Welcome to Tax Matters, a Vertex podcast! I’m Tricia Schafer-Petrecz, Public Relations and Social Media Lead at Vertex.
In this episode, Vertex Senior Director Robin Allen discusses DEI – the abbreviation for diversity, equity and inclusion – with business writer Eric Krell. Robin holds leadership and management roles in Agile Program Management in Corporate IT.
Robin talks about how businesses can derive value by investing in DEI. These benefits include innovation and creativity improvements, access to a richer recruiting pool and bottom-line growth. Robin shares her personal perspectives on DEI matters. She also discusses the technology profession’s DEI challenge and identifies several key considerations for hiring organizations and candidates.
Now, I’ll turn it over to Robin and Eric…
Eric Krell: The technology industry and the technology profession have a challenge concerning diversity, equity and inclusion or “DEI.” Robin, can you please share your view on this challenge and highlight approaches to addressing it?
Robin Allen: As a woman of color, I have found it difficult to see myself in my professional life. What do I mean by that? Well, technology is still a profession where we see men as the individuals leading the organization at all levels. Women in technology remains a challenge for most industries. Add to it being a woman of color. I have found many times I am the only one. The organization hires what they know. Yet, studies have shown the value of a diverse population. Organizations typically see more growth with a diverse workforce. People with diverse backgrounds often bring creativity and are open to different ways of thinking.
Eric Krell: Please tell me a little bit about your personal experience as woman of color in the technology profession – and how that’s shaped your current perspective on DEI matters.
Robin Allen: Well, I’ve experienced being the only one a lot—the surprise in people’s eyes when I share either what I do or my title. The questions -- how did you do that? Do you realize that there are not many with your responsibilities? The only leader who is a woman and a woman of color. Feeling of exclusion and not inclusion. Knowing that I am being treated differently because I am who I am. I am here as the one to meet the number, yet I’m here because I deserve to be here. Finding my voice and my place has been a journey for me. You see, I am more than capable and deserve to have my voice heard. I know I have sought-after skills and something to offer. My experiences, background, education, a thirst for learning and continued growth, family and friends make up who I am and who I choose to be. It is those diverse ways of thinking that add value to the right organization. I cannot change every person, but I am open to those that want to discuss. I must give it back, listen, offer my time and experience to others.
Eric Krell: What do you see as some of the root causes of tech’s diversity challenge that require attention?
Robin Allen: With women in technology, connecting at the middle school and high school ages helps. The perception of the technology roles for young women evolves into the roles that typically only exist for men. The possibilities are not appealing. It is not clear what the opportunities are, meaning it is not just roles that are computer-specific, like programming. Organizations are still hiring in the same way at leadership levels. Companies need to broaden the recruiting pool, promote the rising star or actively look for individuals with diverse backgrounds. When filling a role, people with diverse backgrounds can offer different approaches or insights. As I transitioned from the CIO role into another level role, many people questioned my decision. My choice was steeped in the desire to diversify my background. My perspective differs from others because of my experience.
Eric Krell: What are some important DEI considerations from the hiring company perspective?
Robin Allen: Employers must go to where the resources are, so for example, how connected are organizations or HBCUs? To similar types of organizations? Many women stepped away from their professional lives for many reasons, most recently the pandemic. What are employers doing to welcome them back to the workforce? Do we recruit from the same places? How do organizations address the investment part? If we hire early-career individuals, do we have the proper support to encourage and develop the resources – create an internal pipeline? Go to places where there is a potential for talent. When roles are open, target the recruiting efforts. When a leadership role is available, be open to exploring the options, not hiring for the same. Target the up-and-comer. Be open to different types of conversations, realize deficiencies, and connect to the potential.
Eric Krell: How about key considerations from the candidate perspective?
Robin Allen: Networking -- understand the importance. Lots of times, the opportunities come from networking; these are relationships you build and maintain. It may not be a job, but the connection. LinkedIn understands the power of your profile. How we look for candidates has changed, and this social media platform for professionals can be of great help. Understand your social media presence, think of it holistically. If you have access to campus career services, use them. If you are an alumni, leverage your network. Look for interest groups and other ways to connect to people. Always remember, information is readily available, it is easy to research new ways of presenting your experience.
Eric Krell: Are there any approaches that you’ve seen succeed? If so, let’s talk about them.
Robin Allen: Networking and staying connected -- not just via LinkedIn. I use events as a way of expanding my network and connecting to people. Being ready, keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. Have a current resume handy. Be open to opportunities of all kinds. Somethings we get stuck, same types of roles in the same types of organizations. As an example, I have worked in multiple industries. I have a small group of people that serves as my “board of directors.” Create a safe place – that you have trust, respect, and will keep your confidentiality.
Eric Krell: And Robin, I’m curious – what are some of the criteria you use to select your board of directors? What are you looking for when asking folks to help you in that way?
Robin Allen: It’s open. I look for people with maybe similar backgrounds but also sometimes not-similar backgrounds. It’s not a group of people who are all technology professionals. It’s also not all women. It’s men and women. I look to refresh it or change it over a period of time. It’s not 50 people. I’m not going to consult and ask permission to do things, but interact with them in that safe place.
Eric Krell: What else should I keep in mind about DEI in the tech industry and profession?
Robin Allen: This is still a topic, even in 2021, and organizations still need to make strides in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace. I reflect on the women in my own life. I have been fortunate to have examples of women who have supported me and my journey. The data continues to show little change or slow change. Many of my own family members continue to tell stories about their experiences. What has changed? How do I not give up? Do I accept it? No. Show up and be present. I have a voice, and I need to use it. When I get an opportunity to speak to anyone at any stage in their lives, I share and listen. When we do not talk in terms of firsts, an impact has been made.
Eric Krell: Robin, thanks very much for sharing your insights and your personal perspectives, which just strengthen those insights.
Robin Allen: Thank you, Eric.
Tricia Schafer-Petrecz: Thank you for listening to Tax Matters, a Vertex podcast. Check back here for more episodes soon.