"We need diversity to get the best out of everything"
Laura Barrowman, Credit Suisse Chief Technology Officer, on (im)balance, jobs of the future, and why our society is not advancing as fast as technology.
Laura, you are a passionate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education advocate. What drives your enthusiasm?
I'm very, very passionate about getting more women into STEM subjects. If you look at how technology is evolving and the progress of automation and robotics, you realize that the types of jobs that people will have in the future will require a different skill set. To be able to contribute to society, you will need problem-solving skills, knowledge of math and science, plus programming and coding skills.
However, the number of girls studying STEM subjects across the globe is not satisfactory. Furthermore, in most countries that we operate in the number of girls pursuing STEM careers is now below 10 percent. This number has declined over the last few years; it is not even going in the right direction. Unless we deal with the fact that there aren't enough girls taking STEM subjects now, we are creating future workplace inequality by definition.
Recently you took part in a panel discussion "EnGENDERing Success in STEM," at EPFL in Lausanne. I guess it was one way of tackling the issue?
The debate was dedicated to the problem of why females are not going into STEM subjects, what we can do to address it, and what we have done so far. There was a very interesting mix of people at the table: Sabine Süsstrunk, a computer science professor; Ivana Chingovska, a data scientist; James Purvis, the head of HR at CERN; and Caitlin Kraft-Buchman who runs a not-for-profit organization Women@TheTable. So, it was a much broader spectrum of people than just banking or finance. And as it turns out, the problem with gender diversity exists across all industries. It is clear we have to get more girls to go into STEM as a career choice. We need to fix that from a very early level; therefore, we need to involve educators in the process. Otherwise, employers are fighting for the same, very small, pool of people.
Only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education (world average)
Source: Cracking the code: Girls' and women's education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), UNESCO 2017
Health and welfare
Engineering, manufacturing and construction
Natural sciences, mathematics and statistics
Information and communication
What tangible steps can companies like Credit Suisse take to help achieve greater balance?
I think there are a few things. Firstly, we can influence our business partners. In Credit Suisse technology we partner with a number of vendors − some of which are huge technology companies. We need to continue to ask them what they are doing with regard to women and STEM education. Having them understand that it is a differentiating factor that could influence our decision whether to work with them could be powerful in helping to drive the change more broadly.
Secondly, we can work with the government or cooperate with various organizations that share our focus. Credit Suisse partners with the STEM educator called STEMconnector®. They run a program called Million Women Mentors, with the goal to increase the interest and confidence of girls to pursue STEM educations and careers.
Diversity makes for much richer problem-solving.
Thirdly, we can be much more rigorous in our efforts to improve gender diversity in the organization. The more women we have, the more women we'll attract. So whenever we are hiring externally, we need to make sure that we have diverse candidates on the interview slate and wherever possible we have a diverse set of interviewers. Naturally, we should choose the right candidate for the role based on a skill set and capability, but we should be broadening our horizons and ensure we look at a diverse group of candidates each time.
There is currently a strong anti-gender diversity movement from male tech workers, suggesting that women are brought to companies for the sake of statistics. What are your thoughts?
We need diversity to get the best out of every product, every technology, and even every form of government. Otherwise, we will end up in a situation where there is no balanced decision-making process because we don't have the right balance at the table. And it doesn't stop with gender diversity. There's also diversity of thought, diversity of nationalities and cultures, diversity of religion and sexual orientation. All of this, if harnessed, makes for much richer problem-solving. So my argument to that is: yes, we are different. People think differently. And that's exactly why we need diversity. Otherwise, we'll end up with technology built for men by men.
I suppose technology is advancing much faster than our society.
Yes, I had always thought that the new generation would fix the gender inequality problem, but it hasn't played out like that. People generally lean towards people like themselves – it's natural and we just have to challenge it.
There has been a large amount of research on the topic of gender bias and the broad conclusion is that the more women you have in the organization, the more you will attract and this will change the dynamic. It is essential that you have women present throughout the organization. It is not about fixing it at the top or fixing it at the bottom. We have to change the dynamic at every level to enable people to grow and to progress fairly.
For some reason, technology and finance seem to have greater problems with gender diversity than other industries.
Probably some of it is cultural. Banks are historically more traditional and male-dominated. The same thing with technology – traditionally there is a strong male aspect to it. Additionally, science, tech, and math are traditionally considered male subjects. When you look at education and at the way students are educated, these subjects are taught in a way that is more appealing to boys than to girls. I think some new education strategies should be built into the education process that will enable girls to catch up in a way they're comfortable with, which can really change the dynamic. We need to make sure we have the right education at the very beginning.
Last year you received a significant recognition from the Financial Times, that listed you as one of the 100 most influential women in finance. What does it take for a woman to succeed?
Nobody achieves anything by themselves. What we achieve, we achieve as a part of a team, part of an organization. I feel very humbled and very privileged to have had the opportunities that I've had and to be in the position that I'm in. I was able to continue to grow and take on more responsibility. I met great people throughout my career who took me under their wing and pushed me forward by having confidence in me.