Human Resources

Cloud-based Appirio drives diversity through homeworking

In an industry under constant scrutiny for its shocking diversity statistics, the world of technology still has a long way to go before its workforce is representative of the population it serves. However, such a fundamental change will require organisations of all sizes to overhaul their business models and embrace new and innovative working styles.

By these standards, the cloud consultancy company Appirio is already lightyears ahead of its competitors, having adopted a business concept that could enable levels of gender equality which have thus far remained elusive.

“Founding Appirio was all about creating a new type of professional services,” CMO Latané Conant explains over the phone from Chicago. “We wanted to run our business 100% in the cloud which led to the decision not to invest in real estate or physical locations and instead invest more in hiring, training and development opportunities for our employees.”

The company was formed with the philosophy that people could be anywhere in world and still be able to work and collaborate together. And it worked. Fast forward ten years and they now have 2000 employees across the globe, the majority of whom work from home.

“When you start working here you get given a laptop, a headset and a hotspot and told to go for it,” Conant continues. “In terms of diversity, I think this model attracts an interesting mix of people. Especially from a women’s perspective.

“I've got two kids and that's not to say I'm not working or contributing the same as anybody else because of that. It's just so much easier when you cut out the commute time and you can hop over to school if you need to. That, for me, has been an absolute game changer and I think I speak for a lot of people at Appirio when I say once you've done that you never want to go back because it's really quite freeing to go beyond physical office spaces and boundaries.”

Changing attitudes towards work plays a big part in Conant’s philosophy, citing that one of the biggest challenges surrounding diverse hiring is that like tends to attract like, meaning a lot of high level work environments can feel exclusive. She recalls how previous places of employment displayed subtle gender-biases that she struggled to get past. “It was all about face time in the office or golf outings and as a working mom I couldn’t just take four hours out of my day to play golf!”

This is where Appirio again strays from the norm, with CEO Chris Barbin putting a great emphasis on working smart. “There isn’t a pressure to log as many hours as possible, that’s not impressive to us. I’ve been in cultures where you felt like that was required but for Appirio, the measure of success is about working hard but also being able to spend time with your family and take a holiday.”

The discussion around fostering a work-smart environment prompts the question of a gendered image of success existing within the industry. Conant stops to consider this point before concluding that the measures of success for men and woman are changing. “For myself and a lot of women, success is not just about a promotion. It’s about ‘am I fostering the friendships that I want? Am I having an impact on the companies I'm working for? Am I getting new challenges? Am I the mother I want to be?’

“I think it’s changing a lot though,” she continues. “I feel like I can have a conversation with a dad that could be the same as with a mom about kids and what we're worried about or how we're juggling sports and academics and childcare. I did not feel that way when I started my career and I believe this cultural shift is contributing to a better sense of diversity on the workforce.”

One of the key factors that has contributed to this cultural shift has undoubtedly been the success of initiatives designed to drive more women into jobs in the technology sector. Appirio’s executive team has changed dramatically in the last few years and Conant is proud that the company has been able to provide employees with an environment that is not only diverse, but where people feel safe to be themselves.

However, whilst programmes getting more women through the door and into roles have shown they work, the technology industry is now suffering a retention crisis. Currently 56% of women [PDF] in computing jobs leave their positions at the mid-level point. This is double the quit rate of their male counterparts, and unless companies work harder to offer employees a supportive environment for the entirety of their career, this dangerous trend is set to continue.

Conant acknowledges that the middle is typically the hardest area to master, despite a lot of diverse candidates coming through the door. “Around two years ago, we were very proactive about ensuring our executive team had a more balanced image of diversity. However, the next wave in terms of goal setting is to make sure we’re moving the right people through and up to the middle.”

So, does Conant believe in hiring quotas? “I think there’s a difference between a quota and a goal,” she explains. “Quotas seem almost punitive and I don’t think they necessarily work. When retaining people, you want to push them out of their comfort zone, to a place where they can thrive but not put them in a position where they end up being way over their head.

“I'm a big believer in setting goals and being mindful of where we are and where we need to be. It’s all about being proactive, exposing people to programmes and setting stretch goals. You need to enthuse people into wanting to take that next step so when they're ready to have that seat at the table, they've visited the chair and they know what the table looks like.”

As with a lot of women already working in tech, Conant believes that the future is bright for the industry’s minority gender. “As women become more entrepreneurial, we'll see a lot more tech companies with founders and CEOs that are women. Women are creative and are now primary consumers. We know what we like, we know what we don't like and we know when there's a gap in the market. I think you'll see a lot of new venture backed tech startups that are founded by women.”

Flexible working hours are just one of the things women like and Conant is enthusiastic about the number of Appirio’s clients that have asked for help in achieving this workplace nirvana. Entry level programmes and workplace initiatives certainly have a role to play in encouraging diversity but, as more and more women continue to leave the industry, it might be time for companies to take Appirio’s advice and start working smarter.  


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C-suite career advice: David Kaganovsky, Maxus »
Charlotte Trueman

Charlotte is Staff Writer at IDG Connect. She is particularly interested in the impact technology will have on the future of work and promoting gender diversity throughout the tech industry.

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