There is an assumption that women can only do certain things and that they aren’t qualified for more technical roles in the tech industry. Now is the time to break that hierarchy and give everyone equal opportunity. Joining this episode is the founder and director of Inclusioneering, Jo Stansfield, to talk about how the hierarchy affects the gender pay gap. Learn how to break the perceived status of women and how they can learn different skill sets. Learn how to be flexible so that you can move up the ranks and break the pay gap.
A very warm welcome to Jo Stansfield. We’re going to be talking about how the hierarchy in technology teams affects the gender pay gap. Before we do that, I’ll let you know about Inclusioneering, where Jo works, is a social enterprise specializing in diversity, equity, inclusion solutions, and consultancy for technology and engineering organizations. Before we dive into the content of this episode, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s read, shared or subscribe to the first few episodes of the show. I do appreciate and value every single one of you, so thank you for that.
A very warm welcome to Jo. Before we start exploring this fascinating subject of how the hierarchy in technology teams works, what it is, and how that might affect the gender pay gap, I would love you to tell us a bit more about you and Inclusioneering.
Thanks, Sherry. I’m very happy to be here and talk about it. It’s such an important topic. My name is Jo Stansfield. I’m the Founder and Director of Inclusioneering Ltd. We’re a social enterprise specializing in diversity, equity, inclusion, and consultancy for taking engineering firms to help them transform their culture and achieve much better results from their teams in terms of their productivity, innovation through building much greater inclusion and equality in the team. I came to this by route of being a woman in tech myself. Most of my experience in my career has been working in tech teams, doing the engineering, and leading engineering teams to be developing enterprise software. I had a bit of an awakening that being a woman in tech was quite a big deal when I had kids.
Suddenly, I realized that my identity isn’t how I feel about me. It’s also about how other people see me, the assumptions they make, and the expectations they have too. Becoming a mom made it clear that people’s expectations of me didn’t match the ambition and the drive that I had to be doing so much more with my career. That set me off on a path, decided to retrain to understand much more about what’s going on and what are the factors that people create. These assumptions, expectations, and all of the underlying social interaction behind them. I decided to take an Organizational Psychology Master’s Degree as you do, and that led me on completing that to be able to make use of the research that I carried out about taking engineering teams to set up Inclusioneering and build on the findings from all of the research that I did there.
Tell me a bit more about your Master’s because it sounds like you had this awakening when you became a mother and realized that other people’s perceptions of you weren’t what you had. Tell me a bit more about what you looked at in your Master’s.
I signed up for the Master’s Degree while I was leading some technical departments and some of the first things that taught me a lot more about leadership. What it is to be a leader and different styles of leadership that we can take. All of this was building on some strong psychological foundations, looking across dimensions of cognition and social psychology, how people relate, the origins of bias and prejudice, and all of this being rooted in stereotypes. This leads to the attitudes that we form, which lead to the decisions we make and the actions that we take. All of this came together to support me in the leadership role that I had at that time, but it became a growing interest to focus on the diversity aspects.
Why gender and ethnicity matters in closing the gender pay gap.
From that point on within the Master’s Degree, I’m focused on pretty much every single piece of work I could do towards understanding the dynamics of diversity within teams in organizations. We also had lots of topics around coaching, which is now quite integral to part of the work that I’m doing. Looking at organizational development, and change are the things that impact how an organization operates. There’s a lot of foundational stuff that now supports the work that I’m doing to be working with organizations for change.
What specifically did you learn that you’re bringing into the workplace when you work with employers?
In terms of the dynamics of diversity, I think this is where a lot of the key things start to show up. The research that I carried out was very focused on what happens within tech and engineering teams. Can we see anything in the day-to-day experience of people in their teams that highlights things that might predict why we don’t see women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds progressing in the same way that white men do through their careers? All of that research was built upon the social psychology foundations I talked about. It’s understanding the impact of stereotype expectations between different people and how that can lead to bias in terms of what we expect of each other. That can also lead to different kinds of status expectations too.
One thing that I’ve found fascinating in the research, and as I’ve been talking to people about it afterward, is how this status expectation starts aligning between what we see in society and the different types of roles we’ve got in our teams. Within a tech team, you’ve got your developers, testers, user experience, and documentation. There’s a bit of a power hierarchy going on there between all of the different roles in the team. Very often, the developers, architects and the most technical roles are the people who have got the most influence in the team in terms of the direction the team takes. What we see happening is that it starts to align with these kinds of social groups as well.
Women will often find themselves gradually being moved into more people roles regardless of how technical they see themselves. They quite often become project managers or user experience, whereas the men often in the developer roles having that higher status technical work. I’m beginning to understand the dynamics of power, status, and how that influences who really gets the prestigious work. It’s quite fundamental in the work that I’m doing to help build greater inclusion within tech teams to be able to recognize people’s strengths regardless of stereotype expectations that we might have of them.
