Workday: Female senior execs speak out on women in technology

SaaS vendor Workday employs four female C-level executives. Listen to their advice on promoting gender diversity and how women can get ahead.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

The role of women and gender diversity in technology is an important topic. Although the issue is gaining greater attention, the challenge of workplace bias remains.

The following stats, from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, are telling. In the US workforce in 2016...

  • 57 percent of professional occupations were held by women
  • 26 percent of professional computing occupations were held by women
  • 20 percent of Fortune 100 CIO positions were held by women
  • 26 percent of computing workforce were women
  • 3 percent of computing workforce were African-American women
  • 5 percent of computing workforce were Asian women
  • 2 percent of computing workforce were Hispanic women

The problem is deep-rooted and hard to solve, but there are solutions and bright spots. Forward-thinking technology companies now recognize the value and importance of diversity in all its forms, including gender diversity. Large organizations such as Accenture and Salesforce are among those that have made real strides.

Read more about female C-level execs:

HCM and financials software-as-a-service vendor, Workday, offers an instructive example of gender diversity. The company includes four women among the ranks of its C-level executives:

I invited all four of these C-level execs together on an episode of the CXOTALK series of conversations with innovators. As you can see from the video embedded above, it was an extraordinary discussion.

The conversation covered topics ranging from collaboration and setting boundaries to practical strategies and advice for women to achieve recognition and success in male-dominated fields. Importantly, these executives shared specific recommendations for organizations to improve their gender diversity.

Read the entire transcript at the CXOTALK site and check out the edited and abridged version below.

What is your role at Workday?

Ashley Goldsmith:

Some people would call my job "human resources," but at Workday, we characterize it as people, purpose, and places, which means I have responsibility for the traditional HR things like compensations and employee development. But also, areas like employee communications, philanthropy, and our workplace facilities. My focus is all about the employee experience, making sure that we are creating a great experience so that we innovate and provide perfect customer service.

Christine Cefalo:

I'm the Chief Marketing Officer. My job is to generate awareness and build demand for Workday's products all around the world. And, just as important, of course, is to hire and develop great talent to bring our marketing organization into the future.

Robynne Sisco:

I was a customer of Workday's and enamored by the Workday technology, and so ended up coming here five years ago as Chief Accounting Officer and was fortunate enough to be appointed CFO. I'm responsible for all the financial functions of Workday, which includes running all of our financial systems within Workday as well.

Diana McKenzie:

I have responsibility for all core IT systems at Workday. We also have a team that we call "WOW," stands for "Workday on Workday," and their mission is to help Workday be our first and best customer of our products, and I have responsibility for that team as well. And lastly, I have responsibility for the security that we provide to our company around corporate security as well as for our platform.

How can we encourage women in technology?

[Question asked by Gus Bekdash on Twitter.]

Robynne Sisco:

I think that it comes down to the culture of the company and whether that culture is one of hiring and promoting the right people for the job, regardless of gender or diversity and background or anything else. And once you have shown that you are that type of company, then you're going to start attracting more women.

We're in our roles here because we were the best people for the job. Not because we're women but because we were the most qualified. People looking from the outside in can say, "Well, I know that I can have a successful career there as a woman because Workday has proven that they promote on ability and don't have a gender bias, and other types of biases."

It can be difficult. Over my career, I've certainly worked for companies where I did not feel like I had the opportunities that I wanted. And, that's a hard battle to fight: one person trying to change a company culture.

I do think sometimes you need to leave your company to find the opportunities for which you are you ae looking. That was certainly the path that I ended up having to take a few times in my career.

Ashley Goldsmith:

The pool may be smaller, but we can still have a lot more women in the workforce.

And regarding advice to women, there's data that's shown the power of your network. The people that have a broad network and deep network across their organization or their industry have far greater success. They will move up more quickly; they will ultimately be more successful in their career.

When you find yourself in the minority in the organization, whether female or otherwise, you could find yourself with a much smaller network just naturally happening. We can take it upon ourselves to proactively build that network by forming relationships, reaching out, and being more intentional with our network. And not just up. I think it's a natural assumption to think I need to get to know the people above me so that they will be sponsoring me. Yes, there's certainly no harm in that. But, peers. Even that newest intern; you never know who will play an important role in your professional life over time. So, I think network expansion is something important.

Diana McKenzie:

We can all help each other. In several forums that I attend, I'm one of two or three women in a group of thirty, forty CIOs. And, one of the things that we've all started to do more is to proactively seek out other women that we know that would be great for that forum, and work hard to extend the invitation so that there is more diversity around the table.

When there's more diversity around the table, the conversation changes and the opportunity for inclusion becomes greater.

Workday has four female C-level executives. Was this by design or did it happen organically?

Ashley Goldsmith:

Workday's culture and values set the stage for us to have a very diverse group of executives. We didn't set out with a goal like we're going to have a certain percentage of women on our executive team. But, it is a priority for us to create a sense of belonging for every single person.

