Below is an article originally written by Katie Brown, Executive, General Manager for the Midwest Great Lakes territory at PowerToFly Partner Avanade, and published on March 3, 2020. Go to Avanade's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Pressing for progress is the perfect theme for International Women's Day because it has so many different meanings. To be a woman and a leader in the tech industry is something that required me to press for progress in my career, but also for many before me to press for progress in the industry. To get to where I am, I had to press. But for women to continue to rise, we all have to press, and we have to create avenues within our system for women to be successful.
My first job out of college was with a consulting company called Software Architects. Even though it had 500 employees in 10 offices across North America, it had a tight-knit family culture. It felt like everyone knew everyone, and we did great work on fun projects. I loved it so much I thought I would retire at the company. But when Software Architects got bought by another, larger consulting firm, that culture evaporated almost immediately, so I went looking to replace what I had experienced before.
A former colleague recommended Avanade to me, and I wasn't sure it would be the right fit because it was another bigger company. But the more I asked around and interviewed, I realized Avanade had that same tight-knit, collaborative feel. When I joined 13 years ago, just a few years out of college, I felt at home.
That open, friendly culture is important to me for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is that it's such a difference-maker for women. I think many women are very caring and personal by nature – we're more likely to talk to people about their personal lives and get to know them on a deeper level. But what I've found at Avanade is everyone – men and women alike – shares that. Other male-dominated tech companies might have a colder culture that keep women from being themselves in the workplace, inhibiting them from doing their best work. At Avanade, I know all about my colleagues' families, hobbies and lives because people feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work.
That same openness has allowed me to feel safe to voice discomfort or concern. I've been here over a decade, and I'm proud to say I can count on one hand the times someone said something that made me second-guess their meaning. But when I have felt uncomfortable as a woman in the workplace, Avanade's culture has empowered me to approach that person directly with my concerns. And we also have structures in place that if a person didn't want to handle it directly, they could report concerns (anonymously or not), or lean on support systems. So many of the barriers women face professionally can be dissolved by a supportive and inclusive culture – something I've seen play out at Avanade again and again.
It blows my mind that I'm 13 years into a career at Avanade and now the territory executive for the Great Lakes. That beginning feels like just yesterday. I had the privilege of being the executive sponsor for the Midwest new hires last July, many of whom were freshly out of college. I told them that when I started, I didn't think of myself as a potential future leader within our business, but that's what each of them is. If they want that, they can make it happen with the support that exists here at Avanade.
And just because Avanade does a good job does not mean there isn't progress to be made. I'm encouraged by the fact that we now differentiate female diversity percentages between internal roles and external, client-facing ones. We are making conscious decisions to recruit and hire diverse talent. I also think about maternity and paternity leave; Avanade doubled those in the U.S. in recent years to create that supportive culture for parents, which also makes us more competitive when recruiting mothers. Equal pay, equal opportunity for hiring, and progressive family leave all help us press forward, understanding that the work is never done and we are so much better for undertaking it.
Software, cybersecurity and cloud computing professionals are in high demand today. Thousands of technology jobs are available, yet women hold fewer than 25% of all tech jobs. There are a number of reasons women are under-represented in tech careers: gender bias, a lack of information about the potential for STEM careers early in a girl's education, a shortage of female mentors, company cultures that don't adequately support women technologists and more. However, the bottom line is that not enough women are pursuing careers in tech. Because fewer women are studying technology-based subjects at school and university, employers have fewer women to choose from when recruiting.
Fortunately, times are changing, and some companies are taking steps to attract more women employees by addressing pay gaps, offering flexible work policies and implementing programs to help women employees thrive. Avanade is proud to be one of those companies. Today we talk with Tripti Sethi, senior director, Global AI Center of Excellence lead at Avanade, about the variety of opportunities available to women in technology consulting.
As their title may suggest, technology consultants work with clients to help them transform the way they use technology to drive business outcomes. Traditionally, these transformations have been geared toward improving business processes, reducing costs and maximizing the use of technology opportunities. Today they encompass so much more, from digital strategy and artificial intelligence to technology change projects.
Can you tell us more about the variety of roles available in consulting?
I speak at conferences for women in tech, and I've found that there is often a preconceived notion that you need to be a coder to be in tech. For a technology offering to be successful, there are a lot of elements that come into play. For example, in my own field of work in artificial intelligence, you certainly need data scientists and engineers. But you also need strategists who guide the "why" behind a project, people from the industry who understand a solution's applications in the space, designers that translate the code into something usable for the everyday person, and marketing and salespeople to actually get the project into the market.
