Industry change must come from both top and bottom, says New Relic

Tom Allen
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Kristy Friedrichs is New Relic's first 'Chief People Officer'
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Kristy Friedrichs is New Relic's first 'Chief People Officer'

Chief People Officer Kristy Friedrichs says that technology is eating the world, and having a limited number of perspectives will hurt the industry and society

Much of the IT industry's lack of diversity is rooted in culture, and action is needed from both the bottom-up and top-down to change it.

Why is it so important to enact change? If one group of people have pushed themselves to the top of the industry, aren't they meant to steer it? That's absolutely the wrong way to think about it, says New Relic's first Chief People Officer Kristy Friedrichs.

"When you look at where the industry is going and the technology that's getting developed, you want to have different perspectives included in the creation of the products that are changing everyone's lives," she told Computing.

"If we're not experiencing the world or bringing perspectives that are similar to [our customers'], we're not going to deeply understand what they need and how to solve their problems."

New Relic is a sponsor of the Women in IT Excellence Awards, taking place in London on the 27th of November, and Friedrichs says that her role - a newly-created position at the company - means that she is always thinking about equity, inclusion and "just doing the right thing."

It isn't limited to women: New Relic recently sponsored Afrotech, a technology conference for African-American engineers.

"If you think about the overall industry, technology is eating the world; and if we only have a limited number of perspectives included in creating that technology, I think we've missed out."

Much of Friedrichs' work revolves around culture change. Several times while we were talking, she cited examples of subtle cues that serve to alienate women in the industry: from greeting a group with "Hey guys," to a female software engineer who is continually asked if she is in sales or customer service.

Transforming a culture doesn't happen overnight, and Friedrichs acknowledges that the industry is in for "a marathon" to reach true equality. One of the ways that New Relic is moving in that direction is with leadership coaching and the concept of ‘allyship', which it has rolled out globally.

"[It] is equivalent to bystander training," she explains. "If you in some way have privilege - whether you are a senior person in the room or you are not a minority - and you see someone who's experiencing something a little bit differently from you, you can step in and call it out on their behalf, so that they're not doing the hard work of educating and calling out bias.

"For example, the female software engineer doesn't have to say, ‘It undermines me when you always assume that I'm not an engineer'; the manager of the team could say, ‘Why would you not assume she's an engineer, she's one of our brightest?'"

Events like Computing's Women in IT Excellence Awards - now in their second year - are important to women and underrepresented groups in the technology industry. They are a way of "reversing those subtle signals that they're getting that they don't belong, to say, ‘No, you do and we're celebrating it'."

She added that these groups "have different perspectives and different beliefs as a result of how they experience the world, and I think that acknowledging that and honouring that isn't a way to sow divisiveness, but to celebrate differences."

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