Via Zoom, 24 June 2021

RightsTech Women had the pleasure to participate as a member of the general public in this webinar today organized and moderated by by ServiceNow, Top Women in Tech & Financial Services: Reshaping the Future of Work. The webinar featured speakers, Amnah Ajmal of Mastercard, Ashley Pettit of State Farm, Tali Bray from Wells Fargo, and Laurén Robbins To and Vanessa Smith of ServiceNow. To quote Vanessa Smith, in the panel, these women leaders in tech financial services shared “how they were reshaping the future of work and leveraging technology to power how work gets done, while supporting diversity and inclusion in the workplace“. The webinar was followed by a demonstration of entrepreneur Sahra Nguyen, who founded her company, Nguyen Coffee Supply, to raise the visibility of Vietnamese coffee producers in the coffee supply chain and diversity and inclusion in the coffee industry.

Welcoming remarks

Opening the panel, Laurén Robbins To (ServiceNow) noted that now was a time to reflect on the impact of the changes of the workplace. She reflected that it was a time of mixed emotions, excited, hopeful, sadness – about companies’ return to work plans. She questioned, going forward, how do we do our best work in the best way to make impact for the company, but also be valued for bringing your authentic selves at work? She welcomed the leaders taking part in the panel.

Laurén Robbins To (ServiceNow):

Q: What was one of the biggest impact of this last (pandemic) time that we have experienced and how did it affect your diversity and inclusion work?

Ashley Pettit (State Farm) saw many lessons learned over the last months but many were not new. She said, we saw them though more prominently in our businesses than in the past. She stressed the importance of relationships – external and internal – to her company, State Farm, and said that when those are built better, they help grow the business. It was necessary to understand that while we were going through so much over the last year, and all under stress, people experienced it differently. Some were glad to work from home and felt it was more of a level playing field for associates. It leveled out participation between corporate or remote locations. Some felt they could break in and have their voice heard better. Whereas others felt isolated, depressed and wanting those in-person interactions. Each experiences the changes on a personal level but others might be experiencing it differently. So it requires applying empathy. Over the last months, State Farm named its first Chief Diversity Officer. She is on a steering group to advice the officer and are inspired to step up activities like sensitivity training, unconscious bias, or how to be an ally and build those skills – new methods were emerging to cope and grow the diversity and inclusion program.

Tali Bray (Wells Fargo) noted a shift in structure at Wells Fargo so that the company was now looking at diversity and inclusion as a business outcome, not tied only to human resources. So getting it into business centrality was a good development. A top lesson? Wells Fargo and the industry proved that people can be tremendously productive remotely. Creativity does not only work in person. She said, we have exposed the bias in the idea that collaborating face-to-face is the only thing that works, and also it showed how people with access of different types were the people in the ‘power’ relationships; it was limited in terms of who could have those relationships. Women in the workforce were disproportionately impacted. For women in the workforce, and people from groups underrepresented in the organization, there were different impacts. Many people did not have the chance to work remotely – they were in branches carrying out critical functions. For parity, and equity, they had to look at how they kept people safe who tended to be disproportionately represented in those roles. Biases were exposed and from that, their company could leverage the learning. Going back to work, it was important to recognize that one size does not fit all. And it exposed that childcare matters. It is not a strategic priority for some managers but it is a priority. Accessibility, equity, the value of collaboration when all people have access are things we can bring back to the workplace.

Vanessa Smith (ServiceNow) – The biggest learning for her was that she onboarded 9 months ago during the pandemic and has not met anyone in person, so this was a learning process for digital onboarding. How resilient is the employee base, and how reliant companies are on their people, were things that came to the foreground during this experience. There was news about how digital transformation accelerated for those who were ready, and agile. Whereas we also saw digital laggards, who fell behind or even went out of business. It was needed to thank the people and the workforce who were at the heart of the digital transformation. But we saw a lot of stress and burnout, with women, and in regard to child care. In the U.S., the life expectancy gap had been closing between white and people of color communities but over the last year the gap opened back up again. With the future of work being hybrid- a big question is, how do we think about that hybrid working model so that it will work for people of color and women?

Amnah Ajmal (Mastercard) also stressed the importance of empathy. During the last year, when people sincerely asked how a colleague was, this was important because it had a different meaning during this time. And if it was asked sincerely, it meant a lot, because people were not okay. She shared experience about moving to Dubai pregnant with twins with a toddler, and returning from maternity leave to a new role, with a new team. She used to believe that collaboration required being in the same place. However, they did establish trust, though they never met face to face and it works. It made it clear that trust could have been established in a different way, before the pandemic. When the pandemic started, she was among those believing it would be only for a very short time, unrealistically. But instead, she found she has needed to be there for her team, and let go of her old way of thinking, of doing things, to getting things done. She hopes it stays with us. They – and probably many participants also – used to do crazy things, like taking a 14-hour trip for a one-hour meeting, working at the airport, etc. But now, you realize we could have operated in a different way. There are great forward lessons coming out of this and she hopes it stays with us.

Laurén Robbins To (ServiceNow):

Q: What does ‘great’ look like, during the pandemic and in next stages?

Many women left the workforce, or were scaled back? she asked how the companies were thinking about this.

