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The Vantage Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) – another step towards gender equity in the data center industry.
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The Vantage Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) – another step towards gender equity in the data center industry.

March is not only Women’s History Month, when we reflect back on the incredible achievements of powerful and important women in history, but it’s also the month of International Women’s Day, a celebration of the broad spectrum of women’s accomplishments, along with Women in Construction Week (March 7 – 14).

In an effort to drive the advancement of women within the data center industry, and advocate for the hiring of more women within and across their own industry and organization, Vantage Data Centers has launched a new initiative called the Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF). This new forum will ensure that women have a voice in the organization, that they’re given the tools and support they need to advance within the company, and that they are well represented in all functions of the business.

To learn more about why the WLF is necessary today, what Vantage is looking for the WLF to accomplish and how the data center industry rates when it comes to hiring and empowering women, we turned to two of the WLF’s driving forces at Vantage Heather Downey, senior director, site selection and acquisition, and Carol Harper Vernon, vice president, global legal.

Interview with Heather Downey

Data Centers Today (DCT): What is the Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF)? Who can join the group? What are the goals of the WLF?

Heather Downey
Senior Director, Site Selection and Acquisition

Heather Downey: The WLF was put together by Vantage to further our commitment to the retention and advancement of women in leadership positions within the company – and the larger data center industry.

It is intended to provide a forum for women and their allies and advocates to come together to discuss issues and share information that is pertinent both to the growth of women’s careers and in expanding the number of women that are employed in what is a male-dominated industry.

That was the genesis of the WLF; however, it’s also a part of the larger Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (JEDI) initiative that we have at Vantage.

DCT: What was the inspiration for the WLF? Is the creation of a forum like the WLF something that is happening across many companies in the industry, or was this something new conceived and championed within Vantage?

Carol Harper Vernon
Vice President, Global Legal

Carol Harper Vernon: The biggest inspiration for the WLF has been the women at Vantage. We have an amazing group of women, and we want to be able to promote them within the organization while also adding even more women to the industry.

The idea behind the forum is to give women a safe and open meeting place where women and their allies can be their true selves, discuss ideas and share their views in relation to the advancement of women, as well as support women within Vantage and across the industry. We hope the WLF will promote women’s careers within the company, create equity in the workplace through programs such as education and mentorship, and foster the exchange of ideas and best practices.

A lot of companies do have a WLF in some form that is dedicated to the development of women, so the concept isn’t new. That said, I recently read a report from the Uptime Institute that found only one in four data center operators surveyed had an initiative in place to recruit more women.

We see that as an opportunity within Vantage to differentiate ourselves and to make the team stronger. We really believe that diverse companies can attract stronger talent, which leads to better decision-making, heightened employee satisfaction, increased productivity and more innovation.

DCT: Are women particularly well represented in the data center industry? Do we see women across all divisions and organizations within data center providers, or are they often relegated to particular job functions and roles?

Carol Harper Vernon: Women are not particularly well represented across the industry. According to recent surveys, women comprise 51 percent of the population – and 47 percent of the workforce – but they only represent about 20 percent of all technology jobs and five percent of all design, engineering, construction and operations jobs within the data center industry.

In terms of the representation of women in particular roles, we tend to see women in higher percentages in accounting, human resources, legal and admin support roles. That being said, we’d love to see women represented in all positions across the organization, including design, engineering, construction and operations. We’re hoping the WLF can help us accomplish that.

DCT: What can and should Vantage and other data center providers be doing to increase the number of women within and across their organizations?

Heather Downey: The creation of forums like the WLF is critical. And, as part of those efforts, it’s also essential to provide training, education and information to empower women across the organization to enable them to step into leadership roles and expand into new functions within the organization.

Ultimately, organizations need to foster an environment of self-advocacy, enforce appropriate gender-related communications, create best practices for supporting working parents, and help to address gender equity in and across the data center industry.

One of the reasons why the WLF is essential for Vantage is that it is giving the company a vehicle in which to reach out and network with other groups, such as Women in Technology, and other organizations. One of our key goals is reach out to other organizations – our competitors within the data center industry, our partners and even our customers – to build a network of organizations that support this work across the data center industry. That may include sponsoring educational events, sending people to trainings and increasing the participation of women in industry-sponsored events.

The establishment of the WLF enables Vantage to act as an industry leader so other companies in the data center space can follow our lead.

DCT: We’ve seen women leaving the workforce in massive numbers during the COVID pandemic. Is this something that we’ve witnessed in the data center industry as well? What can companies like Vantage do to counteract this trend?

Carol Harper Vernon: Thankfully, at Vantage, we haven’t really seen women leaving the workforce in mass as a result of the pandemic. However, I understand that the data center industry isn’t immune to the crisis, and I also recognize that there has been a disproportionate number of women who have made the decision to leave the workforce or scale back their careers due to increased demands at home.

But I haven’t personally seen that within our organization.

Vantage plans to continue to allow remote working during the pandemic, which will permit people to take care of home and childcare demands to the extent the position allows for that kind of flexibility. I also think it would be helpful for more companies to normalize caregiving, thereby making employees feel comfortable that they won’t be negatively judged for having caregiving responsibilities within their households.

Finally, I believe companies should invest more in mental health and well-being for their employees. Employers need to lead with empathy and demonstrate their commitment to supporting the whole health of the employee during the pandemic. And that’s really a win-win for the enterprise. When women feel valued and supported within the organization, they’re less likely to leave.

DCT: What role do you see the WLF having within the organization moving forward? How will this organization work to support women in the workplace and foster growth opportunities for them?

Heather Downey: I think the forum will have a prominent role in ensuring there is true gender equity in the workplace. It’s important to ensure that people understand that this is a topic that needs to be focused on now and not shifted to the back burner.

And, as I discussed, the creation of the WLF is part of JEDI – our larger workplace equity initiative – which will help us with recruiting, promoting people and structuring the executive leadership of the company. We have very specific goals for the forum that are focused on education, training and ensuring there are leadership opportunities for women. We also plan on addressing issues with working parents and the elements of empathy in the workplace, like selfcare and wellness.

The WLF will enhance an already exceptional and successful company. It will help us move forward and be a change agent within our organization, while making us an example for others in the data center industry.

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