WIT Ireland Summit: using tech to ‘save the world’

Speakers discussed the power of tech to boost customer inclusion and business sustainability

The Women in IT Summit Ireland had a strong theme, ‘tech for good’ which included using tech to make businesses more sustainable, hire with diversity in mind, and to improve inclusion for customers.

Speakers said while many women are using tech products and services to improve their lives, including their education and mental health, they should be helping to build them too. Yet women are lacking in senior tech positions.

Using statistics from female empowerment organisation, Lean-In-Ireland, Breda McCague, its Co-Founder and Chair, said that despite 48% of entry-level hires into most tech companies being female, according to their women in the workplace report, only 38% make it to first-level management.

“We obviously have some bias at work and other social reasons that are keeping women from getting into senior roles,” she explained.

The event dared to explore greater themes in tech beyond workforce diversity such as the power of tech in “saving the world”, such as through sustainable business practices and improving consumer experiences.

Using tech to improve quality of life for customers

On this topic, Zara Flynn, Managing Director, Accenture Interactive Ireland explained how over four months, her firm has helped 20 clients migrate to the cloud with “sustainability-led decision making” which has potentially enabled over 110 million dollars in carbon savings over five years.

Using ‘tech for good’, Flynn said, is about understanding that we are “all human” and using tech to serve human needs. She gave many examples of tech services that are helping communities, from female violence prevention technology, to support for children with speech difficulties.

She gave a personal example of the transformative power of technology she experienced when her father was taken ill. During this time, she was able to use simple technology including Teams and Skype to work remotely and used fitness technology products like FitBit to encourage exercise and track wellbeing patterns.

Tech to ‘save the world’

The Year of Analytics for Good panel discussion saw speakers share their perspectives on the big societal problems of today and the power of analytics to address them.

Noelle Doody, Managing Director at Accenture Applied Intelligence said she is passionate about “renewable energy analytics” and that her firm is already working with clients to use this technology to face the immediate challenges of the climate crisis.

They are helping clients manage their renewable regeneration assets by using predictable analytics, she said. They are also offering assistance to the consumer by working with clients to help consumers interact with their data and make sustainable changes themselves.

Lorcan Malone, Chief Executive at The Analytics Institute said one of his firm’s client companies called MapAction use spatial analytics to go into humanitarian crisis zones and help to map out where the resources and “people who are suffering are” and try and bring them together using this technology.

The speakers agreed that businesses wanting to use analytics for good should start with “clean data sets” which are being actively used to measure results and impact. As the topic is relatively new, they maintain that asking questions and for help is key.

Georgina Bulkeley Director of FSI Solutions at Google Cloud said firms should “be bold” and instead of doing things incrementally set “big scary targets” for the future, and use data to map in the targets and milestones: “Set that moonshot goal and map out how to work towards that and get some quick wins in to get executive buy-in.”

On the hiring front, Aditi Mishra Strategy & Analytics at LinkedIn said simple AI applications can be harnessed to analyse the wording of job postings, and whether they are more masculine or feminine in tone. This, she says, can be turned into gender-neutral tones and encourage a more gender-diverse group of applicants to apply.

Social mobility and accountability in tech

Sarah Atkinson, Chief Executive Officer at The Social Mobility Foundation said that social mobility and social class disadvantage is neglected in talks about diversity and inclusion, especially in the tech sector.

She said that a low ability child from a high-income family is 35% more likely to be a high earner than a high ability child from a low-income family, revealing that socioeconomic background has a bigger impact on career success and progression than natural ability.

She added that tech workforces that only comprise “the metropolitan bubble” won’t be helpful when creating goods and services that appeal to wider society. Furthermore, talent from a lower-income background are more likely to be budget aware and cost-conscious in their roles, which is good for business.

Some of the candidates Atkinson works with get feedback such as they don’t have the necessary “commercial skills and awareness that tech firms are looking for” making targeted outreach and work experience for this group essential.

Lack of inclusive culture affects those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds as well as women in tech. Atkinson’s research has found that those from less advantaged backgrounds report the culture in tech firms as “quite alien.” Often, she adds, there’s a presumption that all workers understand how to navigate expensive areas such as bars and restaurants including “having the right social and cultural capital.”

She said business leaders can be volunteer mentors and support these candidates with their knowledge. Allyship is also important, and she advises leaders to be aware of discrimination, such as when someone might be made fun of because of their accent.

Crucially, she warns leaders to be aware of their own biases, and that being “polished” doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is more capable and that potential must be considered.

The summit concluded with a discussion on accountability in workplace diversity and inclusion between Dr Ebun Joseph, Director, Institute of Antiracism & Black Studies and Laura Stewart, Executive Director, IB Rates Technology, J.P. Morgan.

Joseph explained that effective accountability is about moving from “the royal we” to individual responsibility within teams regarding diversity and inclusion discussions, adding that leaders can “look for the work” to be more inclusive by going on training courses and taking that information back to their teams to empower them.

Stewart said diversity and inclusion without accountability make it “too ethereal” with accountability enabling these ideas to become actions.

She added that in her organisation, leaders are “held accountable for representation” which influences their performance reviews and their compensation.

To find out more about the Women in IT Summit & Awards Series, click here. For more information on who attended the recent Women in IT Summit Ireland, check out the agenda here.

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