Vanessa Smith (ServiceNow), acknowledged that the next generation workforce expects agility and flexibility in the way everyone works. She shared the experience of a younger relative, who would not accept the things she had accepted previously as a parent. He would leave an employer, based on agility, and trust that he could make the decisions, to make the balance and honor his work and meet family obligations. If the companies compete for the best and best diverse talent, we have to meet the next generation workforce where they are. There was success during the pandemic so how could we go out and say, the future only looks like what the past looked like? Her work was hybrid during her whole 22-year work career so far, working from home on one day per week, or all week. Or she has spent 50% in the home office, or 50% in the city her family lived in. It was successful. There are different rules and roles and realize that people have been working hybrid and remotely even if people did not acknowledge it. Hybrid working is not actually new, many people already did this in the tech industry for example; it was just not widely acknowledged.

Ashley Pettit (State Farm) agreed with everything Vanessa Smith had said. The implications of getting this right were critical. Everyone was in the fight for talent. Protocols and flexibility were needed to retain the current workforce who have the company’s background and knowledge, but now that there are more virtual and remote work trends, there are more options for the talent. So we are naive if we pursue a one-size-fits-all. It is critical to have a range of options, and tailor the options to the factors most critical to them, to retain the current workforce, and attract the critical skills we all need for the future. A few years ago, State Farm created hub locations, and have their corporate facility in three hubs. These are in metro cities, different parts of the country than each other, and in different places where the corporate headquarters is located. That was a driver to be able to attract new talent from different locations in order to increase diversity. This way, they can get a more diverse talent that is more reflective of the customers they are trying to serve. As they think about where they go from here- re-entering buildings- they are implementing a new approach. They spent the last 6-8 months re-evaluating collaboration, the value you get from being in person, or how you make hybrid work and make that the norm. They are giving a lot of autonomy to individual teams to do what makes sense to them. They are allowing functional areas to define what makes sense for themselves, when collaboration, relationship-building, interaction with business partners, large planning sessions- where that will bring them together as a team. But this also involves giving individuals flexibility, where they would go between remote or in-person. For example they could come to the office to participate in a personal or professional development, or a cross-cutting event. It was important to maintain the company culture. But for everyone, it is harder to maintain the culture if everything is remote so they will expect to go through a transition period and are eager to see how it changes the candidates and how it alleviates the stress that some employees are feeling.

Laurén Robbins To (ServiceNow):

Q: The impact we saw on women and leadership:

McKinsey did a study last year and found that the ‘broken rung’ on the career ladder for women is getting that first promotion. For 100 men getting a first promotion, whereas 85 women would, and far fewer black women and Latinas.

Tali Bray (Wells Fargo) – They focused on access to work, career path-ing, and sponsorship. It was important to look at how they address the broken rung, but also all are facing attrition at higher rates- it is the whole human resources lifecycle. There are three convergent things now. One was a broad adoption of the way we work, switching to become more agile. By shifting how we work, it is happening. They are shifting the tech stack with more low-code no-code solutions, and decomposing bigger packages to smaller teams. Second, there is a shift in what the customer expects, and what the future workforce expects. It will come together to change how we make tech roles in finance accessible, to be successful. From a career path-ing perspective, there need to be two different tracks- previously, only through management was the way to succeed. They are still focused on management (but not only), whether managers of different roles, or managing teams of different sizes. And for engineers they are also looking to increase possibilities for women. They like to focus on sponsorship as as compared to mentorship because sponsorship is where they see the needle move, more so than mentorship. In parallel, they are looking at cohort hiring programs, and have a program, ‘Glide’, for women who are mid-career, who left career mid-career and are returning. People tend to focus on early talent when talking about diversity, but we also need to look at mid- and senior-level talent. Doing all this will help address the gap. So not only when people start but at all levels.

Amnah Ajmal (Mastercard)- noted that only 38% of management are occupied by women. She stressed the importance of giving people the first opportunity. It was an old way of thinking, that five years of experience outside the company was more important, based on being assessed in a one-hour interview, as compared to internal candidates. She shared experience of gendered messages that women are being trained since childhood, about their skills, and about whether they could do a job they had never done before. She pointed out the difference in toys for girls or boys in a popular children’s television program. She shared experience of mentoring people to be visible. She encouraged people to ask for the jobs that they want. And she would suggest to give the reasons why they want that job. Women need to be more visible and audible. She also shared experience of one of her managers (a woman) promoting her, her saying no I am not there yet, and her manager saying, no you are doing it.

Attention coffee lovers!

The panel discussion was followed with a demonstration from Sahra Nguyen, an entrepreneur who founded her own Vietnamese coffee company, Nguyen Coffee Supply, to bring awareness to the coffee supply chain in Vietnam and to draw attention to lack of visibility and awareness that leads to exploitation in it. She stated that Vietnam is the world’s second-largest producer of coffee, a fact not realized by many people around the world. She shared her experience as a female, Vietnamese-American founder and entrepreneur, starting out from scratch by using her own credit cards, then growing her success and making it onto the cover of Food and Wine magazine. While demonstrating how to make (what looked like delicious) coffee, she educated the participants about Vietnamese coffee and what she was doing to work with coffee producers to focus on producing less quantity, to be more sustainable and instead focus on higher quality coffee beans. She was working to bring visibility to a more ethical supply chain and shared her passion and enthusiasm for Vietnamese coffee.

Inspiring and timely panel

The panel closed with many participants sharing that they were inspired by the speakers’ messages in this interesting panel supporting women in tech and finance. From RightsTech Women’s point of view, the discussion was timely and could not have been more relevant to the major shifts taking place for women in tech and finance employment today.

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