That resonates because when I was head of IT, I had it fairly mixed team in terms of numbers of men versus women, but all my trainers were female. All of my techy people were male and the service desk was a bit of a mix. I always found that the service desk was a team that always seemed to be at the lowest end of the hierarchy regardless of how senior you were in that service desk team. That resonates because I can see lots of the women that I have worked in their tech careers have ended up migrating into a project management role so it’s interesting that that’s what you’ve found in your research. I can see how it aligns with what’s going on in society as a whole.
It’s interesting to see how that alignment happens without anyone consciously thinking about it. There’s that gradual shift of people moving towards roles that line up with their social status as well. One thing that I found interesting after doing the research is that I’ve been talking to people about race as well as about gender. One thing that I’ve learned is that very often, black people find it very difficult to get the most technical roles. They’re not taken as seriously as their white counterparts, so they’ll enter their career through a different route such as testing. There’s the challenge to overcome the hurdle from moving from a tester into one of the more technical developer roles that is still to overcome. Often, that’s a transition that people don’t manage to make.
One thing that’s heartbreaking about it is that organizations are busy saying, “Where’s the diversity? Why can’t we recruit more diversity into these roles?” I’m busy talking at conferences to people saying, “I’ve been trying so hard to get a developer job. I’ve trained myself in my own time and I’ve done all of this extra project work in my own back, but no one is taking me seriously and I can’t get that more technical job.” There’s a bit of a disconnect between what is there and what we’re recognizing in terms of people’s preferences.
Do you think that’s to do with us as individuals and the way that we present ourselves in the workplace or do you think it has to do with the way that the heads of IT, CIO, CTO, or the head of HR, how they view people or is it a bit of both perhaps?
It’s been a bit of both. Expectations are very pervasive. Everybody has expectations based on stereotypes of pretty much everybody else. I’ve found that women stereotype women as much as men stereotype women. It’s a cultural phenomenon rather than a particular gender against the other gender. It’s something that’s built into all of us of what we expect from each other. We internalize that, too, sometimes. I’ve talked to quite a few women who know that I’m quite good at the people tasks. I want to do the technical stuff, but I can see the people things are what people want me to do.” That expectation gets built into the path that we put for ourselves as well. There are both aspects of it giving that nudge towards the more stereotypical expectation for everybody.
Do you think that women, on the whole, tend to have a more collaborative style of leadership, tend to be better at relationship building? Is that why we end up in this hierarchy of roles in technology?
It can be. It’s important that people do build on their strengths to take the next steps to develop themselves. Talking to women in the tech team often do see in themselves the greater ability to those relationships and help the team to collaborate than they see amongst the rest of the team. They feel like, “Someone has to do this job, so it’s important for me to step up and do it.” I think that there is that greater skill, but of course, everybody is different. What’s important is that we can recognize strengths based on what that person’s saying, doing, and what we hear from them rather than judging based on expectations due to their gender.
We’ve talked about how the architect is at the top of the hierarchy and perhaps, IT trainers or service desk at the bottom of the hierarchy. Not that I believe that, but that’s what the technology society feels that. What can the employers do differently to try and balance that out?
There are a few things. Firstly, it’s about giving everybody the opportunity to progress in their careers and breaking this pattern that I keep seeing where the women or the people in the ethnic minority groups saying, “We want to move into this particular area, but we can’t get there.” It’s making sure that there are opportunities for people to develop and move sideways into different roles. It’s important for that mobility between these hidden parts of the hierarchy. It’s also important to be reviewing pay scales and pay structures in terms of the pay gap, what is fair pay within each of the different roles, and making sure that that is equitable by gender so that within the different roles, there’s equal pay for the work that’s been carried out.
Status expectation starts aligning between what you see in the roles you’ve got in the world.
That’s something I noticed looking at an organization where the more technical roles were on a higher pay scale than the less technical roles, but the less technical roles were in some arguably more important and delivered more value to the business. It is about getting that equity across work that’s of the same value.
It’s interesting how work does get valued. There has been research that showed that for some fields, when more women enter those fields, it’s got the impact of de-valuing that particular piece of work because somehow, it’s not seen as such high status anymore. The organization is questioning what the value is coming from work and being sure to value equally things that are delivering that equal pay too.
It’s a tricky one because you want everybody to be doing the work that they’re good at, they enjoy, and get the most joy, but equally, you don’t want it to be that they’re excluded from a particular type of work because of the colour their skin, their gender, age, or anything. We’ve talked about network architects being at the top of the hierarchy. What is the best way for people to get that sideways move into that type of role or to go from testing to developing, for example?
A lot of the work that I’ve been doing is with agile teams who are self-organizing teams. Their team are empowered to make the decisions about how they do the work and break down the work to solve a particular challenge that their customer has got. Something that I advocate for is to be able to listen to people regardless of the formal job title they have. Everyone has got something to contribute into that understanding of the customer’s needs and turning that into what the solution will be. There’s great scope within agile teams for people to develop flexibility in the type of work they’re doing and to develop skills that are maybe adjacent to what they’ve started off with.