We're a company that emphasizes contribution wildly over a person's gender, or their race, or any other characteristic. When you have that fundamental, then you are more likely to select whoever is the right person for the job.

Diana McKenzie:

I can build on that. When I came to Workday for the first set of conversations, the very first person I met was Ashley. And I was so taken wither her. Then, I had the opportunity then to connect with Robynne, and she was so energetic and positive about the company and its values.

I knew that the company was ranked very well in the Fortune-100 from a diversity perspective.

There are relatively few female CIOs, so what about IT?

Diana McKenzie:

This is a focus area for me. Statistics show that quite a few number of women are choosing to major in the field of science and technology. They emerge from the university and join the ranks but there's a point where they decide not to continue. There's an opportunity to catch some of the women at that stage of their career and make sure they get access to the best mentors and the best sponsors to make the right decisions.

Within my organization specifically, we have sponsored a book review of The Confidence Code. It's a very good read, research-based, on how women sometimes don't put themselves forward for that next position because of fear they may not bring everything to it; that they may not have all the experience that they need to take on that position.

How do we help each other build the confidence that we need to take that leap to say "yes" when you're asked to do something that you think you may not be completely prepared for? That's the way you're going to stretch and grow the most. And if you fail, you'll learn from it, and you'll pick yourself up and keep moving.

So, I think there's some element of helping women to think differently about how they can push themselves further in this career that will help us to build the ranks and the pool of future leaders and CIOs.

What advice do you have for women?

Robynne Sisco:

If we're looking at promoting somebody, maybe into a role we just got promoted out of, we tend to look for people who will do the job the same way that we did, because that's our comfort level. The awareness of that bias is important for leaders and managers to think about because maybe the best person for the job is someone who's going to do things completely different from how you did them. That diversity of thought can be really, really important.

Think about how you look at the candidates for a job, whether it's an external hire or an internal promotion. Do I have an unconscious bias to find somebody who's like me or would the company benefit from somebody who's quite different? Open your mind to opportunities for people.

Maybe it's somebody who's never done that role before. Certainly, all of us had to break through the ranks of the CXO job, and that's not an easy thing to do. But somewhere along the line, someone gave us the opportunity to do a role that we had never done before.

If we can get managers and leaders to think a little differently and realize that the best person for the role may not be somebody who has already done it before.

Christine Cefalo:

I thought the same thing, which is, "Ask, ask, ask." Speak up! Have confidence, like you're amazing! Find a mentor, find a sponsor. I look at those as slightly different, but sometimes, it's the same. But I've had great mentors and great sponsors. I guess we all have.

Those are all things that you can do. And they're very hard, too. To speak up sometimes is hard. To be confident is hard. Remember that and have that confidence.

How can organizations increase diversity?

Ashley Goldsmith:

I think most companies want diversity in their organization but don't necessarily know exactly how to get there; it's certainly something that we all face.

Having good data is one of the most important things because it goes beyond just knowing what your percentages are and hoping that you can raise those, but being intentional with your data.

For instance, the four of us talked about questions we need to answer about diversity at Workday; how do we have that data ready? So, we have diversity dashboards that speak to the common questions. [What data] can get into the heart of where you might be losing your diversity? [For example,] what are your promotion rates? Where does attrition vary within your organization? How does pay parity look? Where are you losing people in the attraction funnel? Are you getting enough people at the top and are they falling out during the interview phase?

If you know where you have an issue, you can target your efforts. That's where you can look at whether you need to block bias that may inadvertently exist somewhere or look at better attraction programs.

Once you have the data, then it becomes a lot easier to be intentional.

What is the value of developing a diverse organization?

Robynne Sisco:

When you get different points of view and perspectives, and people with different backgrounds in a room together, you're going to end up with the best answer you can generate. You won't have groupthink. With diverse perspectives on a problem, you can then apply your core values like what's right for Workday, what's right for the customer, what's right for the employees. [This leads] to the best solution to a problem that likely nobody would come to by themselves.

That diversity of thought, that diversity of experience, and the diversity of background helps bring the different perspectives together. You end up with the best decisions and best creativity, which is important particularly in a technology company.

Diana McKenzie:

Our customers are all very diverse. Having that diversity at the leadership table within our organization helps us better connect with them. To make sure we're truly listening to their needs and their wants and reflecting those in our products and communications as we reach out to them about what our products can do.

Ashley Goldsmith:

The demographics. If you just take the US, the demographics of the US are shifting dramatically. So quickly. We will be a country where the minority is the majority in just a matter of years. Companies that don't get this right are going to struggle to have the talent that they need because diversity is part of who we are.

Christine Cefalo:

I have nothing to add because of these ... I'm so proud to be a part of this team, and they said it perfectly! So, I have nothing to add. Thank you, Michael!

CXOTALK brings you the world's most innovative business leaders, authors, and analysts for in-depth discussion unavailable anywhere else. Thank you to Livestream for underwriting this episode.

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