Published on 8th March 2021 by InterEx Group
To celebrate International Women’s Day in 2021, we want to highlight the achievements of women in the IT and technology space and hear about their experiences working in the industry.
Today we direct the spotlight on Miao Song, the Global Chief Information Officer at Mars Petcare. Our CEO Jamie Fraser spoke to Miao about her career in tech and her thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.
Read or watch the full interview with Miao Song below:
Jamie: Thanks for coming on here today. Could you please give us a bit of an intro on who you are?
Miao: Sure, it’s a great pleasure to be here today. My name is Miao Song, I’m the Global Chief Information Officer of Mars’ Petcare business, based out of Brussels, Belgium.
J: I reached out to you, Miao, since you are a customer of ours and because we know of your presence within the IT and technology world. You won the CIO of the year award at the 2020 Leadership Excellence Awards by GDS Group.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, we wanted to talk about diversity and inclusion, which is currently a hot topic not just within the tech and recruitment industries, but across all industries worldwide. We were keen to have a conversation with you, Miao, on your thoughts around diversity, inclusion, and women in tech. We want to have an open discussion so that everyone can see a powerful woman like yourself in the industry and learn more about how you’ve managed to climb up the ranks.
To kick things off, could you give us an overview of your career and experiences within tech, and how you got into tech?
M: I have always been interested in technology, since I was a young girl. The first time I saw a computer was a really long time ago in high school, and already I fell in love with computers back then. At the time it was a really old Apple machine. When I started studying at university, I found that women were underrepresented in tech – in all the STEM subjects actually, including computer science. But I also had this view that it’s pretty good to be a woman in the tech world. It’s hard but thinking about the future opportunities available to me I thought it would be advantageous. When I actually pursued my career, people often talked about why women were working in tech, because we really have to put in extra effort to climb the career ladder.
If you look at the current tech industry, there are a few things I see. One is gender diversity, since women are underrepresented. Broadly, I think there is a need for the industry to think about how to create a truly inclusive culture. The reason why it’s so important is because organisations and companies will only be able to hear different voices if they create an inclusive culture. I think that’s the true essence of innovation. If the culture is very unified and people don’t listen to different voices, ideas and opinions, there’s no innovation. So eventually this is a business objective, it’s not just about doing something for the sake of equality. Beyond equality, fundamentally having the right diversity and inclusivity strategy will help the business to grow as part of the business strategy, that’s what I believe.
J: Could you give us an intro on Mars as a business?
M: Mars is one of the largest private companies and I’m in the pet care business. Mars Petcare is the largest pet care company globally and operates in many parts of the world. In 2020 our business grew a lot, which is partially due to the huge increase in demand as more people got new pets during lockdown. In terms of information technology, we have more than 1,000 people working across the globe. We were lucky that in the last two years we’ve been driving digital transformation, technology and innovation in the organisation, so technology and digital are the core of the business now, not just an enabling function.
In terms of the diversity and inclusion agenda, from what I’ve seen there has been a great focus on the Women in Digital Mars initiative, and on the inclusivity and diversity strategy of the organisation. One thing that’s been focused on is unconscious bias. In many locations we have done awareness trainings on unconscious bias with our associates. I thought this was a really good collaboration, because this is what fundamentally helps people to become more aware of the different backgrounds people come from, so that they don’t make biased decisions. If you look at gender diversity in the organisation, we still have some challenges to overcome. Women are less represented in the information technology space, which is similar to many other companies today.
J: I completely agree. As I mentioned before, our business is in the recruitment world, and we are introducing a diversity and inclusion process that we’re offering to customers. We’ve seen that many big tech companies want more women in leadership roles. What would you say is the biggest deterrent for women in the current tech workplace?
M: Women really are underrepresented, we only represent 25% of high positions in the tech space, that figure says a lot. I do think there are a few challenges behind this. One is the talent pipeline. If you think about talent resources starting from colleges or universities, there is already a gap between women being able to pursue STEM subjects at that time. I think if you really want to address the gender gap, the starting point has to be encouraging more young girls to study STEM subjects. I know there are various organisations dedicated to this all over the world, such as STEM for Girls in the US, but I still think more efforts have to be made to encourage girls to study such subjects.