This list isn't exhaustive, but it does show that a tech career doesn't have to involve coding. There will always be an important place for coders. At the same time, there is a wide range of roles now for people interested in a tech career.
What are the best things about being a woman in consulting?
Personally, I enjoy the flexibility that consulting provides. I like the fact that I can choose to get up really early in the morning, do a bit of work, maybe do a boxing class in the afternoon and then work again into the evening. As technology becomes more integral to driving business transformation, I like the complex and diverse set of problems we solve and the diverse skills and people we work with to solve them. This is amplified even further by the fact that I have a global role and I work across multiple geographies, industries and cultures. Of course, the role has given me the opportunity to travel to some incredibly beautiful places and have the most amazing experiences.
What would you say to women considering a career in consulting?
If you like taking on a challenge, tackling problems and translating them into solutions and you really enjoy delivering that kind of success to clients, this is a dynamic and fun place to be. For consulting projects to be successful, a blend of strategy, design, technology, data, AI, marketing and a whole host of other skills to deliver projects are key. This means that the opportunity and options for women to flourish and grow as technology consultants is exponentially increasing. It's also a great place to make lateral movements and acquire new skills, either based on your interests or evolving life/career stages.
The most important aspect however, just like any woman entering a male-dominated industry, is to be yourself and to be open to challenging the "as-is." Don't try to fit in a box that you think is accepted. In reality, it's your uniqueness that will make you add value and be successful.
How did you take advantage of different opportunities at Avanade?
Avanade provided me diversity not just in the roles I have held, but also in my quest to experience life and work in different parts of the globe. I started as our Advanced Analytics lead in Europe based out of the Netherlands for a year, broadened my portfolio to lead the Digital Analytics offering for Europe and serve as the first Data & AI Center of Excellence member in the area. I am now Seattle-based as I lead and grow our AI capabilities in the global Data & AI COE.
Tech is a fast-moving field. How do you keep your skills sharp and up to date?
Avanade supported and challenged me to rotate my skills and learn new ones, to expand what I do, how I deliver, and how I add value with new skills. We are lucky to have access to a wide range of training programs and opportunities for skills development. In addition, Avanade supported me in my personal mission to be the face of AI and diversity for us externally, a journey that has helped me develop my public speaking, presentation and networking skills. This has been very rewarding and inspiring for me.
Below is an article originally written by Sierra Jackson, Internal Communications Analyst at PowerToFly Partner Avanade, and published on September 3, 2019. Go to Avanade's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
I began my career at Avanade as an intern in our Chicago office. I never set out to work in tech and I had no idea what working for a tech company would be like, but I'd seen movies, so I figured it would be something like a bunch of guys in white T-shirts who never looked up from their desktops as they wrote code. But when I came in for my final interview and met with only women, I knew my expectations would be challenged here. Yes, I work for a tech company, but I've found that most of my day is spent interacting with people and using technology to communicate people's stories, which is definitely the best of both worlds.
After a year as an intern and college graduation, I joined Avanade full-time. Right as I was transitioning from intern to working full-time, Pam Maynard was announced as our CEO-elect. As a black woman entering the tech industry, I never really expected that I'd be able to look up the chain of command and see people like me. But here I am, able to learn from my bosses and mentors who have forged the path ahead of me and given me opportunities I might not have had a generation ago.
I got to meet Pam a few weeks ago when the Avanade Executive Committee was visiting the Chicago office. Even though leaders at Avanade are pretty approachable, I'm right at the start of my career, and the idea of walking right up to our leadership is kind of intimidating. Imagine my surprise when Pam walked right up to me and introduced herself. I told her how excited I was that I was able to see someone who looks like me as CEO, something I never expected to see during my lifetime, especially fresh out of college.
Her reply was also something I never expected. "I'm happy to see people who look like you in the business," she told me. In that moment, I felt equal and important in a way that I imagine many 21-year-old black women never get to.
It's not just Pam. From where I sit as an analyst, all the way up to our CEO, every role up my chain of command is occupied by a woman. For this to be the case, a few things must happen: Avanade has to have a commitment to hiring women in leadership roles. The company also has to have a strong, inclusive culture that supports that commitment. And finally, I had to be lucky enough to start my career at Avanade at the right time for all these roles above me to fall into place. Like I said, I never set out to work in tech; I also never expected to work at a company that gives people like me the opportunity to reach for the stars and not be limited by gender. And I'm so happy to be somewhere like Avanade, where my expectations are challenged for the better every day.
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