Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress toward gender parity in the U.S. workplace was moving in the right direction, but as more companies strove to remain productive through remote work and other means, gender parity progress has slowed or halted, according to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2020” report. The mainframe industry, like others, has taken steps to diversify and become more inclusive, and the Women in IT track at SHARE demonstrates the importance of women’s contributions in technology. Several Women in IT panels (Sept. 21) preceded SHARE Virtual 2020 (Sept. 22–24 and Sept. 29–Oct.1) and set the tone for future innovation, calling attention to the need for greater diversity and out-of-the-box thinking.
Future Mainframe Agenda
During the webinar “Visionary Women Leaders: Defining the New Mainframe Agenda,” moderator Jeanne Glass, founder and CEO of VirtualZ Computing, and several panelists — Lauren Valenti, head of mainframe education and customer engagement at Broadcom; Lisa Dyer, vice president of product management at Ensono; Priya Doty, vice president of product marketing for IBM Z and LinuxONE; and, Tendu Yogurtcu, chief technology officer at Precisely — discussed how the mainframe can meet the new demands of businesses and governments, whether it’s the call for COBOL programmers or the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. Doty said the uncertainty of today’s environment and economy means that businesses have to get things right, which is why the mainframe and the Z platform are ideal choices. Yogurtcu added that data integrity is crucial to business success, and she said that any digital strategy requires firms to ensure all relevant data is included in the data pipeline for use.
Glass pointed out that SHARE members are a great resource for innovations in mainframe and for advancements in the space. Doty added that SHARE also provides ways for everyone in the sector from vendors to programmers and others to interact and share the tips and tricks of the trade. She explained that for IBM, the focus would be toward modernizing the Z platform to utilize cloud native tools like OpenShift. Pervasive encryption or encryption everywhere is another area of focus for IBM, particularly for data in use, especially as more people work remotely. Doty said that the Z platform is on its 4th generation of confidential computing or securing data in use technology, and it has been a priority at IBM for 10 years. She added that cyber resiliency and business continuity are vitally important, with clients in 2020 activating four times the processing power using capacity on demand, compared to the second quarter of 2019. The increase in demand is directly tied to what is going on economically from more stock trades and more insurance claims to more consumers checking their bank accounts and increases in the delivery of retail products.
Dyer spoke about how she helps customers not only leverage the scalability of the mainframe, but also how they can incorporate new tools and products as they come to market to meet their own business needs. Business as usual is no longer possible, she said, and that’s why businesses are looking at how they can future-proof themselves in terms of platform use and talent management. Yogurtcu said part of that requires data integration across multiple platforms.
Valenti pointed out that she continues to hear customers talk about getting off the mainframe, but she said that there are misconceptions that education can dispel. She explained that some workloads can be migrated off the mainframe, but high-volume transactions are still best suited to mainframe. Valenti added that when you modernize the mainframe, you get six times the return on your investment, according to a recent IDC study. This can include greater efficiency and lower operating costs. She said that experts should raise awareness of the mainframe among customer executives by educating them about the platform’s strengths, while reminding them that there isn’t one platform that meets every business challenge.
Inclusion, Mentorship, and Innovation
Lisa Wood, chief marketing officer at VirtualZ Computing, moderated the “A New Innovation: A Fresh Look at Mainframe Inclusion, Mentorship, and Innovation” webinar that included Tyler King, design lead for IBM Z resiliency at IBM, Melissa Sassi, global head of Hyper Protect Accelerator at IBM, Gloria Chance, CEO and founder of Mousai Group, Katie Branch, manager of mainframe systems training and development at Ensono, and Deborah Carbo, director of product management for mainframe at Broadcom. The panelists talked about how the mainframe industry can employ its creativity and problem-solving skills to address the current skills gap through mentorship and diversity and inclusion. One of the big takeaways was how design thinking could address skills gaps by empowering teams, focusing on user outcomes, and engaging in “restless innovation,” says King. She added that this means treating everything like a prototype with room for improvement. However, King cautioned that empathy and human-centered thinking must be at the heart of any effort to improve diversity and inclusion.
Carbo pointed to Broadcom’s Mainframe Vitality Program, which she said focuses on filling talent gaps that customers already have. She says Broadcom trains cohorts entering the program with no cost to the customer, providing candidates with the skills they need and enabling them to engage in internships or residencies with clients. Chance added that part of the industry’s efforts to find the right talent must also address the need for diversity and inclusion, as it fosters creativity that can lead to more effective problem solving. Branch also pointed out that not only do programs like Mainframe Academy provide technical skills to candidates, but they also offer soft skills like project management to make them more successful in the workforce.
Branch explained that firms need to look beyond candidates with four-year degrees from colleges and universities. She said that potential job candidates exist in community colleges, veterans’ groups, and certificate programs. A larger part of the talent recruitment effort, according to Sassi, is to provide a support system for start-ups and small businesses from which they can recruit diverse candidates. King said that companies also could look for candidates like women who are returning to the workforce, veterans with an affinity for technology and need help transitioning to civilian life, and others who may have “grit” and soft skills but need technical training.
Drum Up IT Interest Early in Students
During the “Women in IT: Getting Girls Interested in Technology” discussion, Misty Decker, program manager for Z Systems Academic Initiative at IBM, led a casual discussion on how to get girls interested in technology with several students – Leila Halloum, Chloe Allen-Ede, and Kaitlyn Lowe. Decker said that the IBM Master the Mainframe program is just one way that girls can get their feet wet in the mainframe, but she added that you can’t always use the tactics you use to get boys interested in technology with girls. The focus of the panel was on how teachers, parents, and others can overcome obstacles by taking action.
8 Obstacles that Require Action
Decker indicated that companies, teachers, parents, and technology experts need to start early by creating technology clubs for girls, hosting girls-only workshops, and ensuring girls are recognized for their efforts in front of their peers. Lowe said that she played Minecraft early on and then moved onto making servers, while Halloum said her parents fostered a positive environment in which to learn about technology. When praising young girls, there should be no “qualifiers,” Decker said. Praise could include “I never would have thought to code it that way” or “That’s a great way to do it.” However, Decker warns that activities shouldn’t be “pinked up” boy activities. They should be paired with participants’ interests, such as showing how tech can be used to create art if the students enjoy art.
Allen-Ede noted that companies and industry partners should go to universities and talk about what it is like to work in the sector, demonstrate how to use the mainframe, and explain how it is useful to the wider world. Ultimately, getting young girls interested in technology requires volunteering from industry professionals, especially women in the industry. Women in technology should become active speakers, mentors, and helpers in schools and beyond. As girls see more women from the mainframe and technology industries in the public eye, the more intriguing the sector will become.
SHARE Virtual 2020’s Women in IT webcasts are just one tool that employers and members can use to guide their talent recruitment and management efforts now and into the future. Diverse and inclusive workforces will provide that push and pull necessary for change. The financial consequences could be significant. Research shows that company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well represented at the top. Workplaces will now have to engage in “restless innovation” when it comes to the work environment, which could signal greater flexibility in schedules, improvements to work policies regarding performance and expectations, and transparent communication and feedback loops to ensure the entire workforce feels heard and respected. Moreover, as the industry continues to innovate to meet new business needs, younger generations are not only necessary to fill in skills gaps, but also to take the mainframe into the next frontiers of technological innovation.