"Challenge the status quo in the belief that your abilities and uniqueness will be able to make a difference"
Diversity is a key issue in technology: an industry often criticised for being stale, male and pale. Opening the door to new voices and new ways of thinking is not only important, but necessary to survive and thrive in the hyper-competitive modern world.
Computing's Women in Tech campaign is an ongoing mission to draw attention to the important work women are doing in the tech space. However, it's not only about highlighting giving women a voice, but for everyone to stand up as allies - men included.
Gus Sargent is CEO of Tecknuovo, a finalist at this year's Women in Tech Excellence Awards. There, he is part of a leadership team with an equal split between genders, and runs a DevOps consultancy where two-thirds of the employees are women. Workplaces should be fun and creative, and diversity - he believes - is key to that.
How important is diversity in technology?
The lack of diversity in technology is a major issue, with women underrepresented at all levels. It is vital to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution female innovators bring to their organisations and the industry in general, as they are rarely given the same acknowledgments as their male counterparts. Diversity of thinking is a vital ingredient to solving complex problems, and the fundamental truth that diverse teams produce better business outcomes, 87 per cent of the time, is still not present on the ground in large organisations. We are determined that as an organisation that shifts quality solutions, we will address this balance.
How did you get into IT industry?
I started in IT on the recruitment side, quickly becoming a specialist in DevOps. I worked almost exclusively with large consultancy firms to provide them with the top talent that they struggled to source. This enabled me to truly see the gaps in the consultancy industry and after leaving, I founded my own company. I never liked the traditional ‘land and expand' consultancy model and I wanted to create a company that could pair my personal values with my professional ones. In 2015 my co-founder Kieran Blackstone - a friend from university also working in the tech space - and I started Tecknuovo. We quickly established ourselves as the leading DevOps specialists and embraced the tech Meetup scene, organising and attending a range of events. Six years on, we have grown Tecknuovo into a delivery-focused digital transformation consultancy, one that seeks to challenge the traditional model.
Why do you think the IT industry is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?
I find this to be extremely frustrating, as historically, the industry wasn't like this. It was primarily a female industry in the 1960s and '70s, as programming was considered synonymous with secretarial work. Everything changed when the industry started being viewed as intrinsically ‘male' - adverts in the 1980s showed computers as ideal toys for boys, making light of the girls that tried to use them. All these extremely smart women who had set up the patterns, practices and approaches that are still utilised today were replaced by men. It's only in the last two decades that we are beginning to see that balance addressed, but there is still a long way to go.
There are far fewer female seniors than male, partly due to the affinity bias, and partly because women that see fewer female leaders are less likely to join an organisation.
We need to ensure we tackle gender stereotypes from an early age and ensure that young girls are not discouraged from studying STEM subjects. If fewer females are studying STEM, there is a smaller (and more biased) talent pool to recruit from. There are still a number of places where ‘bro culture' permeates. Organisations should be fun, creative environments. In the right places - with the right people - they are. These are the places where there is diversity among teams.
At Tecknuovo, over 65 per cent of the team are female and 50 per cent of the leadership function is female. It is imperative that women joining our organisation can not only see themselves at the top, but realise that the culture from the top is dictated by women as well as men.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
You need to surround yourself with brilliant people. Sparks of genius can come from anywhere. If you create a company or an organisation that attracts those sparks, captures them, and builds on them, then you can't lose. You want to have the people around you who embolden you to challenge the status quo. Together, carefully chosen acts of rebellion can have seismic impacts. After all, it's hard for people to see what you're capable of if you're not brave enough to take risks.
What are your three top tips for women looking to start a career in IT?
- Do your research on organisations that already have balanced gender policies and foster inclusion within their teams. Look for companies that are already hiring in an inclusive manner, but more importantly, are retaining and promoting female employees. Companies with female founders, CEOs, and leadership teams have the strongest gender equality records. Proving that implementing diversity from the top down rather than the bottom up, leads to stronger retention levels of female employees.
- Don't assume you need to mirror the actions of the men in the room: individual diversity is essential to success. Challenge the status quo in the belief that your abilities and uniqueness will be able to make a difference. If you want to be a CEO, fantastic, you can set the tone for your company. If you are going to work with a CEO or a founder, make sure they share your ethos. Leadership is a privilege, the actions we take have a fundamental impact on people and their lives.
- And finally, learn and keep learning. Discard the things that do not work for you, and constantly develop your skills. Keep your beginner's mindset and just keep adding to it as you progress, that notion of learning is critical. Do not get stuck into one tool, technology, or way of thinking. Always remain agnostic to the solutions.