Linda Middleditch, chief of product strategy and engineering at Itiviti, wins this year’s gender equality/diversity professional of the year (vendor) award. Prior to joining Itiviti, Middleditch had stints at Bloomberg and on the sell side at Citi, Morgan Stanley and UBS, where she worked across multiple asset classes throughout the entire trade lifecycle.

Middleditch’s equality and diversity philosophy is driven by the concept of cognitive diversity and not specifically gender equality, given her belief that focusing exclusively on gender can lead to blind spots regarding other minority groups. “The mistake with a lot of diversity initiatives is that they’re based on what people look like and not on the way they operate,” she explains. “In many cases, there are as many introverted men [as there are women] who get passed over and who experience many of the issues associated more with women. I received a recent message from a male friend of mine describing this exact situation, and as a woman, I hate positive discrimination.”

Middleditch’s comments will strike a chord with many across the industry—male and female—because while everyone supports the principle of equal opportunities for all, irrespective of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, there is a danger that righting the wrongs of the past just for the sake of doing so can lead to situations that some might perceive to be window dressing and tokenism, which ultimately creates a whole new set of problems. 

Middleditch is an advocate of returners programs, and while Itiviti doesn’t have such an arrangement at present, she has actively participated in such schemes at her previous firms. Women, she says, generally lack confidence and once they have had time out to start a family, they tend to worry about not being able to cope when they ultimately get back to work. “Those initiatives are important for ensuring that you get a population pool that is truly diverse,” she says. “But ‘women in leadership’ initiatives are by definition gender-biased and you need to think wider than that in order to promote true diversity and diversity of thinking as opposed to just diversity of looks.”

When she builds teams at Itiviti, Middleditch is conscious of ensuring that there is diversity of thinking, which she says is much more challenging than building teams of like-minded individuals, which invariably results in group-think. “So you have to switch off your unconscious bias in order to ensure that you’re bringing in people with different backgrounds, skillsets and perspectives,” she says.

Middleditch is a firm believer that women themselves within their respective organizations should be the ones helping one another to be more assertive and confident. “You don’t need programs, you need a meritocracy—which should be a given—and we need to be given confidence. But the one thing I haven’t done is gone into the schools to do this stuff. We need to teach the girls while they’re young and we need to help them build their confidence so that they can overcome these challenges,” she says.

This article is firstly published at Waterstechnology.com

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