Equality in the workplace: the VMware Bulgaria practice

The mission of Ekaterina Karavelova Foundation is to support the personal and social development of women in Bulgaria through original programmes for personal development and active citizenship trainings. The experience we have gained over the years has taught us that in addition to our work on the ground it is crucial to advocate for gender equality policies based on data and evidence.

In a series of interviews, we introduce you to the policies and practices of companies that have been awarded the Badge of Distinction for Significant Achievements in the Effective Implementation of the Gender Equality Policy, which is awarded annually by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.

We discuss the topic with VMware Bulgaria and their Vice President Global Sites Strategy, Diana Stefanova

Badge of Distinction by Ministry of Labour and Social Policy

Both in 2022 and 2023 VMware Bulgaria Ltd. was awarded with the Badge of Distinction for Significant Achievements in the Field of Equality between Women and Men. What are the internal policies that you implement and helped you achieve this honour?

Central to VMware’s organisational culture are the principles of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). DEI policies and initiatives are developed by a global team whose strategic partner in defining goals and their implementation is the company’s senior management.  The goals are integrated into our business strategy and their progress is monitored in real time. All employees in the company are committed to achieving them, but a very key partner in this process are the so-called Power of Difference Communities – a global network of employee communities who strongly believe in the DEI principles and recognise them as their personal priority. They work at the local level to implement policies and change attitudes. At VMware, we remember that we are part of a huge ecosystem – for this reason, our DEI activities are directed both internally to the company’s employees and externally for positive change at the community level.

Among the initiatives that were highly appreciated by the “Ministry of Labour and Social Policy” are:

  • Our long-standing partnership with Women Who Code – a global organisation whose mission is to attract more women to the IT sector. VMware supports the activities of the Bulgarian chapter of Women Who Code financially and with speakers. Its annual calendar includes events (over 100 so far), seminars and lectures aimed at career guidance and development of women in IT. The WWC community in Bulgaria has over a thousand members already.
  • Another priority of VMware is the development of young talents in STEM. Our Talent Boost education programme involves young professionals and students from the field of technical studies with the goal to develop and enrich their knowledge in computer science. We always strive to attract an equal number of girls and boys to the programme. Successful Talent Boost graduates get the opportunity to join our internship programme. For 2022, for example, 48% of graduates were girls. They can join the Women Connecting Women mentoring programme, where they draw on the knowledge and experience of more senior colleagues.
  • The initiatives aimed at external audiences are complemented by VMware’s series of events called Empower Her (record of two of the events: in 2022, 2021). These are aimed at women in the technology sector and have the main objective of helping them in their social and professional development, building an environment for sharing best practices, experience and skills. Other similar events that VMware supports aimed at younger audiences are Girls in AI and Teens in AI.

Internal initiatives include a huge range of learning and development opportunities:

  • In 2022, we ran a mentoring programme for managers, in which 46% of participants were women. One of the main objectives of this programme was to support the professional development of the participants, with a focus on developing key skills for senior management positions.
  • Over the past year, a number of colleagues went through 6-month programmes tailored to their individual needs and goals, delivered through the BetterUp global coaching platform.
  • Reverse Mentorship is an innovative global programme where the approach of classic mentoring programmes is reversed and younger colleagues are given the opportunity to mentor more senior ones.
  • At VMware, we have offered flexible working hours for years, aiming to help every employee find a work-life balance. In the context of women, this allows for a better balance between being a mother and a successful professional.
  • The company’s office is also in line with the policy of equality and support for women, as there is a special room (mother’s room) for mothers with small children, which provides a breastfeeding chair, a diaper changing station and toys. The room also has a kitchenette with a kettle to prepare formula milk. More about the office can be seen here.
  • Extended Paternity Leave – VMware provides 16 weeks of paid paternity leave which is 100% paid by the company. This is a programme aimed at promoting equality between men and women both in and out of the workplace. The extended duration of paternity leave provides young dads with the opportunity to spend more time with their newborn children, building an emotional bond with them through daily care. They are also able to provide support for the whole family at this crucial time in all parents’ lives.

How does the application of these policies positively affect your company?

The research is clear about the many benefits to business:

  • According to Glassdoor, for 76% of active job seekers, one of the main factors in choosing an employer is how well they implement policies that benefit diversity and gender equality.
  • A Deloitte study shows that such companies are 83% more likely to be innovative and, according to the Great Place to Work Institute, employees are 5.4 times more likely to stay long-term.

However, positive results are observed when investments in DEI programmes and policies are a long-term priority for businesses. We have been integrating DEI as part of our business strategy since 2014. Then, the percentage of women in the company was 22.6% and today it is 30%.

