Inequality

How to empower women and minorities at work: A Black female leader’s perspective

Empowering women and minorities at work; mural; women

Empowering women and minorities at work will help to strengthen the next generation of leaders and innovators. Image: Unsplash / Joel Muniz

LaDavia Drane
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Amazon Web Services
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Inequality

  • Leaders must take steps to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM careers.
  • This includes encouraging their organisations to create mechanisms to diversify workforces, increase access to free tech education and strike up partnerships with likeminded organisations.
  • Leaders should also play a hands-on role to empower women and minorities at work to help them reach their full potential.

There is a pervasive assumption that careers in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) field have traditionally been best suited to white men. And while we are seeing this slowly change, there is still a lot of work to be done.

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Studies show that women make up just 28% of the workforce in STEM— with only 25% of computing roles and 15% of engineering roles in the US being occupied by women. Further, Black workers make up only 9% of the STEM workforce, smaller than their share of all employed US adults (11%).

While these numbers may be surprising and upsetting, there are steps we can take – especially as leaders – to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM careers. As a Black woman in a leadership position in the tech industry, I am no stranger to being a minority in the workplace, but I also know I hold the power to empower others.

Because I’ve faced obstacles that my male counterparts have not, I have a unique perspective on leadership as well as how to navigate a career that allows me to create change that can benefit women and other minorities. I’ve always been passionate about levelling the playing field, especially for women and girls, and I strive to do just that every day through my work at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

As a Black woman in a leadership position in the tech industry, I am no stranger to being a minority in the workplace, but I also know I hold the power to empower others.

LaDavia Drane, AWS

Creating mechanisms to diversify the workforce

Many organisations have begun to take the necessary steps to diversify their recruitment efforts, attracting talent of different genders, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, and I am fortunate to work for one of those companies.

Following the murder of George Floyd, I had the opportunity to help my company decide – at an incredibly high level – how we want to approach our work in inclusion, diversity, and equity. This work is hard, and it’s incredibly emotionally charged, but it’s also unbelievably critical.

The number one thing that makes AWS stand out is that we truly believe that good intentions are not enough, and that we need mechanisms to make progress. For example, we’ve really started thinking differently about how to track data and measure change around inclusion, equity, and diversity at AWS in recent years. We are working hard to ensure that our mechanisms foster full transparency and accountability.

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Providing more access to free technology education

In an effort to make tech more equitable for women and girls, we recently committed to providing 29 million people globally with free cloud skills training by 2025. We expect this effort to significantly increase the number of women and other underrepresented groups in the tech industry by providing access to free cloud education.

I’m also proud to have supported technology education programs such as AWS Educate, which provides students and educators with resources to accelerate cloud-related learning, and AWS GetIT, which encourages girls to consider a career in tech through an inter-school app building competition.

These education programs are investing in the next generation of technology innovators and leaders and are positively impacting millions of people globally.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

Partnering with organisations with the same mission

Through a new partnership with Girls in Tech, the global non-profit organization focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of women in technology, AWS hopes to further inspire women looking to enter a career in STEM and embolden those already working in the field to excel.

Here we are trusting in the power of teamwork to partner with the right organisations to spread awareness for career opportunities in technology and encourage as many interested women as possible to follow their passions.

Leading by example every day to empower women and minorities at work

External efforts are pivotal in providing young girls and women with the tools needed to refine and develop the necessary skills to pursue careers in STEM. However, it’s just as important to drive the design and implementation of internal initiatives to create pathways for women’s advancement inside organizations.

In addition to developing programmes, leaders must play a hands-on role in empowering women to reach their full potential. In that spirit, here are a few insights I’ve gained through my career that help me lead my team effectively:

  • Never be the smartest person in the room: Regardless of your intelligence, experience and insight, remember that others know things you don’t due to their unique knowledge and lived experiences. This is especially true when you have someone who doesn’t look like the others in that room. Bring them up and bring them out!
  • It’s ok to lead from behind: Good managers push their people out front and are comfortable letting them take the lead. I try to give others visibility and opportunity – especially women and minorities. I make it my mission to “unblock and unlock” my team members so they can be the best versions of themselves and do their very best work.
  • Constantly seek feedback: Feedback is a gift. Not everyone works at a data-driven company, but for those of us that do, we know that data, and the stories behind that data, are invaluable. Feedback of any kind shows us our gaps, tells us what we’re doing well and helps us focus on the best ways to make an impact.
  • Invest in the future: The next generation of innovators and leaders is out there. Now is the time to reach out, to encourage and to empower. Take the time to speak to a classroom full of college students, to get involved in a non-profit serving disadvantaged youth, or to simply grab a coffee with an intern looking for guidance.

As a leader, I work hard each day to walk this talk – at both at AWS and in my daily life. Changes like closing the STEM gap won’t happen overnight. As leaders, we can create a serious ripple effect with any one of these steps. Progress is being made now, but we need to get there faster.

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