO and co-owner of education and public sector reseller European Electronique
Context: Originally from Poland, Gill has been co-owner and director of Oxfordshire-based HPE partner European Electrique since 1997. It grew revenues to nearly £64m in its fiscal 2020.
Who is your role model?
I had to consider this question for a while as initially no role model came quickly to mind. After mulling this over however I realised that growing up I did indeed have plenty of role models around me which I hadn't appreciated until now. I was brought up and educated in a very different social set-up, and this no doubt had an impact on how I approached this question. I was born and educated in Poland which at that time was on the other side of the iron curtain, although all my close family, friends etc, were very much against the socialist system. With hindsight there were some benefits which we didn't fully appreciate then.
The system we had stemmed from WW2 and lasted until the 90's and as much as war brings terrible suffering and destruction it also changes the social structure and gives the opportunity for a new structure to emerge. It became so clear to me while listening to Margaret MacMillan as part of Reith lectures on Radio 4 where she outlined how war drives changes in society especially for women.
Male domination was not so apparent in Poland and certainly during my university years it was not evident that men had stronger positions and a better foothold in society than women, certainly not as much I found this to be when I moved to the UK.
Both my mum and her sister were university graduates, my mum studied economics and her sister maths and they both ended up with more high-profile jobs and earnings to match than both my dad and uncle. This was quite common, there was equal access to education and job progression in society. Perhaps this was also made possible by the fact that we had well run state childcare, nurseries, pre-school and after school clubs.
This brings me back to the original question. Without doubt, my mum, my aunt and other close female family members were my role models, well-educated with high powered jobs of which I found very few women, from non-privileged backgrounds, had when I moved to the UK.
Being a working mother is always a challenge but I think it's really important for girls to have role models, and I was really touched last year when on Mother's Day I received a card from my daughter saying "thank you for showing me how to be strong and brave in life".
Do you think the IT industry's gender diversity deficit - and diversity deficit more widely - warrants highlighting?
I would question what "highlighting" the gender diversity issue really means as quite often it becomes more patronising than helpful. Although discussion is useful it can be counter-productive if nothing positive comes from it, as it only serves to embed the image than women are not as capable as men and somehow need special consideration. Women don't need to be patronised or singled out for special treatment, they need to be treated equally and I believe that as a society we are far from this point. The gender pay gap clearly demonstrates this. I sometimes feel that there almost needs to be less talk and more action.
How do we make it more equal or inclusive - a few points worth considering are:
Having a good childcare system would certainly help as this predominantly falls to women and may prohibit them from taking more demanding jobs.
Role models are definitely important, but these should not be narrowed down to celebrities, we need to show the accomplishment of ordinary women who have achieved success in their lives. This message needs to be taken into schools, colleges etc.
While considering and writing responses to the question I have decided that personally I need to do more with regard to gender diversity in our industry. I do recall being invited to one of the colleges to participate on a panel discussing girls taking STEM subjects, having jobs in science and technology and one of the questions from the audience was how many female engineers I employed and I felt ashamed to say it was just a handful out of close to the 100 that we employ. The challenge my company has is that we can only select from the people who apply for the jobs and this is still predominately men, therefore reaching out to schools and encouraging girls at an early age is key.
What are the key business benefits of having a diverse workforce?
All genders bring strengths and weaknesses and brought together this ensures a balanced workforce. It has been demonstrated by many studies that diversity at senior level, especially Board level, leads to a better company performance all round. It is thought that such representation leads to a diversity of thoughts and improves decision making. Furthermore, this has a reverberating impact on the company's ability to attract and retain talent.
I have to say there are some companies who do better than others on this and I have always been impressed with HPE who seem to have a better diversity mix and equal opportunities regardless of gender.
How has Covid impacted the diversity debate?
It will be interesting to see what long-term impact Covid and lockdown has on society and the diversity debate. There is no doubt that women had to bear the brunt when it came to home schooling, juggling this with remote working. Will this have a detrimental effect on their career progression? That remains to be seen.
On the other hand, Covid has changed the way we work and live. The new model of remote/hybrid, flexible working may give the opportunity for women to combine childcare with their working life, opening doors to new prospects which didn't exist before with the rigid office hours.