DEI in Tech: A Work in Progress

Nearly everything has changed since I started my tech career at the beginning of the tech explosion. I still remember how I felt starting my first tech job in Cupertino, CA doing market research for the third-largest company (at that time) in Japan. It was a perfect job for me because I had started in retail, so I had a good understanding of the voice of the customer and loved learning new things. One day after I had gone out to lunch, I came back to an Apple 11e on my desk with a note from my boss that said, ‘learn how to use it,’ and I did.

I was the first woman to travel to Japan with this company. At that time, I was an oddity – 80’s hair, heels, and a really cool briefcase had the ‘office ladies’ buzzing (no pictures will be shared). There were some in the company who took me seriously, but most categorized me as an ‘office lady’.

Women have made progress, but not enough. At the end of 2021, there were only 41 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. It still makes headline news when a woman is promoted to coach a major sports team. We know that having balance in our leadership will enable us to have a more complete view of the world we operate in. We boldly seek to have an equal playing field and to ensure that less dominant voices have a platform to be heard. And we’ve made some tremendous strides in the past few years. Women at Extreme represent nearly 25% of the total employee population up from 19% just three short years ago. Overall, our female leadership representation has grown 32% in the past year. However, there is still work to be done.

The tech industry has become much more inclusive since my career began. Four years ago, a small group of women started the first Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Extreme: The Women’s Leadership Council. Eighteen months ago, Extreme made a larger commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives and eight new ERGs were created. I was asked to lead the LGBTQ+ ERG and the Pride Alliance was formed for our community and allies. It was a proud moment for me as a leader and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride month backgrounds

The Pride Alliance celebrating Pride Month 2021

I continue to receive messages from employees that tell us that this is the first time in their career that they have felt comfortable coming out at work. Watching our CEO Ed Meyercord do the YMCA dance at our inaugural Pride Month wrap-up was empowering for our community and allies. Our ERGs have provided a network for people to find their ‘like me’ and be their ‘authentic me’. Even as adults, we are constantly seeking our tribes, so our D&I initiative is an important component of building productive teams. For me, I have never hidden who I am. I try to bring my authentic self to work each day.

The San Jose Office celebrating Diwali

The clear commitment from our executives has been a key part of Extreme’s success in ‘truly walking the walk’ when it comes to making our company more diverse and inclusive. There are so many benefits to a company embracing D&I. The most obvious is the positive impact on the employees – building strong networks for them to interact with leads to a more positive workplace. Also important is the fact that early-in-career employees expect companies to have ERGs in place – so it is a significant recruiting enabler. My advice to others is to start small; Companies know their workforce and their talent needs, so start by focusing on specific goals for your population. At Extreme, we recognized the value of more women in leadership positions, which is why we started with the Women’s Leadership Council.

Me demonstrating the 2022 IWD pose - Break the Bias

Though I am excited to retire in a few weeks, I will miss working in such a dynamic company and industry. My advice to women entering the technology/IT industry is:

  • Ask for what you want, and be assertive and clear about your objectives
  • Account for your accomplishments and don’t be afraid to talk about them (out of sight, out of mind is a real principle)
  • Don’t be afraid to bring your authentic self to work
  • Do not accept the idea of a glass ceiling – avoid people who talk about your limits
  • Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself
  • Find a good mentor – one who will challenge you

In part because of its dedication to empowering its employees, working at Extreme has been the highlight of my career. I have always said I have the best job in the company. I have been able to participate in or lead all the strategic projects from M&A to Extreme Transformation. When people have asked me over the years why I stayed for so long, my answer has been consistent – this is a great group of people all trying to do the right thing.

We each bring a set of skills and talents along with our role. While it is important to learn and improve our skills the most important thing is to evolve our talents. It takes effort and self-honesty to acknowledge our talents. Two of my talents that have served me well over the years are:

  1. Empathy, which will allow you to put people first and build a strong, diverse team.
  2. Being able to read the room, which will enable you to get places faster with a high level of alignment and positive outcomes.

Take time to learn about yourself – focus on your strengths and the strengths of those around you.

All the best for Women’s Month at Extreme. Happy trails…

This blog was originally authored by Michele Anderson, Vice President of Business Management and PMO.

About the Author
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Cammy Perry
Content Marketing Specialist

Cammy is a Content Marketing Specialist at Extreme Networks, leveraging her expertise to craft thought leadership and engaging content.

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