Sherry Vaswani

Doug Woodburn
clock • 5 min read
Sherry Vaswani

Role: I'm founder and CEO at Xalient

What does Xalient specialise in?

We provide network transformation and zero trust security solutions and services for large enterprises

All Xalient's innovations are given girls' names

Name one thing most people won't know about Xalient?

All Xalient's innovations, whether new tools we use in-house or breakthrough market solutions are given girls' names. Flying the global flag for women in tech, and of course as a woman-owned business, these include names like Martina, Wanda, Iris and Sona, all are acronyms - Martina is our breakthrough Monitoring through Artificial Intelligence & Analytics solution for example.

How would you summarise your leadership style?

I'd say collaborative, democratic. As an entrepreneur, and being ambitious for Xalient as a relatively young company to grow fast and profitably, that's probably not too surprising. It's critical that I'm able to harness the best thinking and ideas, foster a culture of innovation and collaboration throughout the company, and encourage everyone to have a voice, so we can achieve our goals.

This leadership style allows me to stay focused on the future, always looking for opportunities to drive the next stage of our growth. 

Does the industry have a diversity problem and, if so, why does this matter?

Yes it does, and it matters hugely that we all try to change it for the better. We know now that companies that are more diverse are more successful for a start, so that's one good reason to take action. Second, most important in our industry, diverse minds drive innovation, and differing perspectives and ways of thinking ensure we examine challenges from all directions, helping us solve problems better and faster. In consumer-facing technology, it's also of course critical that tech solutions meet the needs of all genders, so having a representative balance in the workforce there is even more critical for success. 

Finally, right now the war for talent is fierce - we all need to recruit from as wide a talent pool as possible, so working harder to draw in women and those from other under-represented groups makes really good business sense. The companies that do this successfully will undoubtedly be the winners.

Do you feel the outlook for women in the industry has changed at all in the last four years?

I think pandemic-driven pressures over the past couple of years have perhaps added challenge to many companies' progress on this agenda, but overall, yes, the outlook continues to improve. It's slow, but every step forward should be seen as progress. A recent Deloitte report predicted that c.33 per cent of the workforce in the largest global tech companies will be female by the end of 2022, up more than two per cent since 2019. Sounds a small increase but it's going in the right direction. 

I think pandemic-driven pressures over the past couple of years have perhaps added challenge to many companies' progress 

I hope the outlook will improve exponentially in the next few years as investments in education bear fruit. For example, in 2014 the UK was the first country to mandate coding as a core subject in both primary and secondary schools. Primary education is key - making tech fun and exciting children about its possibilities before  any gender stereotyping kicks in. The gaming industry is playing a great part too in educating and demystifying IT with cool coding games like Minecraft, while organisations like ‘Girls who Code' and #techmums are also really valuable in educating and encouraging women into our industry. 

But still only around 20 per cent of computer science students are female, so we have work to do here. We need to change the common, but outdated perception of a technology career being one for the ‘geeks' to it being one for the ‘problem solvers', and importantly, one for people who want to change our world in ways we've never even thought of yet... technology offers a career of endless possibilities. 

And being in technology isn't just about deeply technical roles of course, we want to see more project managers, finance, analyst, sales, marketing and commercial roles filled by women too.

With CDW and Insight recently appointing female CEOs (alongside Crayon and Avanade), three of the top four global IT solutions providers are now female led. Is this a positive sign for the industry?

Yes definitely  - role models are critical, people need to see what they could become, so visible leaders are a must. They're needed at all levels in our organisations not just at the top, so they can act as mentors too. 

Women can bring different leadership qualities and traits to the table, something we see in evidence at Xalient where half my board are female. 

We also have some first-class female CIOs in some of the largest global corporations today, Lesley Salmon at our client Kellogg's for example, she's not only a role model for women in tech,  but she's very actively pushing the diversity agenda across the industry; Rachel Higham at WPP too is doing the same. Alongside the female CEOs in tech firms, these CIOs are playing an equally crucial role in encouraging women into careers in tech.

Name one thing companies in our sector should do differently to ensure they are attracting, retaining and promoting more female staff?

Once you have great female talent, I'd say proactively manage pay and progression with gender balance as a priority, ensuring all opportunities are visible and available to everyone. At Xalient we've invested in a firm-wide initiative around culture and inclusion to address this very issue right across the globe, with full transparency of career opportunities, equal access to training, enhanced, two-way employee communications and, more important today than ever, wellbeing support to ensure a healthy mind and lifestyle balance. It's helped us keep attrition below 12 per cent overall so it's working, and it's proving invaluable in attracting female talent, with a range of female-friendly, ‘flexible where it matters' benefits and working patterns.

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