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TechWeek 2019: Why the tech sector should own diversity and lead by example, with Angela Maragopoulou 

Tue 17 Sep 2019

In an era where tech companies are facing increasing backlash from society, showing a commitment to diversity is an opportunity to demonstrate they have the public good at heart

Why should we strive to maximise diversity in the tech sector?

There are countless reasons, whether you look at the positive impact diversity has on company reputation, growth or productivity. But above all else, creating conditions under which previously overlooked genders and personalities can flourish produces more brilliant technologists – technologists like Angela Maragopoulou.

The CIO of B2B/SVP Business Solutions at Deutsche Telekom and TechWeek Frankfurt speaker will be the first to admit that her path to senior leader at the German telecom giant would not have been possible were it not for a relatively privileged upbringing, one that saw her furnished with a PC and an education at an unconventional school. The school taught juniors in mechanics and informatics — skills which gave Angela the platform to launch a career as a successful computer engineer and data scientist, and later, award-winning IoT technologist and agile thought leader.

“I was very lucky to be one of a very small number of kids in the 80s who also owned a PC, let alone a girl whose family was ok with her spending three hours every night playing Riven. [My childhood] was very ahead of its time.”

At the unorthodox school in question, Angela was one of 18 kids and the only girl. Representation-wise, not a lot changed when she studied Physics at the University of Athens in the 90s. Out of 200 people in her class’s intake only four were women.

That was almost two decades ago. It’s fair to say that thankfully, things have since moved in a positive direction, although improvement has slowed in recent years. According to the State of European Tech report, women account for just 22 percent of tech-related Meetup events in the region, and the increase in female representation increased by just 1 percent between 2016 and 2018.

It is important to appreciate that some countries are performing stronger than others. In her role leading teams for Vodafone around the world, Angela observed the influence of national socio-economic and cultural factors on gender equality in tech companies. Companies in developing countries with comparatively weaker financial situations than Europe and North America tend to perform better, she says.

“The need for money and a better life goes a little to address the balance. Working in technology is very lucrative and so a lot of women choose it. While in financially stable countries like Germany, families can afford to only have one parent working, increasing the preponderance of traditional forms where the woman stays at home with the kids.”

As someone who spends most of her time in Germany, Angela has spent a lot of time both advocating for the benefits of diversity in the local tech space and considering the practical steps that can be taken to tip the scales.

Join Angela at TechWeek Frankfurt, 13 - 14 November, Messe Frankfurt

How leadership, talent & diversity support your journey to digital transformation
13 Nov 2019, 10:20 – 11:10
Digital Transformation Keynote

Naturally, diversity is a problem that affects the whole of the private and public sector. But as technology encroaches further into every crevice of company processes, the distinction between tech and non-tech companies is increasingly blurred, if not meaningless. If diversity can be shown to be a boon to tech-productivity, it would  likely catalyse more widespread change.

But first, Angela says companies will never move to address the problem if a critical mass of men do not accept that there is a problem that needs to be solved.

“The whole system needs to accept that there is a systemic problem, even if it is unconscious. This does not mean that men actually get together in a secret room and decide to leave more women out, but that there is a self-organised system that exists. Men need to accept it and do something to actually break it.”

To break this wheel, companies need to improve workplace culture for those women already ‘in the room’ to avoid alienating them, while also creating a pipeline that actively markets new opportunities to women, says Angela. She also welcomes the rise in companies that offer Diversity-as-a-Service, where access to the necessary personnel, processes and talent pools are provided to willing (and paying) companies.

“Every single hiring manager needs to understand that diversity is actually an asset: It’s value-added and provides ROI. It’s not only about women – it’s about different mindsets and different ways of thinking. There is no one person that needs to solve the problem, but if hiring managers truly believe the ROI, they will then market their area to attract diversity. So I think they are in the most powerful position to make a change.”

Why must modern companies readily employ a variety of personalities (aside from the typical alpha-extrovert)? Because the economy has moved into a new era of software-defined production, Angela says. Even companies that trade in goods are increasingly dependent on software, whether to optimise functions or digitalise legacy products. While companies still need extroverts who can lead and show direction, firms urgently need previously inessential skills to solidify their software production lines and restructure functions around smaller, empowered teams.

“We are in a place where more and more companies are in the business of making software, end of story. In this world of software creation and production, you need people who are dynamically listening to the customer or end-user and constantly adjusting and refining the means of production.”

“That’s why companies need agile, design-thinking teams – as it’s the only way to create something meaningful. More and more we need people who empower smaller teams, as smaller teams create better solutions and make better technical decisions.”

The frustratingly slow pace at which companies are adjusting to this new reality can be explained in part by natural human fear and uncertainty, and reluctance to move away from a model that has successfully produced talented people and profitable enterprises.

“There’s a lot of insecurity and until we have enough examples of companies successfully embracing this new model, it will take a while for the majority to follow suit. It’s about access and critical mass in all areas.”

To speed up implementation of agility and diversity, Angela concedes that ambassadors have to communicate to the board in the language of return on investment. In addition, Angela encourages leaders to view the bigger picture – how by leading by example they can positively influence wider society.

“Being able to go to market far quicker, whether 100 or 10 times quicker and unleashing new ways of making money. That’s what agility and diversity give you. Its something you need to be to be very outspoken about because the society needs it, and if we don’t show that the model works, it will take longer for the effects to be felt in wider society.”

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