Why diversity and sustainability are so critical in a digital world

Helena Babelon, our Head of IT Sustainability, tells us why she created her own role and shares her experiences working as a woman in IT. 

Helena is no stranger to sustainable solutions. Growing up, she lived in a house with solar panels. Even in her home country of Sweden, this was an uncommon occurrence at that time.

Her upbringing piqued her interest in sustainability and inspired her to study mechanical engineering at KTH (Stockholm) and ENSTA (Paris). After graduating, she began working at Electrolux, becoming Head of IT Sustainability in 2018.

We sat down with Helena to discuss why sustainability and gender diversity in IT matters.

Your role – Head of IT Sustainability – is one that you created yourself. How did that come about?

I realized that we had objectives and encouraged employees to act sustainably on a company level. But within IT, we rarely talked about sustainability. I saw this as an opportunity to create a team that would focus on building the sustainability agenda within IT as well as the corporate agenda.

What does sustainability in IT really mean and why does it matter?

It refers to the opportunity of sustainable processes in IT and the areas we should focus on, which depends on IT operations.

At Electrolux, we have broken it down to the Data Center, where we focus on energy efficiency and using the renewable energy that we have. We’re also developing our understanding of our climate footprint in our cloud solutions. Then there’s IT purchasing and ensuring we have requirements in place for when we buy hardware.

Finally, we target circularity and now have a global contract in place with a partner that collects our used IT equipment and resells it. This guarantees a second life for used equipment, and if this is not possible, it’s important to establish proper recycling processes.

What are the priorities for this year for Sustainable IT?

We have two main priorities:

  1. Circularity, which means making sure all our used IT equipment is collected at our sites.
  1. Suppliers’ sustainability processes, which means ensuring sustainability is part of their agenda and the decision making when we are collaborating and making purchasing decisions.

You’re passionate about more women pursuing careers in IT. Why is it important?

People think and reflect differently so it is extremely important that diverse perspectives are incorporated into solutions, especially in IT, where many projects are male-driven. My daughter has just started high school and chose to attend a technical IT-focused school. Out of 130 students, only 14 are girls. I tell her that even though you feel outnumbered, you as a girl can bring so much to the table. You can add another viewpoint to the conversation, developing more adapted or sustainable solutions that are more representative of the diverse world in which we live.

How many women apply for IT roles at Electrolux?

We have had over 400 female-identifying individuals apply for IT roles at Electrolux in 2022. Although this is a great number, we still have a lot of work to do to encourage women to seek IT positions. This starts with outreach to schools, and being visible at key events such as Women in Tech in Sweden (pictured below) and Poland, both of which we are partnering this year.

In addition, our own initiatives such as Tech Week, and mentoring sessions for women at Electrolux and beyond, can help promote female leadership and inspire more women to apply to IT roles.

And how can more women be encouraged into leadership positions?

I think many women experience imposter syndrome, in which they doubt their abilities and question their accomplishments, especially in IT, which can be a very male-dominated environment.

That, as well as biases about women’s competence as leaders, prevents them from even being given a chance. For me, it was my direct manager in a leadership position who supported and believed in me. So today my main advice is to articulate your professional interests to your manager, friends, family, and mentors. By doing so, the possibility of reaching your goals is much greater. These people are your advocates and are there to support you.

What is your top tip for living more sustainably in a tech world?

To reflect on what you do and the impact it may have on the environment. The user interface for tech often feels very clean and lean, but remember behind it is many layers of servers and data storage that require huge amounts of energy. If you take into account all the equipment that must be manufactured (servers, computers, routers, phones, etc.) as well, tech has an even bigger footprint than most people expect.

More about Helena: 

Lives in: Stockholm, Sweden

Favorite hobby: Spending time outdoors in nature

Favorite IT gadget: My mobile, an iPhone 7