Last year, Microsoft and Google joined forces to launch InterTech. Its mission is to provide support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals working in the technology industry.
Within InterTech’s 1,400 member base sits Women@InterTech, which advocates the role of females in the tech community.
I caught up with Olivia Smith (pictured right), who runs the initiative, to understand more about the activities of the group, as well as her views on diversity in the workplace.
GL: Olivia, could you explain why Women@InterTech was born?
OS: InterTech began in July 2013, with Women@InterTech launching in the October. The board of InterTech wanted to retain a balance between all LGBT people, so we emphasised the role of women in the organisation as a starting point; hence the birth of Women@InterTech. It would be great to focus on the other pillars of ‘L’ ‘G’ ‘B’ ‘T’, plus any orientation not called out in the acronym, in the future as the organisation grows.
GL: What are the benefits that Women@InterTech brings to its members?
OS: We try to support individuals with their own professional development through creating networking opportunities at informal events, mentorship sessions, plus educational panel discussions – a good example being our ‘Talk Nerdy to Me’ speaker series, the first of which showcased LGBT+ techies who started their own businesses.
On top of that, we engage with employers in the tech industry to raise the profile of our members within the sector.
Benefits our female members have highlighted include being part of a strong professional network, and feeling part of a community where they are comfortable enough to express themselves, which may not necessarily happen inside their own organisations.
GL: You are very committed to Women@InterTech. Would you like to share the reason for your strong support?
OS: Sure, it is due to my personal experience. My first job was with Accenture, who are brilliant at supporting LGBT people like myself. Their LGBT community raised my confidence enough to come out in the workplace, which was key for me to grow in a personal and professional sense. Now I work at Microsoft Yammer; once again I feel totally supported, and happy for that.
However, since being submersed in the tech start-up world after joining Yammer, I quickly realised that many individuals in smaller organisations may not experience the same support and acceptance for diversity, and subsequently may not feel comfortable enough to come out. This can be a difficult and very unpleasant experience: you are not able to bring yourself to work, to have conversations that you need and would like to have with your colleagues. So, I decided I wanted to do something to help.
GL: Beside all the events and meetings, do you make use of social technology to connect and interact with members?
OS: Yes, we decided to go with a combination of Facebook (FB), Twitter & LinkedIn. This may sound odd seeing as our board is formed from all sorts of technology organisations (e.g. Microsoft, Google, Skype, Nokia, Yammer etc.), but since no one comes from our chosen channels, there is no conflict of interest. In addition, we wanted to make it easy for our members to connect with one another, so the most popular personal and professional social channels seemed the obvious choice.
The board posts updates on our website and various social networks for each of our events. People regularly interact with each other, and repost their own comments and follow-up experiences.
We’ve also had success with Twitter, for example, the CEO of Manchester based LGBT charity, the Albert Kennedy Trust, made a request for people who had tech and social media skills to help him set up a program for the business. He received a lot of interest, with some of our members tweeting to get in touch. Ultimately, some of them are now working with him to develop a social media plan, which is beneficial for the parties involved and a huge success story for InterTech.
GL: In your opinion, and based on your experience, what could internal communicators do to promote diversity in their organisations?
OS: I think this is not really something that can be tackled by just one person or a team, but something that a whole organisation has to take responsibility for. It comes from fostering a culture that values diversity. Thanks to the work of organisations such as Stonewall, many companies prioritise diversity and inclusion as a core value within their workforce.
However, there are several activities that internal communicators can help with, for example, creating an inclusion forum within an intranet, SharePoint site or enterprise social network. Successful examples I’ve seen enable organisers to regularly post information about events and meetings relating to company diversity, in addition to D&I strategy and where to find support. Social networking forums where people are able to interact online to follow up conversations after physical meet-ups are often the most successful, in terms of developing a D&I community. Of course, the standard channels of communications are still incredibly useful, such as internal newsletters and company meetings.
Although not the role of internal comms, one good example for promoting diversity in the workplace that I experienced at Accenture and Microsoft is D&I and LGBT training, alongside Stonewall. The programs I’ve seen tackle topics such as managing a diverse workforce, inclusive leadership and becoming an authentic LGBT role model. The idea is to ensure people become aware of, and respectfully address diversity in teams, in the hope that one day D&I becomes a non-issue.
GL: How do you see the role of women in technology?
OS: The role of women in technology has come a long way in recent years. Whilst I believe women remain underrepresented in certain roles, especially at board level, the situation is certainly improving. For example, between 2011 and 2012, the number of women joining the IT industry rose by more than 28%.
With the onset of Millennials in the workplace, half of who are women according to US census figures, comes a new generation of digital natives. It’s therefore hardly surprising that many more women are taking up roles and educational courses in computer science, engineering and tech. In addition, with all the advances in communications, social networks, and information technology, it is easier to increase the profile of successful women in tech, through society.
GL: What kind of advice would you give to women who want to work in this sector?
OS: Research some of the great women’s tech organisations on offer, such as WISE, Women in Technology and WEConnect. They tend to be supported by technology giants, such us Microsoft, Google, Nokia, Skype, Amazon, and Accenture etc – all of whom see and encourage the value of diversity in the workplace. They are a brilliant starting point and spaces which offer guidance, professional development and job opportunities.
If you are interested in sponsoring some of the Women@InterTech initiatives, or just would like to get involved with the community, please visit intertechlgbt.com or contact Olivia Smith.
This article originally appeared on simply-communicate