How this Irish business bucks the trend for women in tech leadership

3 Jan 2019

From left: Sharon Walsh and Lorna Martyn, Fidelity Investments. Image: Luke Maxwell

The Irish arm of Fidelity Investments has reached award-winning status for its gender diversity initiatives. Here’s how it did it.

The Technology Ireland awards have been doled out annually for 26 years, but 2018 marked a first for the ceremony with the introduction of the #WomenInTech Company Initiative of the Year award.

Technology Ireland is an Ibec group representing the Irish technology sector, comprising more than 200 members, and the awards event in Dublin last November sought to celebrate the best of the Irish technology sector.

Fidelity Investments Ireland took home the inaugural #WomenInTech prize in recognition of “a strong commitment to attracting, retaining and developing women across its workforce”.

Fidelity is a multinational financial services corporation founded in Boston that first moved into Ireland in the mid-1990s.

Following this recent award-winning achievement, spoke to two leading women in tech at the Irish offices about how the company addresses diversity and inclusion issues in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Lorna Martyn, head of technology at Fidelity Investments Ireland, started by pointing out that women represent only one-quarter of STEM graduates. “In technology it’s even more alarming, with only 10 or 15pc participants being female,” she said.

“Overall, participation in technology across Ireland is at about 35pc. In our graduate programme over the last seven years, we’ve averaged 31pc female graduates and, also, I’m delighted that my technology leadership team is actually 57pc female.”

Clearly, Martyn is doing something right, but what’s the secret?

Continuous career support

“We have given considerable thought as to how we support our female associates at critical junctures in their career,” said Martyn, pointing to a particular challenge the company had wherein senior women engineers were not applying for principal or architecture roles. Tackling this anomaly, the company established mentoring circles and created a safe environment for these employees to air any concerns that were deterring them. “As a result, we found greater participation in terms of applications for those roles but also greater outcomes in terms of success in achieving those roles.”

As well as tackling the pipeline issue head-on by engaging with school-going young women, their parents and counsellors, and showcasing what a career in technology can look like for them, Fidelity is targeting talent from alternative pipelines. That is, experienced professionals who left the workforce and are seeking to return – a cohort that accounts for a large number of women who put careers on hold to raise a family.

“That’s one area that I think everyone in the industry needs to focus on, because it’s very clear that over the coming years the graduate population and the graduate pipelines are not going to meet the demand for talent in the technology industry,” Martyn advised.

Empowering employees

Like Martyn, Sharon Walsh, Fidelity Investments Ireland’s vice-president of technology management, advocates for the power of internal support groups.

“Our Women’s Leadership Group and our Women in Technology Special Interest Group influence how we behave and understand the challenges that we face as a business,” she continued. “Grassroots movements like this are absolutely necessary to mobilise an entire workforce around diversity.”

After listing the various initiatives across the organisation addressing the many facets required of a gender-balanced workforce, Walsh was certain this approach could be used to tackle broader inclusion issues.

“Certain elements of the programmes that have worked successfully for us at Fidelity absolutely are transferable, but some may need to be adjusted. For example, Fidelity recently launched a new employee resource group called Enable for those that are differently abled. This has required us to look at our hiring pipelines, our physical environment, and the coaching and support that we provide to this group,” she said.

“What it really takes is commitment at all levels of the organisation and only then can you achieve anything.”

Importantly, Martyn pointed out that lessons in diversity and inclusion strategies are ongoing, and there’s always room to improve.

“It’s important not just to run the programmes but to understand the impact of those programmes,” she said.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.