Women working in the IT sector - a perspective

Aashna Puri, Director, Corporate Strategy & Sustainability, CyrusOne.

1. Have you always wanted to work in the IT industry?

Not necessarily. Like a lot of people who work in the data centre industry, I wasn’t familiar with what a career path in the IT industry could look like. My background is in Economics and Environmental Sciences, and I have been passionate about the intersection of these two disciplines. In other words, the problem I have been interested in solving, regardless of industry, is how can we grow at pace with demand, while ensuring we are efficient and conscientious towards the environment. Given 40% of carbon emissions are generated by the built environment, I have always felt this would be a good area to embed myself in to drive impact. The IT and data centre industry is the perfect place for me to leverage my experience and growth further.

2. And how did you end up in the sector (by accident or design!)? (ie a brief history of your career path to date)

I landed in the data centre sector by accident. Having lived in different countries, my personal mission is to increase the connection between places and people, so the world becomes a smaller, more familiar place. In many ways, this is exactly what data centres facilitate, as our digital backbone. Prior to CyrusOne, I worked with JLL in New York doing Energy & Sustainability Consulting, in Johannesburg helping them establish and scale their presence in Africa and in London on global transactions. The beauty of the data centre sector is that it is incredibly interdisciplinary and allows me to pull the various areas of expertise I have to solve challenges which sit at the heart of the global economy. More broadly, it has the unique potential to draw in experts from fields like real estate, public policy, engineering, and sustainability to collaborate and develop scalable sustainable solutions for the digital infrastructure that fuels our lives.

3. What challenges have you encountered along the way?

Data centres seem to be the most omnipresent, yet invisible industry. For some reason, it appears that we often talk about data centres in isolation from the digital services they help deliver which I find challenging. Digital inclusion and expansion is helping entrepreneurs drive innovation by scaling and servicing new user groups like never before. It is helping mitigate local challenges and constraints in emerging markets and it is allowing the average citizen the ability to reach new and expanded opportunities for their personal and professional lives. The World Health Organization has linked being digitally excluded with poorer health, lower life expectancy and reduced financial mobility. Further, women are generally more likely to be excluded which has shaved $1 trillion off the GDP of low—and middle-income countries. Data centres are key enablers in levelling the playing field and I wish they were spoken about more in this context.

4. And do you think that your gender has been an issue in terms of any of these challenges?

In all honesty, my gender hasn’t necessarily been a challenge and I have found the industry to be incredibly welcoming and inclusive. That’s not on my mind on a day-to-day basis. I just look at the overall challenges in the industry.

That said, I’m more than aware of the under-representation of women in this sector and take this very seriously. According to the Uptime Institute, more than three-quarters of operators (77 percent) report that they employ around 10 percent women or less, unchanged since

2018. What’s more, one-fifth of respondents (20 percent) still do not employ any women at all in their design and operations teams. These figures are particularly striking in light of the skills shortage that the data centre industry is currently experiencing. It goes without saying that this is a massive limitation on the potential scale of who could be qualified to work in the sector and presents its own challenges.

The misperceptions of the industry - which I previously mentioned - have an impact on these figures and is something we are actively working on addressing at CyrusOne.

5. And what rewards have you enjoyed in your career within the IT industry?

Knowing the reach and impact that the data centre industry has on society and on making individual people’s lives better is a reward in and of itself. I am really grateful to be building a career in a sector that is so aligned with my personal mission.

6.. How have you seen the industry change over time in terms of who works in it and the attitudes which may, or may not, have existed around women working within the IT sector?

In the past two years of working in the data centre industry, I have started to see some positive change. Anecdotally, I recently attended a Women’s Rural Innovation event outside Madrid. In the audience was a 19 year old female student who was not only familiar with the data centre industry, but had actually visited a data centre through school. This is hugely encouraging for the future of the sector as we take steps to educate young people on the value this industry has and challenge any misconceptions head-on. I truly believe that we will see a significant change in the coming years as a result, both in terms of representation, as well as innovation within the industry as a result.

8. Do you think there’s more that needs to be done to encourage women to work within the IT sector?

Absolutely. Targeted recruitment efforts, university partnerships and a collective effort to educate the masses on the data centre industry will be critical to achieving this.

We are already seeing steps being taken in these areas which is promising. For example, CyrusOne has a partnership with UTC Heathrow to redesign their existing curriculum to allow students to gain the essential knowledge and skills needed to thrive in technical careers within the data centre sector and add it as a new career path option. We need to see more initiatives like this throughout the UK and Europe.

9. And what advice would you give to girls and/or women considering a career in IT?

Consider it! This industry presents the perfect opportunity for anyone who is mission-driven. Data is growing at an unprecedented rate as we become increasingly reliant on technology to live, learn, communicate, and work. This industry is committed to meeting this demand to allow everyone to live their best lives while doing so in a way that is sustainable and additive to communities where data centres are located. These are real societal challenges and opportunities that we are addressing and as a result, it is a career in which you can truly make a difference. In order to ensure that we are being as innovative and creative in solving these challenges as possible, it’s essential that we have diverse minds and perspectives – and this includes a better representation of women.

10. Finally, if you could change just one thing about the IT industry, what would it be?

As I’ve mentioned, it is crucial to address representation within not just the data centre industry, but the IT industry as a whole - including gender representation, people of colour and more diverse skill sets.

It’s clear that the untapped potential of the wider workforce is staggering. The industry has acknowledged this diversity gap, skills gap and lack of female representation, which is an important step. Now, we must come together to address it.h

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