Empowering women in automation: The future of a diverse workforce

female business leaders insights on empowering women in AI automation

Whether it’s people of color, neurodiverse individuals, or women, diverse talent is both enriching workplaces around the world and driving economic growth. But plenty of untapped potential remains. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), countries can increase gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 8% by raising the female labor force participation rate.

Thankfully, incredible women across the globe are breaking through barriers and leading the way to a better future. I was lucky enough to talk with several of them during a FORWARD VI panel, including Rachael Sandel, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Orica, Leyla Delic, Global Head of Value Realisation at Aon, Kelly Ducourty, Chief Customer Officer at UiPath, and Brigette McInnis-Day, Chief People Officer at UiPath.

Each of these leaders talked about their career journeys and advice they’d give to women to maximize their potential in automation.

Harnessing the potential of women in automation

The panelists are part of a growing cohort of women leading the way in the automation industry and beyond. In fact, the proportion of women in leadership roles at large technology companies grew nearly 20% between 2019 and 2022.

McInnis-Day's experience shows how far we’ve come. When she was interviewing for her first job out of graduate school, she met with nine different people at the company, and all of them were men. While she “really loved the place,” she ended up removing herself from consideration because she “didn’t see one woman in the entire interview process.” Her thinking was: if I don’t see any women in leadership positions here, what chance do I have of getting there?

During our discussion, the panelists shared several perspectives on ways organizations can make progress on gender equality. Sandel emphasized the importance of calling out bias when she sees it, even if it can be uncomfortable.

My bit of advice would be to challenge when you are seeing any discrimination or any bias. Whether it's gender, whether it's age. Sometimes it is hard, and it is awkward, but it is better to call it out then. Those times where I haven't called it out, I haven't done anything, I think about those comments for days. As leaders, you want to be shaping the culture that you want to be working in.

Rachael Sandel, Chief Information Officer, Orica

Having the courage to call out bias when we see it is a challenge all of us should take on. Our colleagues and companies will be better for it, since research consistently shows that diverse workplaces lead to better business outcomes across the board.

More diversity leads to better business outcomes

Diversity efforts are both admirable and correlated with better business outcomes. For instance, Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that “a 10% increase in [the] gender diversity index…related to a roughly 7% increase in market value.”

Another HBR study found that “companies with above-average total diversity, measured as the average of six dimensions of diversity (migration, industry, career path, gender, education, age), had both 19% points higher innovation revenues and 9% points higher EBIT margins, on average.”

Fortunately, numerous indicators suggest a trend towards greater diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industry. According to the National Science Foundation, “between 2011 and 2021, the number of women in the STEM workforce increased 31%.” Plus, the State of the Automation Professional Report 2023, published by UiPath found that, while women represent a quarter of automation professionals, nearly 40% of students interested in robotic process automation (RPA) are female.

While these trends are promising, there’s still a large opportunity in front of us.

In terms of attrition, we see that women are attritting at twice the rate of men… So, I think there's a huge amount of opportunity.

Kelly Ducourty, Chief Customer Officer, UiPath

There’s a lot of progress to be made, but following the example of the accomplished leaders who joined me on stage is a great first step.

Advice for women to advance in their automation careers

So, how can women make significant contributions in the automation industry? Here are some of the panelists’ recommendations:

Take strategic risks

Each of the women that joined me on stage pointed to strategic risk-taking as a crucial ingredient in their success.

You’ve got to trust in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.

Brigette McInnis-Day, Chief People Officer, UiPath

By consistently raising her hand for high-risk, high-visibility projects, McInnis-Day was able to develop a good reputation early in her career.

“Saying yes to new opportunities has always been critical to get out of the comfort zone. I mean, this is where the growth happens,” added Sandel.

Invest in your network

Having sponsors and people in your corner is another crucial part of progressing in your career. Delic repeatedly emphasized the importance of not just developing a network, but consistently investing in it.

Make sure you're in an environment where you feel you have sponsors, both external and internal. And from very early on, start building your network. So those are a few things that I always monitored. I had my network; I invest in my network. Make sure that you develop your network continuously.

Leyla Delic, Global Head of Value Realisation, Aon

I can attest to this—since joining UiPath, I’ve learned so much from both my colleagues and customers. Keeping in touch with them helps me stay on top of the latest trends in a variety of industries and gives me an easy outlet for asking questions.

Learn, earn, return

Delic summed up her advice for others and an action item for herself with the phrase “learn, earn, return.” The concept is simple: in the early portion of your career, it’s all about being a sponge and learning as much as you can. Then, once you gain some experience, you earn for yourself and your company. Finally, when you’re a seasoned professional, your focus should shift to returning what you’ve been given through mentorship of younger colleagues. I love this phrase and will keep it in mind going forward.

With this roadmap, women in a variety of industries can play an important role in ushering in the new era of AI-powered automation.

How women can play a strategic role in automation advancements

Sandel believes that “Generative AI is the most promising development” in automation going forward. She sees this new technology speeding up automation development and reducing barriers to entry. Her own company, Orica, is trying to figure out how to leverage Generative AI to reduce their “tech debt” and rebuild older code bases.

She went on to say, “I would encourage firstly, that women try and use these tools, learn, and upskill yourself because I mean, this is going to be the currency of the next generation.”

For Ducourty, it’s about empowering other women to make their voices heard. She shared a story about a Q&A session after a sales enablement training she facilitated. Everyone who came up to the microphone was a man. When the session was about to wrap up, she asked, “are there no women in the room who’ve got a question?” Immediately, four women came forward. I thought this was a great example of women calling each other to action—we need to continue encouraging each other to contribute the great ideas that we have.

I was so inspired by the incredible women that spoke during this session. Their grit, perseverance, and dedication have me confident that the next generation of women will continue leading the way in automation and beyond.

alex milne
Alex Milne

Area Vice President, UiPath

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