Tanya Corsie, Iken COO, on Gender Diversity and Leadership in Technology

29th June 2018
by Iken

From starting out as PA to the Directors, Tanya Corsie has worked hard to achieve her senior leadership role at knowledge management software business, Iken. As COO, Tanya focuses on business improvement, client experience and strategy – critical components for the success of the company. With her strong work ethic and enthusiasm for building strong relationships across public and private sector through technology, Tanya is a shining example of what women can achieve in a technology business, if they are talented, determined and are given the right support. While Tanya’s story is admirable, not every technology business prioritises gender diversity in this way, particularly at board level. According to a recent Tech Leaders Study, women who work in technology are twice as likely to quit their jobs as their male peers – this is often attributed to company culture.

As female employees rise through the ranks, the obstacles on their path increase, resulting in fewer women on the board. A recent McKinsey report revealed that 30% of technology companies have no women at all in leadership positions. This board-level gender gap is counterproductive for the business itself from not just a cultural but a financial perspective. The research on diversity conducted by McKinsey also showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in management were also 15% more likely to have financial returns above their industry average. We spoke with Tanya to find out what initially drew her to work in a technology business and what it is about Iken’s culture that supported and enabled her to progress to senior leadership.

What first attracted you to work at Iken?

I was at a point in my career (and in my life) when I wanted to work in an organisation where I knew I could make a positive difference, and where I would have room to evolve. My interview with Elizabeth and Andrew, Iken’s Founders, was stimulating, terrifying and hilarious in equal measures. They didn’t fit into my preconceived notions of what tech people were and I certainly didn’t meet their mental picture of the ideal PA. I accepted their offer of employment on the spot and so began a joint journey of discovery.

Why did you want to work in the technology sector? 

I’ve always been interested in technology and how it not only improves our lives but can enrich them and make them more fun. In my childhood, I embraced emerging technologies – video games, personal stereos, calculator watches, VCRs – fighting with my big brother for time on our ZX Spectrum 48K. At University, technology was an integral part of my degree in Librarianship and Information Studies. I learned how to use Boolean logic to search JANET for obscure articles and research papers – and that floppy disks were not designed to survive a hot wash cycle through the washing machine! I knew that I was not mathematically talented enough to write code, but I was always happy to utilise technology to get good results in the workplace. I wanted a career in an industry where your best work is ahead of you, not behind you.

You are in quite a unique position as the COO of a technology business. Why do you think gender diversity is a significant challenge for technology businesses in particular?

Unfortunately, it starts early – in schools. In the UK, we know that we have work to do to encourage girls and young women to embrace STEM subjects to maximise their career prospects going forward. But that’s not the whole story. We need more role models, more Sheryl Sandbergs. We need visibility, positive reinforcement and active mentoring of young talent coming through. We also need quiet capability, good data-driven results and to ask for the seat at the table. I could never be the CTO at Iken, but I can certainly be a damn good COO. I think there’s a myth that you have to be able to write code to succeed in Tech – you don’t. You just have to be passionate about it. Passionate enough to learn about all the stuff you don’t know, keep an eye on buzzwords, money pits and opportunities. You need to be curious and tenacious – these skills will ensure you succeed in anything you do.

Why is it important to have a mix of different genders and backgrounds in senior positions?

A diverse leadership team can only be a good thing in any organisation. Age, gender, ethnicity: these are at the top of many companies’ agendas at the moment. Every organisation needs a variety of views at every level – especially those in senior positions – to ensure sustainable growth, a healthy culture and a shared set of values and beliefs.  

How has Iken encouraged diversity and provided progression opportunities for women in the business?

At Iken, we work hard on our recruitment practices – it certainly helps with our team members’ own aspirations that we have a range of ages and genders within the senior leadership team. We work hard to attract talent from a variety of backgrounds and nurture that talent from within. We’ve regularly recruited new graduates to give them their first step on the career ladder, some of whom, 5 years later, are still within the business, having developed in line with their own and the company’s objectives. We have taken on two apprentices in different areas of the company who have far exceeded our expectations and we would have no hesitation in supporting more young people into work.  We are completely geared up for remote and flexible working and try to accommodate most requests. We have numerous ladies within the business who have been on maternity leave more than once and continue to enjoy working here.  

How do you think we, as a society, can support more women to achieve senior roles? 

Historically, we’ve admired ‘strength’ traits in men and criticised women for demonstrating those same strengths. We need to help women find their voices in meetings, and not be bowed down by those who speak louder or who repeat the very same point that they have just made. Initiatives like Sport England’s This Girl Can are really important. This campaign helps girls, young women, and, in fact, all women – to believe in themselves. It helps them to understand that if you try, great things can happen. You can take control of your life and make the changes required. Small, almost inconsequential changes every day can have a hugely positive impact over a longer period. We have to get girls to believe that they deserve a great career and not to stop at the first hurdle. 

Tanya will be speaking on 4th July at the Transpire’s panel on Board Diversity – How is it achieved and what are the results? at Foot Anstey in Bristol. Read more about how Iken’s market-leading case management software improves ROI, productivity and collaborative working for the public and private sector.

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