Earlier, I mentioned what an important part Power of Difference Communities is to implementing our DEI strategy globally. To date there are 23 of them, each with at least two senior leaders who are their sponsors, ambassadors, advisors and guarantors that the PoD communities’ goals are aligned with the strategic goals of the business.

In 2021, we introduced a new recruitment model called Go Hiring, where the approach to assessing candidates’ skills is different from the traditional one. It focuses on a candidate’s overall potential, their analytical and problem-solving skills and individual attributes. Since the implementation of Go Hiring at the level of job adverts, interview process and skills assessment, we have reported 80% more applications, twice as many women, as well as those who identify as part of under-represented groups, amongst our candidates. The company uses career ads and postings that are written in gender-neutral language. In the candidate interviewing process, the panel of interviewers includes both women and men to ensure maximum candidate comfort and objective judgment during the process.

So far, more than 100 members of PoD communities around the world have been through the six-month Better Up leadership development coaching programme. Feedback shows a greater sense of belonging (11%), better coaching skills (22%), increased adaptability and resilience to change and challenges (23%).

Our annual calendar also includes trainings such as Unconscious Bias & Inclusive Leadership in Action to better understand how our perceptions, attitudes and behaviours impact the company culture. To date, over 2/3 of VMware’s global team has gone through these interactive trainings, as well as over 70% of the company’s leaders.

These are just some of the outcomes we measure to make sure programmes are successful. In addition, we conduct colleague surveys every quarter. Globally, 86% believe the company’s work culture encourages the free expression of opinions, and 83% recognise the company’s senior leaders as ambassadors of equality and diversity principles. 79% confirm that the business group in which they work takes specific  actions to build a culture of inclusion.

Ladies Forum Leadership Programme

Transparent pay and career development procedures are an important factor in promoting equality in the workplace. A Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council to strengthen the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms has recently been adopted and is to be transposed into the national legislation. What are your company’s internal policies on transparency and equal pay for equal work?

At VMware, we apply this principle and ensure compliance. Our latest global survey shows that at VMware, women receive 99% of what their male colleagues are paid. This policy is also applied for employees of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, where pay is equivalent.

We continuously monitor remuneration levels in all VMware branches worldwide, taking into account various factors such as position, level of expertise, tenure in the company and respective role, individual performance, etc.

Your company works in the field of software solutions and although Bulgaria is in the leading positions in the European Union for women employed in the information and communication technologies, men still occupy prevalent positions. What is the ratio of women to men in your company and are there women in leadership roles?

Our global data shows that nearly 30% of our employees are women. This percentage is also valid for Bulgaria. We follow specific targets to increase the representation of women in our teams globally, which are measured and updated on an annual basis.

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace is critical to our success. VMware has a strong commitment, which is embedded in our program of ESG goals with a deadline of 2030, to increase the percentage of women employees to 50%. In addition, we are also aiming for management roles over the same time period to be distributed in favour of diversity, which means 50% of them being filled by underrepresented groups. More information on the targets can be found in our annual DEI reports (2022 and 2023).

Do you think there is a need for legislative changes and more specific policies at a national level to encourage employers to implement internal gender equality measures?

Both national policies and companies’ understanding of the importance of the topic are equally relevant. In the technology sector, where VMware operates, we have talked for a long time about gender equality and diversity in the workplace (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion). We operate in a highly competitive labour market and having these internal measures and policies in place, as we have seen from the Glassdoor research, is crucial for attracting the best professionals.  

The competition organised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is a step in the right direction, as it puts the issue on the agenda of society and business in Bulgaria. As far as the IT sector is concerned, we still have a lot of work to do to improve the ratio of employed men to women. We need a qualitative change here, which starts with the younger generation, and our role is to show them how vast the world of technology is, to break the stigma that engineering professions are not among the so-called ‘women’s professions’. Together with the institutions, we need to work more consistently at school level and then at university level. We need to give more visibility to successful women in industry and build role models, as they are not only a source of inspiration but also of knowledge and experience.

  • Ekaterina Karavelova Foundation is a member of the National Council for Equality between Women and Men at the Council of Ministers, which votes on the proposals for the selection of the winners of the Badge of Distinction for Significant Achievements in the Effective Implementation of the Gender Equality Policy made by the Commission for examination and evaluation of the submitted applications, which is appointed by the Minister of Labour and Social Policy.
  • You can learn more about the activities of the National Council for Equality between Women and Men at the Council of Ministers, which is a permanent, coordinating and advisory body that assists the Council of Ministers in the development and implementation of the national gender equality policy here.
  • You can find Ekaterina Karavelova Foundation’s statements in relation to the work of the Council here.

Photo credit: VMware