Founder and group chief executive, Xalient
Name: Sherry Vaswani
Role: Founder and group chief executive of network transformation specialist Xalient
Context: Vaswani founded Xalient in 2015. Specialising in disruptive network technologies and services and with offices in Leeds, London and Chicago, it has grown swiftly to revenues in excess of £20m in 2020.
What are the key business benefits of having a diverse workforce?
From day one at Xalient, we have established ourselves with the purpose of being an alternative provider to many of the traditional players in the market, many of whom are larger than we are. So to be a disruptor, we have to differentiate. I genuinely believe that part of the secret of Xalient's success is that we are such a diverse business - and I don't just mean in terms of gender or ethnicity, but also diversity of personalities. And we have a culture, referred to as the Xalient DNA, that encourages new ideas and challenges conventional thinking to problem solving. And because of this culture, we invent brilliant solutions and we innovate and this makes us stand out against our competitors.
We hire talent from different backgrounds and I strongly feel this is important given that our customers and their customers are diverse. Our workforce needs to reflect this when designing solutions and services that revolve around our customers and their needs. I also feel that our diverse workforce and open-minded culture leads to balanced views in team discussions and ultimately better decisions being made by managers.
As far as increasing the proportion of women specifically, the skills they can often bring to the party of curiosity, intuitiveness, empathy, communication - are critical in the mix. That's why I always say women should never fall into the trap - particularly in the traditionally male dominated world of technology - of thinking they should act more like men to get on. It's the opposite, bring your complementary skills and attributes to the party. Same goes for all aspects of diversity. And if we embrace it well, we'll have a richer, more interesting workforce, be more innovative and be able to deliver a higher quality of relevant products and services to our customers.
What's your top tip for tech providers that are serious about tackling their gender or diversity deficit?
A career in tech used to be about being good at maths and sciences - it's not today so we should change the way we talk about what we do to make it appealing to everyone. We also need people with a whole range of skills. Creatives in particular are absolutely vital in the mix today - and I would recommend tech providers to look beyond the more traditional criteria and qualifications when hiring.
Tech is everywhere now - 20-30 years ago a career in tech was much more viewed as being about programming, coding, deep technology, stuff that happened in large server rooms that no one was allowed in except IT folk. Today, it's no longer that - every role - sales, HR, commercial, legal, design, accounting - all embrace tech. Yes there are plenty of brilliant roles still in coding and programming but we need to widen the description of careers in tech to appeal to all individuals regardless of gender or ethnicity.
As employers, we need move away from job titles that reflect deep technology to those that are more enticing - be creative and employ people in jobs that sound exciting and they're proud to talk about to their friends. Just as an example, in Xalient, we used to have Service Delivery Managers - we now have Customer Success Managers - same role yet with a different title that better describes what they actually do - and more appealing.
Be creative too when we describe what we do - I can tell someone we deliver secure network transformations using SD-WAN but that doesn't mean much to a lot of people and doesn't sound very exciting, right? Choose your story to engage a wide diverse pool of potential recruits, don't put them off at the first hurdle with your language.
So, I think its important to make careers in tech accessible and more attractive, in particular to women, if tech companies are to really tackle the challenge.
Do you think the IT industry's gender diversity deficit - and diversity deficit more widely - warrants highlighting?
We absolutely need to keep highlighting this gap - it is clear that in recent years, shining a light on the issue and educating people about how to maybe address the challenge is making a difference - albeit there is clearly still work to. do. Things are changing for the better though. And like anyone working on equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives I am sure, we can't wait for the day that this topic doesn't need to be discussed any more.
All around the world, female leaders are demonstrating the value that they can bring in all facets of tech - and by sharing their stories, it will help to further open up the mind of those who employ talent in the IT industry, which in turn should mean more opportunities for females. And by hearing about these success stories, especially where women manage to successfully balance their family life with their work, I am really hopeful that more women and girls will feel inspired to progress careers and leadership roles in IT.