Ahead of the Women in IT Summit UK 2023, DiversityQ sat down with Crystal Downie, Executive Director Markets Technology at JPMorgan, who opened up about her journey as a woman in the tech industry, highlighting the challenges she faced and the progress made on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
Crystal, tell us briefly about your career and the challenges you have faced coming up through the ranks as a woman.
I am of mixed heritage and came from a humble start. Growing up, I had no knowledge of what careers would be available to a smart young girl. I am fortunate to have had a supportive mother, father and teachers who encouraged me to study math and physics at university. From there on, I landed a role in technology within the financial services industry.
Now that I have been in this industry for almost 20 years, I have seen many changes in my career, both in technology and how women are treated. Throughout my career, I’ve faced many common challenges, such as microaggressions and unconscious biases.
I can say things have improved, but there is definitely some way to go before we break down the barriers for everyone. I can’t say it’s been an easy journey, and there have been times I’ve felt like giving up, but I am grateful to have a very supportive family that is always there to listen to me and, at times, give me some gentle encouragement!
What have you implemented at JPMorgan to support DE&I in the tech industry? How have they been effective?
I’m very proud to work at JPMorgan, where we have various initiatives to support employees internally as well as our external communities.
We pride ourselves on the benefits and support we provide our employees, including fertility treatments such as IVF and IUI, whether or not you have a medical diagnosis of infertility. We offer menopause support with access for employees to private GP appointments, support and guidance through apps and treatments. There are also 52 weeks of parental leave in the UK, irrespective of the length of service.
What advice would you give to women and underrepresented groups currently working in the tech industry and feeling burned out or undervalued?
As a first step, I suggest speaking about it to someone and asking for help. This could be a mentor who can advise you on how to approach a conversation with a manager. Nowadays, there are also some great resources companies offer their employees to support them, so if in doubt about what they are, ask your HR department to find out more and use these benefits!
How can companies better support social mobility in the technology industry, and why is it important for its future?
Coming from a less privileged background, I was completely unaware of the opportunities available. Thus, supporting students from low socio-economic backgrounds is something I am passionate about.
Diversity is multi-faceted and something that is key in technology as we look to develop new, creative innovations. There are some amazing charities that are doing incredible work with students from less privileged backgrounds. For companies looking to help, I would encourage them to consider incorporating some of these programmes into their organisations.
What can individuals and organisations do to improve mentorship and sponsorship programmes for women and underrepresented groups in tech?
Mentorship and sponsorship are often considered the same thing. Every organisation needs to clearly articulate the difference between the two and the expectations with the most senior individual in the relationship. In my view, there needs to be more emphasis on sponsorship and helping to promote and advance underrepresented individuals in their careers.
How can external communities and organisations work with tech companies to create a more diverse and inclusive industry?
There are great charities and organisations that tech companies can work with to bring them closer to diverse talent. One example is JPMorgan’s Aspiring Professionals Programme, which partners with the Social Mobility Foundation and aims to enable access to professional services for students from low socio-economic backgrounds. We have hired students through this route and, due to its success, have expanded the program to Scotland with a focus on technology.
What steps should the tech industry take to ensure that DE&I are at the forefront of its future equation?
It’s important that organisations make DE&I part of their mission statement, measure their progress, and hold senior leaders accountable for it. Simply saying it’s a good thing to do is not enough. Action is needed to make real improvements.
What are some common misconceptions about diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, and how can they be addressed?
One misconception is that DE&I is a recruitment or HR issue. In reality, hiring is just one aspect of diversity within teams. Retention is another that sometimes gets overlooked and can help with supporting diversity within an organisation.
It’s important for leaders to ask themselves whether they know who their diverse talent is and, if so, how well they know them. Are they listening to their feedback on what changes could be made to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for everyone, and are they doing something about it?
Tell us about the challenges you have faced while leading initiatives focused on DE&I and how you have overcome them.
When leading a DE&I initiative, it’s important to ensure you have support from leadership. This is something I am fortunate to have within my organisation. It’s important for leaders to actively incorporate DE&I work as part of their daily activities with their teams. This takes courage, and I am grateful for the support from others around me.
How can men become allies and advocates for DE&I in the tech industry? What role do they play in ensuring a more equitable and inclusive future?
Anyone can be an ally, and they can do this by becoming better informed of what barriers exist for underrepresented groups and speaking up when they see something that is not right. It’s also important for allies to actively support and help sponsor individuals from underrepresented groups in their organisations.
You can learn more about DiversityQ’s Women in IT series of events here.