Interview with Rikke Rønnau, Group Senior Vice President, People & Culture
In 2021, Systematic signed up to the Confederation of Danish Industry’s Gender Diversity Pledge, in which we commit to actively working to achieve a more equal gender distribution in the workplace. In our case, this means that we need to work harder to employ more women, especially in our development teams. But why exactly – and how? We discussed the issue with Rikke Rønnau, Group Senior Vice President People & Culture.
Why is it so important that more women come and work with software development?
“Both research and experience show that diversity in the workplace promotes well-being, efficiency and overall performance. It is true not just for gender – but also for many other parameters such as age, nationality etc. We, humans, are apparently more open-minded, curious and solution-oriented when we spend time with others who don’t necessarily resemble us or think in the same way. In terms of the age profile of individual teams, we’re doing pretty well, and it’s clear that there is often a good dynamic in those teams where several different age groups are working together,” she says.
What will it take to make more women choose an IT career path?
“I think it requires a combination of being able to see the overall purpose of what you are doing while simultaneously sparking an interest in working with software development and IT projects. We need to give young women choosing an education a more concrete idea of what IT development can be used for. ‘Computer science’ sounds pretty dry if you’re unable to envisage how, once qualified, you can help to create positive change for other people and society at large. You must be able to understand how code lines and system architecture can help those working in, for example, elderly care, in hospitals, in defence, for the emergency services, in schools and in libraries. These are the areas which we’re developing systems for – and there’s no doubt that it helps to make one feel that you’re contributing something meaningful every day. Of course, it goes without saying that you also need to enjoy working in project groups, writing code and testing the systems.”
What does Systematic do?
“We have several employer panels at the universities, where we are working to make technical IT study programmes more attractive – both for men and women. It’s quite interesting that several findings show that simply the way in which you describe a study programme or job position has a big influence on whether women find it appealing or not – and it’s also something we need to work on more at Systematic.
Politically, efforts are being made to increase the number of IT students. We are backing this up by, for example, supporting the work of the Confederation of Danish Industry and by addressing the issue in the media whenever the opportunity arises. Having said that, I think we need to do more to show that software development is interesting and what it can be used for – and that we should start doing this well before young people choose what they want to study. One thing we want to contribute to is challenging the gender stereotypes that children are often burdened with from a very young age, and which often remain with them right up until they choose their line of study: Boys are good at mathematics and technology. Girls have excellent language and social skills. If we fail to tackle these misconceptions, we’re helping to maintain inappropriate roles in society, and that does nothing to help anyone.”
The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How is Systematic contributing?
“We’re very aware of our shortcomings – for example, that there are special roles where almost no women are employed. This applies to architects, for example, where there are generally very few women. We want to ensure that we do not unconsciously keep them at arm’s length, which is why we are looking at unconscious bias.”
How do you work with something that is unconscious?
“It is by its nature quite difficult. Nonetheless, we’re trying. We’re helped by the fact that we have a very thorough recruitment process, where employees with different genders, roles, ages and sometimes also nationalities help assess the candidates. It’s important that the selection process is not performed by a single person or two people who are too similar. At the same time, we are looking at how candidates experience our recruitment process, for example how we describe open jobs at Systematic, to ensure that we do not unconsciously appeal less to women than to men. There can be blind spots here as well which can have a bearing on who wants to work for us.”