Barriers to Entry: Diversity in the Business

Barriers to Entry: Diversity and Gender Inequality in the Business


“I think the glass ceiling is real, right? We all experience it”. Explore the gender inequality barriers faced by women in technology, the vital role of diversity and inclusion, and strategies for systemic change in business.


Diversity and gender inequality: an overview

Let us look at the facts—women in the corporate world are faced with a myriad of barriers.


The stark statistics lay bare the reality: gender-diverse companies see higher financial returns, yet less than seven percent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs and fewer than a quarter of the C-suite are occupied by women. Now, a glaring question emerges: Why, in 2023, is progress towards gender equality still moving at a slow pace?


This roundtable discussion transcended mere statistics, delving into personal journeys, challenges faced in male-dominated spaces and the critical decisions some women make to break free from traditional confines. Join us as we navigate the complexities of gender diversity, from the boardroom to the technology industry, and explore what it truly takes to shatter the glass ceiling and redefine success. 


Barriers to entry and gender inequality: meet the panellists

With Sasha Qadri moderating, the speakers of this roundtable debate included: 


  • Nidhi Howell, IT Director, Marsh
  • Maria Pilar Varela Sepulveda, Digital Transformation Executive, DaasTaas
  • Nafy Diagne, Chief Digital and Customer Experience Officer, Free au Sénégal
  • Anna Brailsford, CEO and Co-Founder, Code First Girls
  • Albi Van Zyl, Chief Sales Strategy and Operations Officer, NTT Data


Watch the roundtable highlights below for Barriers to Entry: Diversity and Gender Inequality in the 2023 Business


Ready to discover more? If you liked these highlights, click the button below to watch the full roundtable debate on YouTube



Gender inequality in the technology industry

In the fast-paced realm of technology, the gender gap remains a formidable challenge. 


Picking apart the statistics, particularly the fact that only a quarter of the C-suite are made up of women, moderator Sasha Qadri asked the panellists the burning question: Why are we still having this conversation in 2023?


In response to this, NTT Data’s Chief Sales Strategy and Operations Officer Albi Van Zyl described this as a complex question that warrants a complex answer in return. “I think the real challenge for us is what they refer to as the broken rungs,” she said. Albi wants organisations to focus more on providing early mentorship, sponsorship and early opportunities to help women move forward when first entering the workforce—whether that is banking or technology. 


For every woman in a technology position, there are 10 men. Maria Pilar Varela Sepulveda discussed the statistics for women in leading technology roles in Brazil, which currently stands at 12 percent. “We see a huge gap that we should try to fix”, she said, stating the fact that the situation for women has not significantly changed, with a bigger proportion of men in the sought-after top-level positions.


“I think the glass ceiling is real, right? We all experience it,” after more than 19 years of experience in the finance industry, Marsh’s IT Director Nidhi Howell is still the only woman in the room. With a lack of role models for women to aspire to in business and technology, Nidhi argued that “if you can't see it, you can't be it.”


Barriers to diversity and the threat of the status quo

A thriving business ecosystem thrives on, and because of, diversity. This section of the roundtable debate explored the broader scope of diversity and inclusion.


“The biggest barrier is the status quo. And it is within organisations as well.” 


CEO and Co-Founder of Code First Girls, Anna Brailsford, said that in her view, this is a topic that we are in danger of talking about too much and not actually acting on it. For those who want to introduce initiatives and make tangible, measurable change, this “puts a target on their back”. 


Anna argued that clients who subscribe to Code First Girls are making sure that they are actually developing the next generation of technology talent rather than consuming talent. When supporting initiatives like hers, Anna believes that the stakeholders involved “genuinely believe in change” and naturally think differently, making them a disruptor. “For me, that is something grounded in action, not simply just talking about the problem.”


Echoing the previous remarks from her fellow roundtable panellists, Free au Sénégal’s Chief Digital and Customer Experience Officer, Nafy Diagne argued that the best way to proceed with systemic change is by (a) amending the hiring process to consider women and men at equal competence, (b) launching a mentorship program within the group, and (c) asking CEOs to appoint their succession plans to women. Nafy argued that these initiatives can help close the gap and give opportunities to men and women at the same level.


Enacting systemic change to overcome barriers

“Okay, I'm white, middle-aged, English and male”, an audience member posed, when prompted to ask the panellists a question. He then explained that around 35 percent of his team are composed of women – “but they’re all too junior”. He wanted to know how he can engage with this without “without sounding like a hypocrite”.


In response, Nidhi commented that she also has a lot of junior women in her team. The questions she believes leaders should be asking are: Where are the opportunities and where’s the growth? 


“We need the white men in the room to help to create the relationships to mentor to shape the futures,” she said. It is also about questioning what women need that their male peers are already receiving “organically”, whether that is building relationships through extracurricular activities or office interactions. For Nidhi, it is about creating an environment where growth is encouraged.


“Encourage women to be promoted as managers and leaders,” one thing that Maria has realised throughout her extensive career is that the more exemplary female leaders there are, the more that barrier will be broken down. This will help organisations understand that it does not matter if you’re a woman or a man–just that you are a good leader. “We think different, we act different than men. And that's okay.”


This roundtable was created in partnership with NTT Data.


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