The importance of male allyship

Ian Black from Coventry Building Society talks to about his Male Agent of Change award at the recent everywoman in Technology Awards.

2024 everywoman in Technology Forum. Park Plaza Westminster. 14th March 2024. Photography by Steve Dunlop

It’s rewarding to win awards and recognition for promoting greater diversity, but they can also be used as a platform to inspire more change. That is what Ian Black intends to do with his everywoman in Technology Award for Male Agent of Change.

Ian is Head of Technology Change & Digital Practices at Coventry Building Society.  He has been working in roles that support technology for around 20 years, for instance, leading transformation programmes and working with leadership teams, but has only worked directly in tech in the last five to six years as modern digital ways of working have advanced. “My role is to make sure our colleagues and members’ needs are at the heart of our transformational programmes,” he says, adding that his job is to lead the people transformation part of the jigsaw.

Role models

For Ian there are three main reasons that led to him being given the everywoman award. First is his advocacy for building strong teams and getting the right person for the job. That means building a balanced team with a diversity of thinking and a good amount of what he calls ‘power skills’ such as creativity, cognitive empathy and the ability to collaborate, skills he thinks female leaders have more of inherently.  Ian has long worked in male-dominated sectors, starting in engineering, and says he has witnessed the drawbacks of group thinking. 

Secondly, he says that, while he has been a male ally over his whole career, he realised that he was not doing enough in a proactive way. In the last two to three years he has reached out to ensure women have the right opportunities and the right information to make informed choices about a career in tech. He says often women are put off by thinking that a career in tech requires only technical skills, but he says the ‘power skills’ that women often excel in are also invaluable.

Thirdly, Coventry Building Society is keen to be a more inclusive employer and to ensure women and ethnic minorities are better represented in senior leadership roles. Ian’s team has responded by encouraging women members to step forward to tell their story about their career in tech. The aim is to inspire other women in and outside the business to see the potential value they can bring to tech.

To encourage more women the society has a strong focus on flexible working and family support in the recruitment process. Ian’s team has also created a women in tech group which is open to all colleagues and brings in internal and external speakers to address issues ranging from imposter syndrome to managing conflict. Ian is a mentor to that group.

He says the focus on building the pipeline has resulted in a number of women coming into roles in tech from across the organisation, from scrum masters to business and risk analysts. Moreover, employee engagement has risen by 13% in the last two years. 

Where next?

Ian adds that the company is beginning to leverage its role models more externally and is thinking about engaging girls at school and inspiring them to think of a career in tech. Ian hopes to use the profile he has got from the awards to reach out to schools. He also wants to do more to dispel the myth that you need a STEM degree to work in tech and to promote the skills women can bring to the sector. Coventry Building Society is working with a number of external organisations such as Race at Work and RightTrack Learning to increase diversity across the sector and has begun to build local alliances, for instance, with Jaguar Land Rover, a big employer in the region.

Ian is a dad to two teenage daughters, aged 17 and 19, so the issue of women in tech and diversity generally is very personal to him. He says he has seen the bias his daughters have faced on a day to day basis. Both told him that they thought that tech careers were just about coding, even though he is in technology and doesn’t have a coding background. He says 80% of his direct team are women and all of them have daughters, like him. They all talk about how their daughters are not being inspired to take up careers in tech, despite it being the third fastest growing industry in the UK.  “There is a huge opportunity there. Young people have tech in their hands all day. We need to inspire young women to think they can have a career in it,” he says.

Ian was nominated by his team for the everywoman award and was surprised and delighted to win. He came to the awards with several team members and they were also inspired to think about what more they can do to buddy and mentor other women.

Ian is also keen to promote the benefits of being a male ally more. Over the last two years Coventry Building Society has been supporting wider male allyship programmes across the society. He aims to use his award to speak out more about the benefits – on LinkedIn and in podcasts. He would also like to see more focus on male allyship within schools. “The awards have taught me to talk more about male allyship,” he states.

He adds that he was struck by the amazing work of the finalists and wants to reach out to them to get them to tell their stories to people in his organisation and through the supply chain. He says: “We will do more to champion role models, including those we currently have in our team. We want to focus on the full working life cycle from attraction to recruitment and retention.”

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