The second one, which I think is very relevant to what you’re doing as a contractor and staffing business, is to make sure for every single position or job there is gender equality when people select candidates. For example, every talent slate should have gender equality. If there’s no women in that talent pipeline, make sure to put in extra effort to have female talent in that pipeline, in the slate. That has to be very intentional. If the organiser doesn’t put any efforts there, the situation will continue.
Another thing is that if you look at junior levels in the tech space, you probably don’t feel much of a difference in terms of gender inequality. But when women pursue senior roles in their careers, then that’s when you see the challenge. From manager level to director level, and from director level to vice president or even senior level, you see less women represented in the tech space across all companies.
J: Since you’re in a management position, how are you looking to promote and nurture women in tech within Mars in 2021 and moving forward?
M: I think first we need to really promote our Women in Digital Mars initiative. Secondly, from my personal perspective, we need to spend more time mentoring young women. We need to build that mentoring circle to provide support and guidance to young women in tech, I think that’s very important. The third point is leveraging my external connections and network to help women in the tech space and in our company to connect with people in the industry and in other companies. I think this is super important, because through these connections, through sharing their experiences, they are able to learn from each other. That way they get advice from other sources, not just from within the organisation. I think those are things I can actually manage directly, and that’s my commitment in line with International Women’s Day.
J: How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day?
M: The Women in Digital Mars initiative is going to be launched that day, so obviously we’re going to celebrate within the company. From my personal perspective, I have a teenage daughter and we’re going to celebrate together. I think it’s important to do that at a young age so that she’s aware of what’s going on.
J: Hopefully this interview will help with the celebration! As an employer, what would you recommend for other companies to have the right infrastructure to support women in tech?
M: I would really recommend for companies to set up tangible KPIs to measure the progress they make in terms of attracting more women into the space. Because if the company only talks about it and sets up something informal, that is not going to make a fundamental difference. My personal suggestion is putting women into the pipeline for every single role, always putting women into the slates for talent selection. If there’s no women, then put in the extra effort to find the right candidates. I think that’s something every company can do as long they put in additional effort.
J: In terms of us in the staffing world – as you know, when we’ve worked with Mars we’ve been a boutique partner that doesn’t just act as a traditional staffing company – what do you think we should be doing to encourage women in tech?
M: One is to establish the talent pipeline, so to encourage more female candidates in your staff pipeline. At the earlier stage of developing women in tech, we need to encourage women to pursue tech careers in universities and colleges. I don’t know what you are currently doing in that area but addressing the gaps at an early stage will definitely help a lot.
J: We’ve seen that the tech world is changing as diversity and inclusion are being addressed worldwide. How would you say that the world of talent acquisition is currently changing?
M: When I see the tech talent now compared to twenty years ago when I first started my career, it’s become much more global. You see talent actually travelling or rotating around the world. Geographical boundaries are blurred, because nowadays you can do your work remotely, and Covid accelerated this change. I think it’s a global competition in terms of the talent pipeline. Therefore, diversity and inclusion are very important. When you have a truly diverse workforce working together remotely, your strategy and the way you work has to be very different. Diversity and inclusivity can’t just be on the surface of the organisation in terms of having people from different races, countries and backgrounds on your team. The most important thing is how you actually encourage a culture where people can work together, all sharing a true belief. That’s how you can drive a common goal within the organisation.
The second trend I see, also specifically in the technology space, is that the fundamental belief is super important. It’s important for companies and organisations to have a purpose, a true purpose, which resonates with their employees. If a company doesn’t have a true purpose, they may attract people in the short term, but in the long term they’ll lose talent. I think the true purpose and culture of the organisation is something that can really encourage and attract the best talent in the world.
J: What’s the final message you would like to give for International Women’s Day and diversity and inclusion in tech?
M: I would say, create an inclusive culture. At the end of the day, you can do a lot of inclusivity and diversity initiatives and events, but fundamentally it’s about having a truly inclusive culture.
Thank you Miao for participating in this interview and taking the time to speak to us on this important topic.
Happy International Women’s Day from the team at InterEx Group!
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