Engineer turned entrepreneur and D&I speaker and author Furkan Karayel had to take action when she realised that words like ‘diversity’ were being used as marketing tools by a lot of employers.
“Software engineering was my dream job since my childhood days; I was very interested in tech and my ability to make modifications in it,” Furkan Karayel tells SiliconRepublic.com.
Karayel did grow up to become a very successful software engineer, like she had always wanted to be.
Her tech career began in Istanbul when she studied engineering. In 2005, she moved to Athlone IT as an Erasmus student in the software engineering department. She decided to graduate from the college, and two weeks after her graduation she landed her dream job as a software system test engineer in Athlone.
She worked in multinational tech companies in Ireland for 10 years in a variety of different roles, including system test engineer, support engineer, DevOps engineer, system integration, automation and more.
She enjoyed the challenge of trying to solve problems that need high attention to detail while focusing on the bigger picture.
But her love for her career was tinged with frustration. Karayel enjoyed her work but she couldn’t ignore the fact that she wasn’t seeing much – if any – diversity around her.
She didn’t see a lot of women, or people who weren’t of a non-Irish or white background working in her industry. There was also a distinct lack of diversity in tech leadership.
As Karayel puts it, there are so many talented women and women with different ethnic backgrounds “in every stage of our lives” that we don’t tend to see in the leadership positions of big tech companies.
For her, it felt like these people – and by extension, Karayel herself – didn’t exist. She wanted to challenge the homogeneity.
“I started to question why,” she said, of women and ethnic minorities’ representation in tech leadership roles. “I googled and found that their representation in tech leadership was less than 1pc in the world.”
“On the other hand, ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ and ‘belonging’, these words were being used as marketing tools by large organisations but the ‘action’ piece was missing.
“This was a big wake up call for me and I had to do something about it.”
That something was called Diversein, a rather cleverly named platform that focuses on bringing people together to devise strategies for companies to build better D&I practices in their day-to-day operations.
The journey to diversity
Karayel leads a team of D&I ambassadors in business and tech. Unsurprisingly, Karayel has followed her own example in creating a service she could have done with seeing herself a decade ago when she was working her way up the career ladder. Her team is diverse and made up of men and women of a lot different backgrounds and specialisms. The ambassadors aren’t just based in Ireland either – the website’s tagline says it is a global diversity and inclusion embassy.
Karayel reckons that while things for women and minorities in tech have improved in the last few years, the work she and thousands of others like her do is not complete.
“Yes, it is changing slowly but we cannot give up, sit back and say, we are done. It’s a journey. We have just started it.”
She recalls frustrating times in her career when she felt invisible and ignored. She realised after starting Diversein that she was not alone in the way she felt.
“It was a never ending cycle and was very exhausting. I then discovered that I wasn’t alone. Many women who work in highly male dominated industries feel very similar.”
Karayel has written a book that outlines her philosophy of inclusivity in the tech and business worlds. It’s called Inclusive Intelligence: How to be a role model for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
She says her book is more about looking at D&I from a leader’s perspective. It asks what kind of roles leaders play and how “their inclusive actions become orchestral and guiding them on what makes a leader inclusive and how they can be inclusive leaders every day.”
When asked what work needs to be done in terms of diversity in her opinion, Karayel answers simply: “Cool projects with cool role models.”
Could it really be that simple?
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