The work that I’ve been doing with agile teams and developing a program for is to help them to understand where that hierarchy is in their team and start breaking down some of the silos that get formed as a result of it. They enable people to contribute more broadly. This is great for individuals but for the team too, because you’ve not got all of these single points of failures that quite often form when the same person always gets the same type of task.
Do you find it had something to the team dynamics, somebody who’s primarily done testing starts to understand the developer’s role or the developer starts to understand the architect’s or the user experience role? Do you find it must add surely to the richness and the quality of the products you produce?
I can speak from my own personal experience having had a range of different roles within tech teams over time, some large and some small companies. Having that understanding from doing aspects of the work of the other roles transforms people’s ability to work together and collaborate effectively and appreciate the challenges and the inputs that they’re getting from across the team.
It always used to drive me nuts. I used to get very frustrated with our network architects because they would say, “Take the server down at 3:00.” We say, “I can’t just take the server down at 3:00 because that’s when the lawyers are going to be busy finishing their pitch documents or their tenders.” “What about 4:00?” I think, “Are you for real?” They don’t have any concept of what’s going on outside of their immediate silo I guess, which always struck me as quite bizarre that if you work in an organization, you’ve got to understand how the end users work. It always used to frustrate the hell out of me, but that was because I would always be on the more people’s side of technology. We’ve talked a bit about that hierarchy and how that reflects in society. What do you think we can all do to make a difference and change?
It’s important for team members to be reflective about what they see going on in the team and help essentially empower each other to be able to contribute their best. Looking around the team and asking yourself the question of, “Who’s not here? Who’s not in the room as we’re making decisions?” That’s a real key question. Often, when someone physically may not be there, they might be nobody of a particular gender represented in the room where it could be a specific person is excluded from a particular decision-making context or it could be that they speak up, but no one listens to what they have to say. The first thing that we can all do quite simply is to ask ourselves that within our context when we’re making decisions, who’s not here and how can we help? Bring them in and make sure that they’ve got a voice within those decisions.
In the work that you do, do you see that’s starting to make a difference where you’ve done that type of work with organizations?
There’s always something that people contribute that you don’t expect. When you get a different voice in the room, it opens up understanding it’s not just seen otherwise. One of the reasons this is so important within tech especially is as we’re building more systems that are making automated decisions about people, particularly with regards to artificial intelligence, the only way that we’re supporting the potential pitfalls and issue areas are when people who understand its application and how it can impact people who’ve got experience of that who can see from their own experience something that others who don’t have that experience or don’t notice. Often, it’s that broader understanding of the domain that comes from having lots of different diverse people represented is important for getting solutions that are equally beneficial for everybody.
Very often, you don’t know what you don’t know. If you don’t have that lived experience, it might never hurt you to think about X because X isn’t anywhere on your horizon. I guess the higher up levels in the hierarchy ensure, invite or encourage the lower-level hierarchy to speak up, the more often they will have the confidence to speak up. For it to make a difference, it’s the stone in the pond and allowing the ripple effect to work its way out.
One case study that I love is this book, Rebel Ideas, by an author called Matthew Syed. He wrote about how one particular airline had transformed itself. It had a bad safety record based in South Korea where it’s a hierarchical society. They discovered an awful lot of the accidents that were happening. The second-in-command pilot had seen what was coming but had been unable to speak up effectively to warn the captain that there was a problem that needed urgent attention.
People should give everybody equal opportunity to progress in their careers.
What they did was train everybody to set expectations, empower the more junior members of the crew to be able to speak up, and raise the safety alerts. That completely turned around the safety record and, nowadays, an exemplary airline that has no issues at all in that regard. The oil and gas industry made very similar recommendations as a result of the deep-water horizon accident that there were lots of warning signs that weren’t effectively heard. Being able to recognize what the people who are on the ground are saying, but not at that point in a hierarchy where you expect to listen to them. That stuff really matters. We’ve got to hear what that is because that’s where some real key insights are coming from.
It’s incredible how the Korean Airline was able to turn around their safety records simply by influencing the hierarchy and giving everybody the permission to speak up and say something. That seems crazy that you’re having an accident because you’re too scared or you don’t have the right status to speak up about something. Thank you so much. I enjoyed this fascinating conversation. Finally, how can readers reach out to you to find out more about the work you do or the work that Inclusioneering does?
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this conversation between me and Jo, where we started talking about the hierarchy in technology teams and how that affects the gender pay gap. I hope that’s been helpful for you.
About Jo Stansfield
Jo began her career as an engineer, progressing to senior management in leading global product development teams delivering enterprise software for the oil and gas, automotive, aerospace and marine sectors. Working in male-dominated industries sparked Jo’s curiosity about the lack of diversity she encountered and inspired her to pivot her focus from the technical to the human dimensions of engineering.
Having recently completed her MSc in Organisational and Business Psychology, Jo is now able to leverage her business psychology skillset in pursuit of companies’ DEI agenda.
Jo’s experiences have reinforced her belief that diverse perspectives and talent recruitment are fundamental to the sustainability of the technology industry, and for the markets and communities it serves.