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Microsoft veteran shifts her focus to advancing the IT industry for women

Diversity goes beyond balancing the internal workforce and should include working with partners that also have diversity as a core objective, says Gavriella Schuster By Karl Flinders, Emea Content Editor, Computer Weekly Published: 14 Jan 2022 11:00 Technology companies must ensure they and their development partners have a diversity of people in senior ranks if…

Diversity should go beyond balancing the workforce. It should also include working with partners who have diversity as a core goal, according to Gavriella Schuster

Karl Flinders

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Published: 14 Jan 2022 11: 00

Technology companies must ensure they and their development partners have a diversity of people in senior ranks if they are to create products and services that reflect the general population.

But this isn’t as easy as adding more women to the workforce or other under-represented groups. It requires diversity at all levels of the organization, even the boardroom.

Such is the importance of diversity today that tech businesses are seeking support in reaching their goals.

After 35 years in the industry, including 26 years at Microsoft, Gavriella Schuster is now offering tech companies, through her advocacy, support in addressing the shortage and lack of influence of women in the global IT sector.

Schuster guides tech firms on ensuring that both their workforce and their products reflect the diversity of the general population.

Her three and a half decades in the IT sector included 26 years at Microsoft, where she held about 15 different jobs across such areas as enterprise services, licensing, training and certification, cloud and enterprise, and ended up leading Microsoft’s channel partner business.

Schuster has seen at first hand the struggles for women in progressing their careers in the tech sector. She said, “It’s very difficult for a woman to progress in the tech sector. Even at Microsoft I was often alone.” “As you move to the higher ranks of leadership, the number of women gets less and less.”

She outlined some of the issues that keep women from achieving their goals. She said that men have a tendency to talk over women and to interrupt their conversations. “As a woman, I felt like I had to build up my credibility every time I opened my mouth.”

This makes the IT industry unattractive to many women, who don’t have a strong sense of belonging within organisations, and there is a heightened need to change this after many women left the tech industry during the pandemic, said Schuster.

“There is a tendency for men to speak over women, to interrupt them and dismiss what they are saying”

Gavriella Schuster

Attracting and retaining women shouldn’t be just a box-ticking exercise to meet diversity targets. It should be a strategy that gives women opportunities and improves the organisation and its products and services.

In her consulting, Schuster focuses on building strong male allies, or as she calls them, frameworks that companies can follow. She said that one framework is designed to help men become allies. It gives them clear guidance on how they can connect with women, get them in their organization, mentor them, and empower them. “Another framework offers advice on behaviours that men can practise every day to become better allies to women and integrate them into their environment.”

Schuster is working on the advisory boards of a number of tech organisations and her latest role is on the advisory board of Swedish tech company Artificial Solutions, which builds conversational artificial intelligence platforms for customer services.

” I am working with Artificial Solutions’ CEO and leadership team to shape the organization to be a leader for diversity and inclusion, and to ensure that the conversational AI they are building is representative and inclusive.” she stated. “I will also help them ensure that partners in their supply chain also have a high degree of diversity and inclusion in their organisation.”

During her time at Microsoft, Schuster worked with its channel partners to support their diversity efforts. After realizing this, she realized that while there was much talk about diversity in partner companies, they weren’t more diverse than those that had come before them.

“When I spoke to the male CEOs at many partners about diversity, they would say ‘there just aren’t enough women out there’. However, this was not true. There are many women out there – these companies just have to know how to recruit them. You have to have the right networks to connect to potential women recruits.”

This is a challenge that software-as-a-service provider Artificial Solutions has identified as being vital to address.

Nicolas Kollerstedt, chief revenue officer at the company, said: “I have been in the tech industry for two decades, including working for US-based startups, and all of them have diversity as one of the first things they mention, but then they say there just aren’t enough women out there. But it is about where you look, what you are looking for and how you set up the interview process.”

Kollerstedt said organisations in the company’s native region are largely the same. He said that while the Nordics are known for being a leader in diversity, he believes other regions have caught up to them and they are now equal or behind other countries.

” My eyes were opened to the possibilities of working with US-basted startups in tech. I was struck by the difficulties faced by black and female tech workers. This made me want to focus on my work in Sweden. We thought we were diverse, but that was not really the case.”

The importance of IT suppliers reflecting society better is undeniable, stated Schuster. “There is always a d

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