Examining key disciplines to build equity in the IT workplace

As IT leader of self-regulatory body Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), Doria Manico-Daka continues to build on her 16 years in tech, the last five of which has seen her heavily involved in leading digital transformation and modernization. Throughout her career, industries and company sizes have varied, but there’s been one constant: environments have largely been male dominated. And as a Black woman, she’s had some unique experiences as a double minority. Against the odds, however, she’s excelled not only for herself but toward collective efforts to elevate the conversation of diversity, opportunity, and sourcing talent in, and for, the workplace.

“One needs to be resilient and determined to pursue the passion and paths they’ve chosen,” she says. “There’s very little precedent or example to rely on, and it can be both challenging and rewarding at the same time. Challenging in the sense that it can be lonely sometimes. It can feel like an uphill battle when you’re in the minority, and especially if you have conscious and unconscious bias fighting against you. But at the same time, it can be rewarding just knowing you helped change the status quo, and change minds and environments for people to consider it’s normal to have women at all levels of the tech space. Early in my career, I had a role that included helping clients over the phone. I’d take calls and after introducing myself, the person on the other end would think it was a mistake and ask to be transferred to the technical team. But I was the technical team, so I’m glad that we’re past that in 2023 for the most part.”  

It can be difficult for women to have a sense of belonging facing these challenges. Speaking of the senior tech leader at the leadership table, there’s underrepresentation of women and even more underrepresentation of Black women. So resilience, fuelled by self reliance and confidence, helps to navigate a career path.

“Being in a minority can bring self-doubt, especially if you’re in an environment that isn’t supportive or causes doubts,” she says. “So know the value you bring to the table and the difference you’re making. Some environments are going to appreciate this more than others, but it’s important you don’t let others minimize your contributions. For example, if you work hard and lead your team to launch a tech solution that positively impacts the organization’s bottom line, that is value you can quantify. Having said that, we still have a ways to go about women in tech still being overlooked and passed over for promotions. The numbers are getting better, but we’re still there.”

CIO Leadership Live’s Rennick recently spoke with Manico-Daka about elevating standards of diversity to help achieve organizational goals and win the search for talent. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On Black women in tech: Breaking the glass ceiling for women in minority groups is still a business goal every organization should strive to achieve. And for Black women, the ceiling is made of concrete, so the organizations that are going to break through are the ones with talent at all levels. We’ve seen great improvements in lowers ranks in terms of inclusiveness, but the senior leadership roles in the boardroom still have a ways to go. I think soon it’ll no longer be acceptable to have non-diverse leadership teams. And we’re already seeing mandates on this, especially from forward thinking organizations that are intentional about diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels, not just the lower ranks. This is inclusive leadership that taps into a wider pool of talent, especially as we see the shortage of talent in tech. So organizations that lead with purpose, intention and empathy, and reflect the communities they serve, are the ones that are going to retain top talent, especially regarding women. One step organizations can take to raise equity is to be aware of unconscious bias and manage it through education or training. Just acknowledging we all have it and sometimes it gets in the way of making decisions in how we treat other people is progress. And again, that purposeful, intentional, empathetic leader is the one who is going to win in this case. Another is you need to create targets for equity and ensure those targets are measured and communicating progress of those targets. We know that only what’s measured can be improved.

On a clear approach to talent: For me, clarity of vision, purpose and meaningful work is a bare minimum in today’s world of talent. Any organizational leader who wants to attract talent today must have that focus on the greater good and the difference they’re going to make. What the COVID years have shown is that people are now starting to want to find meaning; they want to rediscover themselves and ask what really matters. So it’s important that what matters in business gets tied to a mission, vision and value system, and gets clearly communicated to the entire organization. And if you do that, you’ll have a chance of winning the talent pool.

On teamwork: Throughout my career, what I’ve found is a positive environment inspires creativity, motivation and delivery. So I always try to create that same thing for my team. We’re an environment that fosters positive work where achievements are rewarded and respect is given. And if somebody drops the ball, you pick it up and score. There’s no room for blame. That’s an environment that has inspired me to be very creative and innovative. So I figure if I create the same for my team, I’ll see results. And with our rapidly changing tech landscape, you also need to promote continuous learning and upskilling. Today, the shelf life of tech skills is about three years and it keeps shrinking. So as leaders, you need to ensure your team is in continuous learning mode. One thing I’ve done for my team is to create a space where they can use new technologies to implement ideas without affecting the digital services we offer. And that’s really helped us improve the tech skills, close the gaps, and foster that sense of innovation and knowing that it’s a safe space where they can try out their ideas.

On strategic leadership: The strategy in all aspects of the organization is key. So for me, what first comes into play is you need to care and act like an owner. Business owners look at the long-term success of the whole business. So in my experience, it’s important that a clear vision, mission, and goals are articulated at every level throughout the organization. When everyone understands and owns that, and begins to act like an owner of the business, then you have a recipe for success. Second, you need to play using the whole team by encouraging women to get in the tech sector and stay in tech, but also by encouraging diversity in general. By now, everyone knows it’s been proven that diversity of thought is good for business. When you have a diverse team, you simply have more ideas to work with and a greater talent pool to tap into. And that makes for very superior business solutions. So I would encourage any leader or any organization to focus on diversity at every level. And with this war on talent, this is the recipe that’s going to make you win.

Diversity and Inclusion, IT Leadership, Women in IT