Louise Ah-Wong, Managing Director – Transformation at Agilisys discusses why much more needs to be done to provide solutions that increase women’s ability to stay in the sector and pursue a career on their own terms and at their own pace.
Since moving to the UK from New Zealand and joining Agilisys in 2005, I’ve seen lots of colleagues come and go. My reflection on this time is that it has been more difficult for women to thrive in the professional services arena. It’s a career where there’s a requirement for travel and to be away from home for long periods of time, which for the career-minded among us, means making tough decisions about life, particularly the question of babies. While I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really brilliant female leaders at Agilisys, the fact remains that there are less women in consultancy roles and the broader tech sector is struggling to attract and retain us. That says so much about the career versus family choice women have had to make.
I say this from personal experience. I came to the UK with my partner of 20 years and both of us have been very career minded, but we got to the stage, three years ago where we both decided we wanted to try having children. Embarking on fertility treatment we discovered how difficult it was going to be, because we had left it so long to start a family, because we felt we had to make a choice between pursuing career or family.
Now that I’m lucky enough to have come out the other side – we have a beautiful baby boy – I realise that there’s no need for women, and men for that matter, to have to make the big decisions – we can do both, but only if we create an environment that supports people to make the choices that are right for them and remove the barriers that women experience in returning to work and continuing a successful career that works for them and their families.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen a number of successful women in Agilisys leave when they’ve had children because we couldn’t offer them suitable alternative roles or reduce their travel expectations. At the time there was no policies or initiatives to support women transition back to work. This is all changing, with the size and nature of the work that we do, the awareness of the issues and the fact that we are seeing women and men in shared parenting arrangements at home. Technology has also moved on, enabling us to work more flexibly from all sorts of locations and time zones.
However, much, much more needs to be done to provide solutions that increase women’s ability to stay in the sector and pursue a career on their own terms and at their own pace. This needs to begin with opening up conversations and changing the policies that we provide.
Since I’ve become a parent, I feel like a whole community has opened up that I didn’t realise existed. A lot of colleagues, women and men, are being extremely helpful in talking about the pressures they face balancing work and childcare and how they overcome them, which is something we should encourage if we’re to create an inclusive workplace.
This has really shaped my thinking for the Agilisys Diversity & Inclusion Group. I think it’s important we strive to support all of our people. I’ve had a number of people who’ve worked in my division over the years, male and female, who’ve had to deal with serious personal challenges such as post-natal depression and cot death. Looking back, I feel really proud about the way that we, as a company and HR team, connected those people to others who have experience similar issues. The more we can talk about these things, in the work context, because we spend so much time at work, the more we can really support everyone, not just women, balance work and life.
Making this a priority would give us a culture to be proud of as a business. Wouldn’t it be great if we, as part of our benefits package, helped to finance IVF treatment or egg freezing initiatives? I know it’s typically more of a private domain thing, but when we talk about authenticity and wanting to bring our whole beings to work, we should be able to support and help. How many other people does this happen to? How many of our colleagues are having fertility treatment and need our support? If you can blow open this topic and get people talking about it, without fear of it affecting chances of career progression, we can make a true difference. That would be so amazing. It is happening out there and unless we are able to talk about these things and support our people, we can’t really make a difference.
The world is changing, especially the role of women in the workplace, creating a great opportunity for Agilisys to think differently as a company and challenge ourselves to help people bring their whole selves to work. It’s about connecting better, understanding where people are in their lives and giving them the opportunity for them to fulfil their potential.