UK managing director, Exertis
What's the most pressing issue preventing progress with diversity today that no one's talking about?
I think everyone could benefit from deepening our understanding of what diversity and inclusion means. We all need to talk to each other more, and those of us in senior positions need to be very, very good at listening. At Exertis we're working to build a really open culture in which people from all backgrounds, communities and identities can freely and openly discuss diversity, so that we all continually learn from each other. In short, it is about education and open discussion so that we can progress together rather than just a target or a stated purpose.
What do you believe are the most effective policies and initiatives that companies can implement to promote diversity in their workforce?
A strong people-focused culture is vital, with real, concrete resources that all our people can use. So, at Exertis we have a vibrant EDIT (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Team), who do great work on awareness days and celebrations of key dates across all our communities; we have D&I training for all employees, prayer rooms at some of our sites, a growing team of mental health first-aiders, regular anonymous employee surveys and a service called Safecall, which means any employee who experiences discrimination can call and share their concerns in a totally independent, safe and anonymous environment. We are also launching the first three of our ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) - for our women, our people from ethnic minority communities and our LGBTQIA+ community. These groups are designed to create a safe space for members of these communities, to connect and support one another, and to engage with the whole business, so that our people can educate each other about lived experience and cultivate allyship across the organisation.
How much progress do you believe the industry has made in diversity since you started working in IT?
I think there has been considerable progress, but it's also not nearly enough. The huge influx of incredibly talented and brilliant women into the senior echelons of our industry has been one of the absolute highlights of recent times. At Exertis we've gone from 14 per cent women in the senior leadership team to 28 per cent in a few years. But there is still so much to do, especially when it comes to attracting talent from all the UK's diverse communities into the sector.
What should senior management teams be doing more of to help create a more inclusive industry for everyone?
I think there are two things: the first is simply ensuring that every business has an authentically inclusive culture, which values diversity and difference as positives, and as crucial components in business success. Second, I think as an industry we also need to work together to attract talent from all communities, and to communicate clearly that our sector is a welcoming and inclusive one, which understands that diverse organisations win.
How did you first get into the IT industry?
I first started in the franking machine world about 30 years ago and came to realise that IT was the way forward as the office environment started to accelerate with desktop PCs. I knew someone at Micro-P (as Exertis was then) so picked up the phone, got an introduction and the rest is history.
What have been some of your experiences (both good and bad) with how the IT industry has historically approached diversity?
I think historically, the IT industry, like many other industries, used to be very male dominated and slowly we have seen some good improvements, but we still have some way to go, especially at senior levels. Over recent years I think the whole of society, let alone the IT industry, has seen an accelerated awareness through ‘Me Too', ‘Black Lives Matter' and a general elevation of issues across gender, generational gaps, religion, ethnicity and disabilities. We have a lot more to do, but I am proud of how we have progressed over recent years and intend on shifting further in the right direction in the future.
Who have been your biggest role models in your professional life, and how have they helped you to succeed?
I don't think I would call out anyone in particular, but I have worked with some fantastic people over my career and have a lot to be grateful for with different individuals. What I have made a habit of is making sure I am connected to a really diverse group so that my learnings and viewpoints are well balanced.