Accenture's Nicki Jarvis: Flexibility is the biggest blocker in IT roles

clock • 5 min read
Accenture's Nicki Jarvis: Flexibility is the biggest blocker in IT roles
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Accenture's Nicki Jarvis: Flexibility is the biggest blocker in IT roles

Businesses must define policies to support their diversity goals at every stage of employees' careers

It is widely accepted that the tech industry - long accused of sticking to the tried-and-tested recruitment practices - needs more women. Diverse teams lead to diverse thought, which is directly linked to increased success.

With that in mind, firms that are committed to recruiting from different backgrounds are already seeing benefits - like Accenture, which has set organisation-wide goals on gender equality. The company is also not hesitant about promoting from within, such as ecosystems lead Nicki Jarvis: a contender for Woman of the Year at this year's Women in Tech Excellence Awards.

Why do you support Computing's Women in Tech Excellence Campaign?

In a career spanning over 20 years in technology, frustratingly there still are not enough women joining or working in the industry, and it remains a male-dominated environment. I'm desperately keen to change this by being a visible role model and mentor on a grander scale than only within Accenture, and through Computing's Women in Tech Excellence campaign I hope to inspire and encourage more women into technology.  Accenture has an unwavering commitment to a culture of equality - and we have set bold goals to accelerate gender equality. As a woman and working mum with a long and successful career in technology, I am fortunate enough to be working for a progressive company that supports me, and I believe everyone deserves the same.   

What were your first steps into IT?

The PC came out when I was in secondary school. I had a fascination and love of science-fiction from my childhood and I remember feeling really excited by these incredible machines. That excitement and curiosity led me to study IT, where my first job was as a mainframe programmer. This was something I'd never done before, although I'd been coding in other languages at university.  After graduating I was offered a place at IBM in their graduate scheme.  My first role was as a Siebel administrator supporting IBM's global sales teams, and I had to learn AIX, DB2 MQ Series and TWS as well as Siebel to provide support.    

Why do you think the IT Industry is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?

Whilst I'm already an advocate for women in technology and a visible role model and mentor, I'm also a working mum. I know that for many women flexibility is the biggest blocker in IT roles, and from personal experience in my solution lead role, I know first-hand how challenging balancing family with a demanding IT role can be.

The industry hasn't been closed to women, nor has the capability not been apparent, but the lack of flexibility and opportunity, particularly at high level roles, means that women have struggled to gain more senior positions. I believe that business leaders need to show a strong commitment to making gender diversity a business priority. To complement this, businesses need to define programmes and policies that help achieve their diversity goals every stage of peoples' career. It's certainly more common to see greater diversity in our upcoming analysts today, but it's still going to take time for the women who are at the early stages of their careers to make their way into the big roles. We just need to make sure we keep supporting them and making sure the next generations can see that they don't have to choose between a career or a family. You can have both.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in your career?

Don't be afraid of embracing change, and don't underestimate yourself.

I spent years believing I didn't know how to do anything except the role I was in and never felt good enough at it.  I would always expect more of myself, but after taking a long hard look at what I was doing, I realised I wasn't happy. I also knew my job so well that I feared the unknown.  When an opportunity to take a new role came about, I debated whether to go for it.

Upon reflection, it turned out to be the best decision I've ever made. I'm now in a role I love, doing something I truly enjoy and using skills that come naturally to me every day. I'm performing at my best and people that have followed my move have observed me as "thriving" and thanked me for bringing energy, passion and (from the UKI CEO) for "making an impact".

That impact on my own happiness is now helping others to achieve great things and inspiring them to do something they really believe in and love, because having a purpose and enjoying your job is the most important thing, and ultimately will help you be successful.  

What are your three top tips for women looking to start a career in IT?

Don't be afraid of what you don't know. You can learn anything with the right people around you. We're all learning from someone else, and your superpower is not being afraid to ask.  Have an inquisitive mind and be responsible for your own learning. With so many tools and resources out there, there isn't much that can't be accessed. Build a network of people that is mutually beneficial, so you are continually strengthening your knowledge and skills.

Technology is an enabler, not a product. It's what it can do for the business, the outcome it creates, and every job now relies on technology in some way. Focus on the outcome you want to deliver, and you'll naturally develop a keen interest in the technology that enables those results.    

Diversity is vital. What you bring is unique and that will mean the technology we develop in the future will be more equitable. It's not just about what's happening now but about what you bring that will shape and support society in the right way.

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