Last week I spent 2 excellent days at an AWS Public Sector Summit. Federal, state and local governments presented really useful case studies, outlining significant changes to technology, governance and IT operating models made to adopt cloud solutions. Technical experts from AWS and their partners outlined their solutions and what you could do with them. Local, regional and global representatives of AWS’ technology, consulting and management arms covered everything from cloud adoption frameworks to skilling up IT teams, with a healthy amount of code thrown in for good measure.

“Good for you Susan. Get to the point.”

The summit was a terrific opportunity for any agency looking to develop skills in cloud and innovation. What stood out about the 1400-1500 people in the audience however, was that only 10-15% of them were women.

The cloud capability gap between the genders just got wider in government

Knowledge of innovative and emerging technologies is critical in meeting increasing demand for government services. If the teams designing and delivering technology enabled government services don’t:

  • understand how to use the technology and
  • reflect the diversity and demographics of the communities they serve

… we should not shout “Quelle surprise” if citizens and businesses express frustration.

Diversity is far from being just about gender, but if an industry that doesn’t lift heavy things, is perfect for flexible work arrangements and wants people who think outside the square can’t get close to gender parity, how do we expect to shift the dial in more marginalised groups?

Before you tell me that “Women don’t want to go to these things”, pause for thought (or I will START TYPING IN CAPITAL LETTERS). Government organisations find plenty of candidates to send to “Women in Tech” conferences. These forums alleviate the sense of isolation that apparently drives many women out of the industry, as well as inspiring and supporting them, but they don’t often develop technology related capabilities. The intent is admirable, but if these conferences consume the annual training budget for the attendees, someone had better start putting “Has a network and mentor” as a required capability for performance and promotion instead of “understands how technology can support the business”.

Instead of asking women if they want to go,
ask yourself if they need to go

I implore every CIO, every IT manager and every vendor to explicitly ask “Are there any women who should be doing this?” every time that a technical seminar or training opportunity presents itself instead of “Who would like to go?”. It’s a subtle shift that makes a difference.

Don’t assume that women will not be interested and if they are reluctant to attend because they “only work part time” or “are really busy” point out to them that:

a) they are required to develop their capabilities;
b) training to do your job well is not a reward system; and
c) whatever hours they are paid for working includes a training component.

Credit where it is due

In contrast to the audience, more than half of the presenters and facilitators from AWS and their clients were women and they were excellent. The diversity in the AWS team did not look or feel forced because to them it is normal – not one person was out of their depth and the dynamic across their team was impressive. It stood out because the diversity in the audience and amongst other vendors was minimal (and I wonder how many of them noticed). I am not an AWS (or any other vendor) partner and I don’t benefit from plugging them. I am giving AWS kudos here because they deserve it.

AWS have not achieved success “in spite of” their diversity – I suspect it reflects the broader culture they pursue. What small things can each of us do to achieve the same across the technology sector?