During her 24 years working at technology companies in Ireland, Rhonda Doyle has seen a lot of positive change for women. This includes recognition of a gap when it comes to gender imbalance in the workplace, data proving the business case for more diverse teams, and the rise in female role models.
Progressive policies to attract and retain females, such as flexibility around family and lifestyle, are also now more common. Doyle, who is Senior Director, Field Services Operations UK&I at Schneider Electric, says:
I’ve seen a lot more on that in recent years because quite frankly, we're operating from a very limited pool coming up through the colleges.
Governments have also recognized that the funnel isn't there to bring more women into tech, so there's more focus on education at school and college level, including internships.
However, despite the shift in attitude and awareness, Doyle still comes across people who don't understand why diversity and inclusion is important. That in an industry which is still less than 25% female:
“If you bring that into college courses or into the workplace, we have this scenario where maybe you're the only one or one of three. That gets us into a whole other piece around do females feel like they belong in the environment and what you can do there.
Doyle did not follow a formal education route into the technology workplace. Instead, she would describe her career as happening organically, learning along the way what she enjoyed:
That's important for people to know because often when I'm helping early career individuals, they're looking for the perfect role
While finishing college with a primary degree in philosophy, Doyle’s first foray into technology was with Esat BT in 1999:
I probably wasn't thinking I'm going for the technology sector. It just happened and I came in through services, and services is everywhere. Even now when you're looking at technology, we need to make sure that our deep technology people are always thinking about the customer and not just some cool thing that they want to create and design.
In 2004, eBay and PayPal were setting up in Ireland and Doyle joined the auction company as one of its first employees in the country. By that stage, she had gone from a services career into people leadership, and joined eBay as a supervisor in customer services:
It was a great time because the company was growing. Every couple of months I got to move around the business and try out different roles, working with some of the deeper technology teams on some of the new CRM systems or the customer product offers that we would do.
While the first two-thirds of her career were in the services space leading different customer services teams, in the latter part Doyle has moved into global project and program management. She achieved this by acquiring different skills along the way, including a part-time Master's at eBay and a diploma in project management.
After 17 years at eBay, the latter four of which were spent as Director for Operations & Program Management and Global Customer Experience, Doyle felt it was time for a change. When Schneider reached out to her, she wasn't as aware of the brand at the time:
We often say that it's one of the biggest companies in the world that's unknown because a lot of what we do is behind the scenes for other companies.
While Schneider is officially in the tech sector, the company has more of a construction and engineering background, typically areas with fewer females. Doyle says:
If you have a company that has a lot of engineers, even today when I look at some of our team in Ireland, we would talk to some of the females and they may have been the only one or two in their class coming up.
eBay was very diverse, but the deeper you went into technology, you tend to find less females. When I came into Schneider in Ireland, initially I was the only female on the leadership team. Whereas if I look around right now, we've added a lot more females over the last couple of years.
This is being aided by Schneider’s 50:40:30 gender goal: women should account for 50% of all new hires, 40% of frontline managers and 30% of senior leaders by 2025. At the graduate level, the firm also targets a 50/50 gender split, notes Doyle:
We have a very clear message in our business that diversity matters and when that comes from the top, it's a lot easier for people to row in behind.
Schneider is developing progressive policies, including a recent update to its maternity policy, shared parental leave and bereavement leave. It also had an employee resource group work on a menopause policy last year, all of which helps to give the feeling of a more supportive and inclusive environment. Doyle explains:
All the numbers on diversity and inclusion show us that we get better performance as a business. But if female talent is a very limited pool, you want to make sure that you have policies, whether it's menopause or flexible working, that will attract and retain.
On the recruitment front, the organization is spending a lot of time around apprenticeships, graduate programs and college partnerships, as well as internally looking at its own data to see where else it needs to move the needle. Doyle says:
We found in our sales teams, we really need to be adding more females. Some of that you have a dependency on technical knowledge but there's a lot that we can teach people with transferable skills. So we put in our golden hiring rules, which means we must have a diverse panel interviewing and we must have at least one female in that. We've already driven up the number of female hires that we've had this year.
There are a few pieces of advice Doyle would give to her younger self. The most important is not focusing on finding that perfect role, especially early in your career. Instead, start thinking about what are the skill blocks that you want to build, and then you can add those into your career:
Be okay with exploring different roles and building those skills along the way. As you start to identify other roles that you might like, what are the skills that you'd need to add.
Continuous learning is key, even more so in our world today where everything is changing. Every couple of years I do something to keep myself fresh.
Transferrable skills like leadership and problem solving are vital, even for the more technical roles, Doyle adds:
When I was hired into Schneider, it was more for the transferable skills that I was bringing. They knew we have some of the best engineers in the world, that's not what we were trying to add with me coming in.
When I talk to engineers or anybody deep in technology roles, they'll often talk about solving for problems. If I think about my philosophy degree, that was about critical thinking, and it's very similar.
Another piece of advice is how to equip yourself with confidence and resilience, she says:
It's easy to acquire the hard skills of project management. But being a female where sometimes I've been in very diverse teams and then other times, I've been that only female, in my early career I wasn't as confident. What kept me going was a determination to get the job done. I was passionate either about the work or the customer. Sometimes where I see females particularly wobble is around the confidence.
Companies with an open environment can help women build this confidence, as it allows them to share scenarios and get advice on dealing with them. It’s the duty of anyone who has managed to get a step ahead in their career to help the next couple of people coming up, Doyle maintains, particularly in a leadership role.
As a female who's come back to work after having children over the years, she watches out for those other females in that situation, because it’s a difficult transitional time where the emotional connection with the company is broken:
It's almost like starting new again sometimes. How can you support people through that.
One last tip: ask for help. Doyle concludes:
Coming up in my career, especially as a female, you feel you have to prove yourself a bit more, you've worked a bit harder, you can do it alone. Whereas more and more what I've learned over my career is to reach out and get help from others or bounce ideas off other people.