Gender diversity at HP: ‘our goal is to achieve a zero percent pay differential’

In conversation with Debbie Irish, head of HR for UK and Ireland at Hewlett-Packard (HP), on diversity trends within the corporation and the tech industry at large

Q. It's staggering that, despite all the efforts the technology industry has been making towards boosting gender diversity at the professional level, 50% of female employees are still abandoning their tech careers. Why do you think this is still the case?

I believe women are more likely to prioritise having a positive work-life balance and may require a specific kind of flexibility from their workplaces in order to achieve that balance. Women – and men – are often not made to feel as though it’s okay to take a career break, with the perceived risk being that returning individuals may feel like they’ve been left behind.

“To some extent, COVID has levelled the playing field – with most people working remotely, home responsibilities tend to be more evenly divided and it’s no longer just women taking parental leave”

To some extent, COVID has levelled the playing field – with most people working remotely, home responsibilities tend to be more evenly divided and it’s no longer just women taking parental leave. Women – and men – take leave for a variety of reasons, including responsibilities of care. Therefore, ensuring these individuals feel comfortable with returning to the workplace is key to enabling better long-term staff retention – a win-win for both employees and companies.

“The future of work is no longer a single, linear career”

The future of work is no longer a single, linear career – individuals who choose to leave and return should be embraced. Companies should welcome the return of experienced individuals, explicitly calling this out and, when an absence has been prolonged, potentially offer additional ‘return to work’ refresher discussions before the actual join date.

Q. Where do you think tech companies are going wrong in the recruitment process when it comes to hiring women?

The industry as a whole is making progress in updating its recruitment process and companies are continuing to adapt. For instance, at HP we are evolving our processes to include greater focus on empowering our hiring managers and employees to be ever more adaptable in the hybrid era, supporting flexible working arrangements that determine the best way for where, how and when people work.

Women may find the wording in job adverts off-putting, so we’ve adapted the way we recruit by running all HP job adverts through ‘Gender Decoder’ language software before listing openings, to ensure any unconscious use of gendered wording is removed. We believe this is a great way of showing how technology can de-bias the hiring process.

Q. HP's 2018-19 gender pay gap report from the government noted that the company's medium hourly pay for female employees is 1.8% lower than men's, and with COVID-19 leading the government to suspend reporting for this year, on top of concerns for the pandemic's impact on gender equality progress, many might be wondering what the company has done in the last 12 months to help close that gap. What would you say to those people?

Our report also showed that HP UK, like the wider technology industry, employs significantly more men (74%) than women (26%). Our goal is to achieve a zero percent pay differential along with an improvement in the male to female employee percentage. We are determined to bring this ratio into better balance by focusing on recruiting, retaining and supporting the career growth of more female talent at all levels, which is why we recently globally pledged to achieve 50/50 gender equality in HP leadership by 2030.

“Our goal is to achieve a zero percent pay differential along with an improvement in the male to female employee percentage”

In addition to the progress in gender balance and constant monitoring of the gender pay gap, we are continuing to meet our pledge to shortlist a diverse range of candidates, which is why over the years we’ve built on three commitments to help HP UK attract, develop and retain women interested in a career in technology: firstly, by aiming to ensure that at least 50% of our top quality annual interns are women; secondly, to establish and develop our returners programme to encourage women to resume their careers after time away and lastly, to work with organisations like the Tech Talent Charter (TTC), an initiative dedicated to increasing diversity in the UK technology industry.

HP was a founding signatory of the TTC in 2017, and we have continued to support the organisation to be part of a collective effort in leveraging solutions to help the tech industry move the dial forward on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Image source: Mimi Thian/Unsplash

Q. In terms of gender diversity, where would the company like to be both in the short- and long-term?

Our short-term goals ladder up to our long-term goals, and that goal is to ultimately reflect the society that we live and operate in. We strive to ensure that everything we do in the short-term is in line with accelerating us towards this main goal.

Recently, we announced our global Sustainable Impact goals for 2030, and many of these included pledges to accelerate gender and racial equality in the technology industry. In addition to our goal of achieving 50/50 gender equality in HP leadership by 2030, HP also committed to achieving greater than 30% technical women and women in engineering roles by 2030.

Q. How should tech companies cement themselves as allies to ambitious women looking to progress their career in the field?

Beyond ensuring that all levels of your business foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment, companies should also prioritise creating a culture that helps female employees feel a sense of belonging in their workplace. One way of doing this is creating a network of allies between female employees and management teams to ensure women feel represented and empowered to drive towards faster progress.

“…companies should also prioritise creating a culture that helps female employees feel a sense of belonging in their workplace”

At HP, our employees have created a Women’s Impact Network – a network of allies across genders that work with the management team to effect meaningful change. An important pillar of this network is ensuring that we bring awareness to industry events like the Women in Tech Conference and create upskilling programmes to target skills or development gaps.

Q. Increasing the female workforce is one thing, but there are also shockingly low levels of female representation in tech leadership roles. How can the sector address this?

It starts at every level and it’s important for companies to have a strategy that ensures intentional steps for sustainable progress are made every year. This is why partnerships with organisations like the TTC are vital and can help companies develop a results-driven strategy. Having an increased focus works, as across TTC signatories, women represent 25% of technical role holders compared with the UK average of 17%.

Low female representation also links back to job retention. HP UK has a 100% rate for maternity returners which is the result of engagement with middle management teams to create an inclusive and flexible workplace. We also drive initiatives that improve gender and ethnicity in tech roles and ensure that every hiring manager in the UK completes our Belonging, Inclusion & Unconscious bias training – our internal systems won’t allow a new hire application to be filed without completing this training. All of our initiatives ensure we not only retain top female talent but also support their careers and development into leadership positions.

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