The value of male allyship — especially in male-centric, technical environments — is unquestionable. According to research cited in the Harvard Business Review, when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96% of their organizations see progress fueled by increased female engagement and participation among leadership. Still, for a variety of reasons many men don’t rise to the occasion. They aren’t sure what to do or how to help, or their organization doesn’t focus on empowering every colleague to be a gender equality advocate.
At Qualcomm, Steven Gray, SVP, Engineering, isn’t just a male ally. As a member of Qualcomm’s Diversity Task Force, he is an active role model for men and women who want to be allies to women at work.
To Gray, advocating for diversity doesn’t only make his team more effective — he views it as an ethical imperative. He recently shared the cultural shifts he’s made on his team to make it more welcoming and discussed the gender equality initiatives that make Qualcomm an especially great place for women in technology. Gray also shared advice for men who are interested in becoming better allies to women in the workplace.
What about your role as a leader in engineering most excites you?
I have been a technologist for the majority of my career. I enjoy leading teams that are developing innovative products with advanced technologies and producing high ROI for Qualcomm’s businesses.
What’s the most memorable piece of leadership advice you’ve received? How does it inform your leadership today?
Toby Hecht, who is a leadership coach for executives and business owners, told me: “All assessments are equally valid; all are not equally powerful.” This means all assessments are valid to those who made them, but all are not equally effective in producing the desired outcome. It orients me to listen to all perspectives before making decisions.
Why do you think it is important for leaders to be committed to diversity? Why have you decided to do so?
Two reasons: First, statistical theory tells us that independent observations yield better results when estimating something of interest from a random process. Thus, greater diversity helps approximate independent observations when problem solving.
Also, I have an ethical standard to promote fairness in the workplace. While we’ve made progress toward achieving a more gender-balanced workforce, there remains a lot of work to be done. I had the pleasure of attending the Grace Hopper conference two years ago and got to speak with many women about their career motivations and answer questions. By not supporting growth in diversity, we miss out on working with talented, ambitious people.
What kinds of actions do you incorporate into your day-to-day routine to serve as a male ally?
I have pushed for a shift in our meeting culture to more active listening among all parties. I have seen some women shy away from actively participating in meetings, while others take over the discussions and ask for everyone’s input around the table. Qualcomm has a strong engineering culture, so demonstrating technical knowledge in your role is critical for success and a good avenue to engage in a male-centric environment. Sometimes we need to share the pathway with those who speak up less often.
I also make a concerted effort to speak to women in leadership roles, specifically concerning the challenges they face in the workplace, and I offer help or mentorship when appropriate. This last year, I joined Qualcomm’s Diversity Task Force, which includes senior vice presidents from across the company and our Global Inclusion and Diversity (GID) team. We meet quarterly to address how we are sourcing, recruiting, and retaining women and other under-represented communities.
What kinds of longer-term initiatives are you putting in place to advance gender equality at Qualcomm and across the workforce? Which of these initiatives do you consider most critical to advancing gender equality?
This year, I asked Human Resources to do a nine-box training for all the women in my organization who are at a senior level or above so that we can identify any gaps in their career development. This ensures our women colleagues develop a stronger understanding of their skill sets and path forward. I am also supporting our women affinity group in the Bay Area (Qwomen Bay Area), and I have led talks and participated in a career progression panel sharing advice on how to advance equal chances for all employees.
Why do you believe your company is a particularly supportive place for women employees?
Qualcomm is supportive of women. I have seen a commitment by many of our engineering executives to help women with career development and opportunity/role assessments, and promote the hiring of women. We provide many opportunities for women to grow and learn at Qualcomm, including Qwomen chapters in many of our offices that host professional development and networking events, strategic and global programming for International Women’s Day, and support all major tech conferences and summits.
Our GID team is currently working on an internal conference for our women employees. We receive our greatest feedback when our women meet and build relationships with each other. Qualcomm can certainly do more, which is why I joined the Diversity Task Force. In a highly competitive marketplace, we must balance increasing diversity with hiring and promoting the most qualified employees.
What’s your No. 1 tip for men who want to be allies to women at work but aren’t sure of what to do or where to start?
It is helpful to spend time listening to women in tech about the challenges they face. Take the time to attend an event hosted by a women affinity group or support conferences, such as Grace Hopper. Being an ally makes a big difference for all parties.
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