Gemma Wong is a seasoned design expert, currently leading the User Experience (UX) team as Principal Experience (UX) Designer at Slalom Build. An extension of Slalom Consulting Slalom Build is the technology arm of the consulting firm – a company that both strategises and develops IT solutions for clients. The company is relatively new to Australia, only entering the market in January of 2020, just weeks before the pandemic hit our shores.
Since joining Slalom in March of 2021, Gemma has developed the UX and user interface (UI) design teams and oversees the design operations of digital projects and strategies. In taking this role, Gemma truly took a leap of faith, in fact she was just three months into her pregnancy, with the plan to depart on maternity leave just five months later to welcome her first born child into the world.
While the technology industry has had a reputation for being more male-dominated and gender exclusive, the reality is technology and IT companies like Slalom are innovating in this space and implementing policies supportive of both men and women. For example, Slalom Australia has initiated a no eligibility parental leave policy for both primary and secondary carers.
This means that when Gemma went for the role at Slalom, the company had already laid the foundations to provide opportunities for expecting mothers and did not think twice about taking her on board. As Gemma says, it should be all about the vision the company has for you and the vision you have for yourself and your career despite your personal situation. Upon taking the job at Slalom she asked herself, “why stay put at another company when I have an opportunity to grow in my career now?”
According to Gemma, too often women miss out on being able to challenge themselves and follow their passions to make their next big career move, especially when expecting a child. She says, “it’s not your job to work around when to have a child — it’s a business problem to solve with your organisation. Don’t hide it, think about how you want to manage it, vocalise and work together on the plan.”
Since joining Slalom, Gemma has been actively involved in what the return to work looks like for her. Whilst Slalom is a global consulting firm, the company’s local presence operates very much like a start-up and that means innovating so that employees can love both their work and life outside of work no matter what their circumstance may be. Therefore, by being involved in the plan for what her return from parental leave looks like from the onset, Gemma has been able to set a standard for what is to come in her journey with Slalom.
Gemma believes that for change to happen, employees, especially new parents, should collaborate with their organisation and teams to create a system that works for them. She says, “plan out how that could work for you and have those conversations with your employer. It’s a two-way street, see it as the organisation’s investment in you and vice versa. Work with them to build a vision for the company and its people.”
Research shows women aren’t leaving the technology industry to have children, according to Women in Tech: The Facts (2016), more than half of women in tech leave the industry by the mid-point of their career, which is more than double the rate of men, and it’s not to have children.
On retaining women in the industry, Gemma believes the solution is not a numbers game aiming to balance out the gender split. Doing this, unfairly places the responsibility solely onto women without acknowledging the invisible biases and systemic issues that greatly contribute to the overall problem. Take hiring and promoting for example, biases can stem from individuals, company culture, or the operational and organisational structure of the company itself. The real solution she says is for the employer and employee to openly discuss issues like the impact of having children mid-career, and not viewing it as a “setback” in progression or staying relevant in the industry.
At the same time, companies can plan for employees to be away for extended periods and start to offer specific upskill training to shape roles that allow for better landing when parents return to the workforce. Regardless, Gemma encourages women to be bold in their ambitions despite the so-called status quo.“Sometimes you just need to ignore the invisible forces that govern the world around you. Because if all you see are ceilings and boundaries and biases, then that mentality can begin to limit your determination to achieve all the things that you are truly capable of.”