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HERstory: How Turnitin Support became an incubator for gender equity part I

Part 1 of 2 for International Women's Equality Day

Zemina Hasham
Zemina Hasham
Executive Sponsor, W.A.T.T. ERG / Turnitin Chief Customer Officer and Chief of Staff
Patti West-Smith
Patti West-Smith
Senior Director, Customer Engagement and Customer Experience






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Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives have been building momentum for more than a decade and efforts have only intensified in recent years, as companies around the world grapple with deeply entrenched mindsets and systemic structures that perpetuate inequities. In a struggle that aims to combat such monumental obstacles, companies, including Turnitin, have been in a position of celebrating even the most incremental progress toward often lofty, aspirational goals. Every once in a while, though, a shift occurs that signals deep, meaningful change, and when it does, that is a story worth telling. The tale of how Turnitin’s Technical Support organization became an incubator for fostering gender equity is one such story.


Over the past five years, new leadership in Turnitin’s Technical Support organization came on board, charged with transforming the department into a world-class team. At that time, the rough make-up of the entire team was 70% male-identifying and 30% women-identifying, aligning closely to global statistics around gender representation. Focused on serving Turnitin’s users globally, Kris Jones, Senior Director Integrity Support and Denise Howze, Senior Director Assessment Delivery Operations and Support, knew that achieving the goal demanded that the team incorporate more diversity to better reflect those it serves but also to create strength within the team by having different backgrounds and views. With the support and encouragement of the entire company leadership, support leadership set out to shift the paradigm.

… And now

Today, we can say with pride, that the team DOES better reflect the demographics of the global community it serves. For the entire Turnitin Technical Support organization, the numbers now reflect 51% male-identifying and women-identifying 49%, nearly an even split. To understand just how remarkable this ratio is, consider that globally, the numbers around gender ratios in the technical support profession are matched to where Turnitin began in 2016—roughly 70% men and 30%women; even that is considered progress from a time when the profession was almost completely dominated by men, not so many years ago.

It is important to recognize that our leadership teams also reflect this same ratio. The Technical Support Leadership team is even more balanced 50% women and 50% men. And the overall leadership team at Turnitin, where I serve, is equally balanced as well. This demonstrates a commitment across the company to DEIB and more importantly, creates a richer environment for us to work and to serve our customers.

The numbers themselves are powerful and speak to the vision, commitment, and hard work that went into reshaping the organization, but the details of this story matter because it doesn’ t end with having achieved near total gender balance, tackling a key issue of diversity. In fact, that is only the tip of the iceberg, because diversity is only the first step towards equity and inclusion. Beyond the ever-critical representation, the deeper story is how this shift has served to grow even broader representation across the company and how the efforts have led to significant career advancement for women. Women are not only members of the team, but they are thriving. The evidence is clear. As a result of the incubatorial work in Technical Support, Turnitin has started to see a number of these women moving into senior roles, leadership roles, and even spreading into other parts of the organization where they have been historically underrepresented.

To date, 19 women have started in entry level roles on the technical support team, only to go on to leadership roles in support, deeper technical roles and beyond. There are stories of women beginning in Tier 1 support who later went on to become Tier 3 support reps, engineers, product managers, technical writers, product analysts, and more. Why, though? What is it about the culture built within Turnitin’s Technical Support team that has acted as a petri dish for growing gender equity and opportunities for career growth?

Some of the women directly involved have captured one key idea:

  • Catia Lund, Tier 3 Technical Support Representative - “Throughout the years I’ve felt heard by my support team leaders. The safe space is priceless to me, and I am proud to be part of Turnitin. Shout out to support leadership who always had my back no matter gender, nationality or the languages that I speak. We are ONE!”
  • Dawn Irons, Senior Manager Quality and Knowledge - “I was often encouraged by my manager at the time to review my career aspirations and to reignite some of the skills I had and to put them to good use at Turnitin!”
  • Karen Falk, Team Lead Technical Support - “With regard to Support leadership, I think we’re blessed with leaders who truly care about their staff and want to see them thrive no matter what shift pattern they work.”
  • Steph Gomes, Associate Database Engineer - “But when I look back at my experience on the team, the important thing was that management believed in my abilities and trusted my competencies without any gender bias.”
  • Jessica Graham, Associate Product Usage Analyst - “I'm also grateful to management for supporting me when I decided to apply for a different role; it was quite different to the experience I had gained whilst working on cases and their patience and belief that I would settle in this new role was greatly appreciated.”

Across these anecdotes, one thing shines through: leadership supported and encouraged women on the team. Sometimes, taking the time to look for the potential, along with offering encouragement when progress is made and expressing confidence in staff, is all that is needed to discover potential for growth, and the success of these women proves it. In Part II of this series, we will look even more closely at some of the specific steps the Support organization took to shift the culture and make substantive progressive on their DEIB goals, including how those practices might be replicated by leaders of other teams.