The CBR series sees the spotlight put on those championing diversity in tech, positioning themselves as role models for minorities embarking on a career in STEM. In this latest installment, CBR’s Ellie Burns caught up with Aine Denn, Co-Founder of Altify, who revealed her achievements, motivations and top tips for businesses on how diversity and inclusion should be approached.
EB: Why did you choose a career in tech/STEM?
AD: During my childhood and schooldays I was never subject to any of the gender stereotypes, in either academic subjects or in sport and I was equally competitive in both. I was lucky enough to do technical drawing, metal work, maths, computers, physics, chemistry, french, english all alongside home economics. It never bothered me or my teacher that I was the only girl in technical drawing.
When it came to choosing a career or at least a subject to study at college I was looking for one that was challenging, emerging in importance as this was the 1980’s and allowed me to combine my analytical problem solving skills with my communication skills and my curiosity for the world and how things work. Computer Science ticked all the boxes.
EB: What were the main challenges you faced at the start of your career and how did you overcome them?
AD: I had worked all through college in the IT departments of different financial institutions so I was fully aware of how male dominated the world of IT was. The workplace was designed for men and women joining it and trying to fit was a challenge for men just as much as it is for women.
After college I started a career in consulting and I accepted I wasn’t going to change the system overnight. Instead I embraced the differences that my point of view and perspective brought, concentrated on the strengths and established a way of working within the existing system; knowing that by adding value and supported by the other smart women around me change would eventually come.
Having said that I was an active and successful campaigner for the right of women consultants to wear trouser suits! I was also the driving force behind the first female golf team to join the sports and social golf outings.
EB: Tell us about your current role. What motivates you? What has been the driving force behind your career strategy?
AD: What motivates me is the success of both our customers and our team. I am focused on spending time with our customers, working with our sales team on key customer relationships and leading many of strategic programs within the organisation. I am contributing to both customer and company success and this is exactly the mix that I thrive on.
I love being part of a customer’s program as they transform the way their sales team plans and executes so that everyone is selling like their top performers. I really enjoy being part of our customers’ Sales kickoffs, Customer Advisory Boards and being an exec sponsor on key accounts. Likewise I am equally excited to see new members of the Altify team building their pipeline, making their number or doing their first customer pitch. All of my career I have been driven by making an impact to the business, the customers and the teams I have worked with.
EB: What have been your most significant achievements in the IT industry in the past year?
AD: It is the responsibility of anyone who has achieved success in the digital and IT sector to give something back. We have the ability to be role models and to positively affect someone else through our actions. I have been very fortunate that through our Altify Foundation we are able to use our resources to make a positive impact on the world.
In 2006, we established the Altify Foundation to manage our charitable donations and volunteer programs. All through the initiative, 1% of company equity and employee time is used to help change the world and build a movement of corporate philanthropy. In the past year we have been able to support a number of humanitarian and philanthropic causes like Witness and Pledge1% but also our staff and I have been able to work with programs which support Women in business, inspiring others to STEM and to careers in technology like Bridge21, The ADA Lovelace Initiative and Going For Growth.
EB: What is your proudest achievement to date?
AD: When I co-founded Altify with Donal Daly in 2005 there was no understanding of a sales transformation software company. I am very proud that we realised before most that customers were not getting the Return On Investment they were traditionally making in sales and that selling in a digitally transformed world require different tools. I am equally proud that we then evangelised the new way of helping sellers, delivered exceptional solutions, demanded attention in a very noisy market and attracted the world-class customers and talent we did; all through a global recession.
EB: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
AD: Be open; open to new ways of working, open to feedback, open to new challenges and of course to new technologies. I have incorporated the learnings into my working practices from everyone I have worked with over the years and whilst it’s not as easy to teach an old dog new tricks I have definitely continued to learn and develop.
EB: What would be your top tip for women looking to start a career in IT?
AD: For me it has never been technology for technology’s sake; in my career in IT I have always worked for companies where I was very clear about the problem the technology was solving and the impact on the customer. There will be amazing opportunities for men and women alike in the new Digital economy. I would also say it is never too late to start a career in IT as long as you are willing to learn and embrace and enjoy change. IT now encompasses a huge variety of roles and skills.
EB: How would you encourage more women into the IT sector?
AD: I think it starts as early as possible. Did you know that two thirds of students starting school today will work in a job that doesn’t currently exist? It is all of our responsibility to ensure that women are as prepared as men to succeed in these new roles. It is IT that is driving the key transformations in the world today in both our personal and business lives. This will continue at an ever increasing pace. To be part of these advances and to make a big difference in the world, Information Technology is the only field to be in.
EB: How do you think businesses should approach diversity and inclusion?
AD: Diversity can pose significant challenges for businesses and leadership, particularly balancing diversity with other priorities. However we know Diversity drives business results. We saw in the Altify Business Performance Benchmark Study 2017 that those companies with a good track record on diversity are achieving better financial performance.
A recent McKinsey report suggests 15-35 percent better financial results are achieved in
companies where diversity is being promoted. This report looked at gender diverse companies and ethnically diverse companies. However we have a strong point of view that it is diversity of view that is most critical.
As technology seeps further into the everyday domain of all workers in business, there is both risk and opportunity. There is a danger we will filter all information, selecting our preferences and consuming only the data confirms our own inherent biases.
Bias is an increasingly worrying problem and Diversity can be an antidote to bias. Conversing or interacting only with those of a like-minded opinion is not a way to learn or to broaden your perspective. It does not build a network of trust. It is not how we will experience different thinking or expand or question our viewpoint. By embracing diversity we can embrace other opinions, other cultures and other perspectives to offset the risk of a potentially narrowing mindset.
I was heartened to see in the Altify research that IT (82 percent) is well ahead of the average in recognizing the importance of a diversity policy. There is however still room to improve.