Championing Equality: Experiences of Allyship in the Tech Industry

This Women’s Month, Finyx have spotlighted the hard work of our talented Women and the subsequent value of working towards equality within our business and beyond.  Our SLT have acknowledged the importance of inspirational women within the tech industry with an internal recognition award. Our WiT team have highlighted the importance of proactively engaging with clients in important conversations and driving social impact via external marketing. Our I, D & E board have educated the Finyx team with a Women’s Month themed town hall, to update on the events and experiences of the last year and outlined next steps to ensure momentum on reaching our goals and continuing to develop a progressive culture.

Now, in an effort to understand how we can come together to continually tackle inequality within the tech industry, we are rounding out the month by exploring the experiences of some of our Finyx colleagues on both the giving and receiving end of allyship.

Personal Experiences with Allyship

Kyra Smith is a Managing Consultant at Finyx and a keen advocate for I, D & E as part of the WiT working group. With over 20 years’ experience in Programme and Portfolio leadership roles, she offers her personal stories to educate on how to (and not to!) approach allyship.

Can you share a specific instance where someone acted as an ally to support you in your tech career?

It was when I took over running a data centre transformation programme in Finland and worked for a male boss who proved to be a memorable ally. The previous programme director was a highly regarded male consultant with a technical background and the technical teams that worked for me on the programme were naturally predominantly male. My team were largely comprised of teams working onsite for a large offshore outsourcer. 

Right from the start these technical teams were openly suspicious that a woman could run such a technical programme. My focus was on delivery, and I cracked on with leading the design and implementation of all aspects of the data centre modernisation with my usual determination. I have an MSc in Computer Sciences and had already delivered technical projects successfully before in my career, so I had confidence in my technical ability.

What was harder and more nebulous were the early behavioural challenges I faced – like the team refusing to take direction from me without a ‘technical’ male from my peer leadership team ratifying it. Finland was the first country in the world to give women the vote and it was a progressive working environment, but the dynamics of the outsourced team and their blatant sexism were really at play. What made the difference was that if any of the teams went to my boss (my ally in this case) to question a decision I made he would unequivocally back me up.

How did this ally demonstrate their support? What actions did they take?

My ally would say, again and again: “She is right, she is the expert, she is the boss – do what she says and don’t waste time!”. He never undermined me and he made me feel completely trusted. What was really unique was the consistency of his response and that support built my confidence, the teams’ confidence in me as well as reduced the questions. I delivered that programme successfully and at the end was recognized for my technical aptitude and delivery competence – in short, I ended up with the respect that I deserved but had to earn harder than any male.

What impact did this allyship have on your career trajectory and personal growth?

The allyship in this situation made a difference to my confidence in the main. Even now when I feel undermined, I can recall this ally’s voice saying, “You are right”.

Funnily enough, very recently, I was having a conversation with an architect working on one of the projects in a programme I run and I questioned an aspect about storage vs hosting service demarcation point and he explained to me that ‘storage’ was not cupboards!

I just laughed, explained I had data centre stripes and sharpened my question. In that previous role where my ally supported me so well – just one of the projects I had led involved the modernisation of SAN fabric,  a Storage Array Consolidation of several PBs of data and a NAS upgrade. I’ve also supported STaaS solutions since. So this recent comment is a revealing anecdote to close this story 😲

This kind of bias is common-place for us Women in Technology. What I know is that we must own our power and not be afraid to state our expertise and experience – it is not boastful, it’s the truth. When speaking up doesn’t work then that is when we need allies to wade in – and act to address this kind of bias. 

The Importance of Allyship

Matt Haynes is a Director and active participant in expanding the knowledge of allyship within Finyx by attending WiT driven events, most recently the WeAreTechWomen Level up Summit. As an experienced client management and delivery professional, Matt offers important advice to consider when managing and working cohesively with diverse teams.

Why do you believe allyship is crucial, especially for women in the tech industry?

Allyship is vital because it is the step from passive well-meaning thoughts to active support. I’m certain that almost everyone (and certainly everyone at Finyx) thinks that people should be treated fairly and equally, and that no-one should suffer discrimination in the workplace. If asked, nearly all would say that they support the principle of empowering marginalised groups and removing barriers to achieve a more level professional environment. This passive support is still positive and should be recognised and encouraged; not everyone will feel able or comfortable to be a visible and prominent ally, and that should be understood and accepted. However, passive support on its own will not be enough to make material and sustainable progress on breaking down systemic (and often unintentional) inhibitors to driving greater inclusion and diversity. Directly because of being part of a marginalised or under-represented group, people who are directly and indirectly discriminated against are much less able to advocate for themselves at scale – most senior positions are not held by people from these groups. Until a more equal balance is achieved, allyship from people who are in these positions today, and who can influence and advocate right now for others, is essential to drive fast and effective change. Recognising that there is so much more to do, and committing to being an active part of the change you want to see is something that everyone should consider.

What advice would you give to individuals who want to become better allies to their colleagues?

Sometimes allyship can feel uncomfortable. That’s ok. Recognising and acknowledging that discomfort is an important first step. It’s also a potentially helpful indicator; if you are uncomfortable talking about something it’s often because things that we feel to be taboo topics are part of that scaffolding that can reinforce biases and prevent inclusivity. The best antidote to this discomfort is to try and educate yourself – be curious, and open to being pushed out of your comfort zone. You can do this privately, you don’t have to rush to engage in conversations you don’t feel equipped for, and there is a wealth of material out there to help. As an example, for all male allies, if you do one thing this Women’s Month – read Period by Emma Barnett.

Be cautious and empathetic about how you approach allyship. Don’t tell people how you are going to help them. Ask colleagues about whether you can help, and what form that support could take. Actively look out for opportunities to include, promote, and advocate. Try stuff. Allyship is not a single action; it’s an ongoing process.