Cloudera Chief Diversity Officer Sarah Shin explains her connection to International Women's Day's #ChooseToChallenge theme and why it's so relevant to Cloudera


Clouderas Sarah Shin on what it means to #ChooseToChallenge

Cloudera's Sarah Shin on what it means to #ChooseToChallenge

 March 02, 2021

Sarah Shin is Chief Diversity Officer at Cloudera. With 25 years of experience, Sarah spearheads Cloudera’s commitment to addressing workplace inequality with deliberate and decisive action and holds the company accountable for promoting belonging in its workplaces and communities. 

She also helps advance the inclusive employee experience, providing progressive development opportunities around equality and belonging and driving operational excellence within the organization.

For International Women's Day, Sarah shares what the theme #ChooseToChallenge means to her, and how this philosophy is being applied to her work at Cloudera.


Female accomplishments taking centre stage

"This year’s International Women’s Day on March 8th comes at a time when global communities, businesses, and governments find themselves continuing to pirouette, pivot, and adapt in the face of a relentless, global pandemic," says Sarah.

"COVID-19 has touched every aspect of our lives. As women, overnight we suddenly found that we had a portfolio career – comprising our day jobs, caregiver, school teacher and house cleaner – that we had neither asked for, nor were consulted on," she adds.

Yet, Sarah recognizes that amongst this turmoil there have been genuine moments of celebration, when female accomplishments have taken center stage in world events.

She cites women such as Professor Sarah Gilbert who are at the forefront of the scientific fight back against the pandemic, Kamala Harris who was sworn in as the first South Asian Black female Vice President of the United States, and Citigroup Inc's announcement that Jane Fraser would be its new CEO – Wall Street’s first female bank boss.

"It’s these achievements that inspire us to keep moving forward, to overcome, and remain committed to progress.  That’s why this year’s theme for IWD, #ChooseToChallenge, resonates so deeply," she adds.

What #ChoosetoChallenge means to Sarah

The first time Sarah took a stand, she was in seventh grade. There was a teacher she didn’t think was behaving in the correct way. She talked to her parents and told them that she wanted to take action. They were so supportive, and her Mom marched into the head teacher’s office with her.

That experience taught Sarah several critical lessons that she has carried with her ever since.

"The first was that you want to be able to influence change, not be the show; approach is everything.  The second is the importance of support. Having my mom with me as a seventh-grader gave me the confidence to stick to my convictions and create change. Challenging is hard, but it’s even harder when you feel alone," she explains.

"I also realised that finding my voice was scary, but that speaking my truth was important; that moment challenged me to confront my own fears and persist despite them. It’s a lesson I reflect on daily. I have a plaque that says “do one thing everyday that scares you” and everytime something wonderful has happened, it is because I took a leap of faith."

Business needs to change

Sarah continues: "Already at an economic disadvantage pre-2020, the juggling that women have endured during the pandemic is predicted to erase years of progress for women in the workplace. Deloitte reports that nearly 70% of women have experienced adverse changes to their daily routines during the pandemic, or believe these shifts have prevented—or will prevent—them from progressing."

"We’re staring a deep and prolonged female leadership crisis in the face. Data shows that diverse teams perform better and that those companies where women are well represented at the top deliver better profitability. Yet hiring processes continue to propagate bias towards women by not changing their minimum requirements. Women can’t become leaders if they can’t even get through the front door in the first place," she adds.

Sarah believes we need to tear through convention and use the pandemic as a moment to pause and ask: what’s possible now? Smart companies will rise to the challenge, focus on capability over whether you have an MBA and reimagine how teams work, opening up more job-sharing opportunities based around collaboration placing more emphasis on skills such as communication and teamwork.

Sarah knows that these are attributes that women have in abundance: "As the office fades in importance, such skills will become highly prized – the engine room of corporate performance that’s defined not by profitability alone, but by values, sustainability, and societal contribution," she says.

Cloudera rising to the challenge

Like many companies, Cloudera is on a journey towards achieving true gender diversity. But it’s a path it is committed to.

"In 2021, we will be empowering Clouderans with Allyship, inclusive interview and inclusive leadership training to name just a few programmes that are rolling out in the first half of the year. We’ll be holding ourselves accountable, having recently welcomed data scientist Solomon Makoni to our DE&I team to analyse the impact all our equality initiatives have on the experience of our employees. In 2021 we’re proud to be an official supporter of IWD and to empower all employees to #ChooseToChallenge in order to create a more gender-inclusive world," concludes Sarah.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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