Fiona Woods, Head of Human Resources, Europe, Cognizant

Diversity is not just vital in a tech organisation; it is a crucial competitive advantage. Gender differences encourage various perspectives and ideas from individuals that foster innovation. Different voices and views lead to new ideas, the creation of new services and provide valuable insight into customers.

It is claimed that men rely easily and more heavily on their left brain to solve one problem one step at a time. Women, on the other hand, have more efficient access to both sides of their brain and therefore greater use of their right brain, meaning that they can focus on more than one problem at a time and frequently prefer to solve problems through multiple activities at a time.[1]

You cannot be a successful global organisation if you do not have an inclusive workforce that represents both forms of problem solving. However, many tech organisations face the same challenges in attracting and retaining female talent. For example, only 27 per cent of all computer science jobs are held by women.[2]

Cognizant offers an initiative called Women Empowered to keep women, including their own employees, engaged and excited about a career in tech. The following are the components we have discovered are necessary to make sure a tech organisation can run better by sharing knowledge more efficiently and run differently to innovate and remain competitive.

A structure that encourages diversity

Company leaders need to manage change by building an organisational structure and value proposition which supports and encourages diversity. This starts by nurturing leadership values and ensuring the company communicates clearly the policies and procedures that are required to encourage the desired behaviour, as well as providing diversity training so all employees understand the importance and benefits of having a mixed workforce.

Flexible working

Allowing for flexible working arrangements is also very important to accommodate for those whose domestic needs determine the hours or locations in which they work. This can include part time work, flexible start and end times, shared roles and working from home or remotely some or all of the time. The use of cloud-based technology enables flexible working to be possible, as employees can work at home or on the go from any device in addition to working in a more collaborative manner.

While most of the issues women encounter in their daily lives are universal, Cognizant has found that in some of the markets where the company operates, flexible working can be especially important. Women can find it particularly difficult to strike a balance between work in technology organisations, which are male dominated, and responsibilities at home, such as childcare.

An inclusive employment brand

It is vital for businesses to broaden the pool of talent, while also helping to build an employment brand that is seen as fully inclusive. Therefore, companies need to have plans and programmes in place to recruit, develop, and retain a diverse workforce, building recruitment channels which reach diverse groups of candidates. Often this is in the form of specialist groups, who may also act as ambassadors outside the business.

Direction from the top

For diversity and inclusion to have real meaning, there needs to be accountability, and the buck should stop with the CEO and the board.  With a diverse workforce, businesses must embrace better ways to organise teams, cultivate innovation, allocate resources, and reinvent knowledge processes.

Use of technology

Using the right technology to enable this type of workforce can be very attractive to current and prospective employees and set you apart from other businesses that are more rigid in their approach. This means organisations should consider full integration of social networks and tools such as Google Docs to improve collaboration, as well as mobility, analytics and cloud computing technology. Putting this “SMAC” (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technology into practice is where the challenge currently lies. Business heads need to decide which combination of solutions and tools will work best for their organisation and, once agreed, how they will integrate the new tools within the workforce.

When a holistic programme is put in place to make sure gender diversity is encouraged throughout an entire organisation, it becomes easier to recruit women and make them feel that they are part of a strong and important community. Their needs and concerns must be heard and addressed by the C-suite as with any other employee. This is an approach that ensures women are engaged and excited to be part of a global community of employees, who face similar challenges at work and who have similar professional interests.