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Jillian Kaplan on why orgs need equity and upskilling access

May 17, 2023

In times of economic uncertainty, organizations are pushing to do more with less. Jillian Kaplan, telecom thought leader and industry veteran, proposes a radically different solution: Doing less with less.

From upskilling strategies to advice for supporting women in tech, Jillian shares her knowledge to help leaders promote equity and upskilling access no matter the economic environment.

Women in tech and the pursuit of equity in the workplace

Women make up only 28% of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields. 

For many organizations, increasing the number of women in the tech industry means revamping recruiting and hiring processes to create more inclusive practices. But organizations need to support their existing employees just as much as future ones. Without the right support and workplace culture, 50% of women in tech roles will leave their jobs before the age of 35.

>>> Hear from three women about their experiences working in tech.

How leaders in tech can support women in the workplace

As a diversity and inclusion chair for the Telecom Infra Project, Jillian shares tips for leaders in tech as they advance equity in the workplace.

Help women find their voice

Societal pressures make it difficult for some women to find their voice in the workplace, especially in an industry like tech that’s dominated by men. 

“I spent 14 years at Verizon, and I spent 14 years there doing a very good job, always getting good reviews [but] never getting where I wanted to be,” says Jillian. As she looks back on that time, she realizes why she wasn’t able to progress. “I never told anyone what I wanted.”

You can help women in tech find their voice by creating a space where they feel comfortable speaking up. One way to do that might be to prompt everyone on your team to make a list of everything they accomplish in a quarter, no matter how small. You and your employees can use this list to boost confidence, dispel doubts, and advocate for promotions and employee development opportunities.

Give women in tech resources to communicate their value

Jillian knows that communicating with upper management isn’t always easy. That’s where her The Art of the Subtle Brag workshop comes in. 

“I teach people, and honestly, it's mostly women who attend the workshops (but everyone is welcome!) on how to find their voice and how to share accomplishments without feeling like you're saying, ‘Hey, look at me.’”

Jillian suggests helping women approach these types of conversation as if they were a team sport rather than a solo performance. “It’s [about] finding those ways to talk about what you're doing and accomplishing that feel good and authentic to you.”

Giving women in tech resources like Jillian’s workshop can help them gain the confidence they need to advocate for themselves more effectively.

Provide benefits geared towards helping women in tech succeed

Working parents juggle professional and family responsibilities. The term work-life balance doesn’t always reflect the ways those responsibilities can shift. Jillian and Heather MacDonald, Pluralsight’s Principal Consultant for Workforce Transformation, discuss work-life happiness and work-life harmony as more accurate alternatives.

“I use the term work-life happiness because I think balance implies you always have to have 50-50,” says Jillian. “That's not going to happen. There are going to be times your family is going to need more. And . . . there are going to be times when work needs a little bit more.”

Providing flexible schedules, paid family leave, and hybrid or work-from-home options can help women and working parents define their work-life harmony.

>>> Get tips to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization.

Upskilling program strategies for leaders in the tech industry

Our 2023 State of Upskilling report found that 97% of HR and L&D directors prioritize internal talent development over hiring for open roles. 

Jillian isn’t surprised by this. “I think that HR is focusing on internal upskilling [because] in the long run, it's much cheaper and much easier,” she says. “It’s also better for your employees.”

An upskilling program can help you fill open positions and improve equity in the tech industry through learning and development opportunities. But despite the benefits of upskilling employees, you may not know where to start. 

Jillian shares these five upskilling program strategies to spark talent transformation in your workplace:

1. Provide access to learning platforms

“Learning new skills is never harmful,” says Jillian. “So you've got to give [employees] access to different platforms where they can learn.

“I think offering training and access to platforms like Pluralsight Skills is extremely important. If you want to upskill people, you have to teach them the skills to do that right.”

Learning platforms that provide a mix of learning resources, like video content, skill assessments, and hands-on labs, can benefit employees with different learning styles.

2. Create time for learning

On their own, learning platforms aren’t enough to guarantee upskilling success. Technologists are too busy to upskill. They need dedicated time for learning to prioritize skill development. 

But almost half of tech managers worry that organization-paid time to learn may have a negative impact on team velocity. Having open conversations with your team can alleviate some of this stress. You can work out the appropriate balance between upskilling and day-to-day deliverables.

“Giving people the freedom to have that time [for learning]—or being able to have conversations with their manager to say, ‘Hey, how much of my time should be spent on personal development?’—is really important,” says Jillian.

Technologists are too busy to learn.

3. Implement job rotations for any job level

Job rotations promote talent mobility and give employees the opportunity to work in other areas of the business. Job rotations are fairly common for college hires and entry-level positions, but anyone, regardless of seniority or experience, can benefit.

Jillian’s job rotation opened up a new career path for her. “I did a job share program at Verizon when I moved from engineering to product management,” she says. This gave her the opportunity to check out product management before making the leap permanently.

She had the time to ask herself, Am I any good at this? Do I like it? “The answer ended up being yes to both,” she shares, “but I had the opportunity to try it.”

>>> See how Verizon used upskilling to drive their business forward and become a leader in 5G.

4. Include soft skills training

With hard skills training, employees learn how to do different tasks at work. But soft skills are also an important part of employee development. “Confidence training and giving people training on soft skills [can help employees understand] that they can upskill, and it's not too late,” says Jillian.

5. Consider certificate and course programs

Joint partnership between HR directors and leaders in tech is the secret to effective upskilling. But even though 87% of learning and development directors are confident in their upskilling partnership with tech leaders, only 57% plan tech skill development together.

One thing that’s commonly overlooked by HR when they create skill development programs for tech teams? Certifications.

“There are so many amazing certificate programs out there that people can go and get that show that you are qualified to do something,” Jillian says. “And oftentimes, they're on more specific things. So . . . not everyone needs a master's degree in X, Y, Z to be able to do X, Y, Z. A certificate could suffice as well.”

Employee development is critical during uncertainty

“As the workforce changes, and there's been a lot of layoffs in tech recently, we can't do more with less,” emphasizes Jillian. “We have to learn how to do less with less. And that's extremely important for mental health so you're not burning out.”

But that doesn’t mean you put everything on pause, either. Continuing to support women in tech and providing upskilling opportunities will enable you to develop your employees and advocate for their success even during uncertainty.

For more insights from Jillian, watch her full conversation with Heather.

Jillian Kaplan

Pluralsight Author

Jillian is a 20+ year technology industry veteran. She currently works at a Fortune 50 Enterprise, prior to that she spent 14 years at Verizon. She has worked in engineering, product management, project management, marketing operations and product marketing. Having worked in so many different roles, she had a unique end to end perspective from initial product development to bringing products to market. She is a strong believer in ‘Technology for Good’ and works to bring it to the forefront of all messaging She is an author, speaker and believer in paying it forward helping people in the industry find their voice and share their accomplishments. She currently resides in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter and dog. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, spending time with her family, horseback riding, eating and working out.