Chief digital and marketing officer, Exertis
What's the most pressing issue preventing progress with diversity today that no one's talking about?
Education is so important. Biases, which may have been ingrained in individuals for a number of reasons, need to be removed in order to embrace diversity, to be more open to diverse views, and the benefits that diversity provides to businesses and individuals alike. Specific to our industry, I think more diversity needs to be implemented at a grassroots level. Through education, more people from diverse backgrounds can aim to get into the IT industry to springboard their careers here, and to start the progression of diversity. Removing obstacles, whether perceived or actual, of the IT industry only hiring certain people with certain qualifications is essential for progress to be made. People from different backgrounds and different walks of life are the key to making businesses richer.
What do you believe are the most effective policies and initiatives that companies can implement to promote diversity in their workforce?
The most effective initiative is Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which we have recently implemented here at Exertis. Our groups are chaired by someone who identifies themselves as a member of each of the three focus pillars (women, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and LGBTQ+) and each chair has the capability, through the support of the business, to drive change. Our ERGs are reaching out to other similar groups in the industry in order to form powerful communities and create industry-wide initiatives. Those teams will be empowered to make decisions in the way we recruit and manage employees. From a top-down approach, businesses need to see this as a stated company objective to increase representation.
How much progress do you believe the industry has made in diversity since you started working in IT?
We can see different representation in our business at a senior level, which we have pride in. We've moved from 14 per cent to 28 per cent female representation in our senior leadership team in the UK. Diversity is starting to form part of every conversation - it's become a bigger part of the narrative of every element of the business, and different views and perspectives are now represented from different backgrounds in the IT industry. New talent is now being hired from different backgrounds, rather than talent from the IT industry only moving between companies. The industry still isn't where it needs to be, but steps are being made.
What should senior management teams be doing more of to help create a more inclusive industry for everyone?
Inclusivity is fundamentally about listening. Being open to listening to others, being more accessible, driving more discussions with communities, offering more safe spaces to talk, are all ways in which inclusivity can be driven in businesses. The more senior executives who can listen and be open to thoughts and perspectives, the better. Leaders are the ones who speak last and act first. As leaders, we need to ask ourselves: are we building a company with an inclusive environment that provides those from diverse backgrounds the best platform to be a success?
How did you first get into the IT industry?
Serendipity! A meeting of chance; a conversation that sparked an interest and one thing led to another. I discovered a new, rapid paced industry which was unknown to me until two-and-a-half years ago.
What have been some of your experiences (both good and bad) with how the IT industry has historically approached diversity?
There's lots of talent in the industry, and passionate people who know the industry inside-out have historically moved between suppliers and competitors - but the channel would benefit from having more of an influx of diverse talent from other industries, too. Transferrable skills are underrated, and intelligent people who have worked in parallel industries can often provide amazing skillsets for the benefit of the business.
Who have been your biggest role models in your professional life, and how have they helped you to succeed?
Leaders and mentors in my early career. One of my first line managers was incredibly generous with his time and he was actually reverse-mentoring, now that I look back. In a junior role, I saw him as extremely busy but he always made time to listen. I now realise how clever that was - he was learning about my point of view, but he was also coaching me. He is a role model in the way I lead.
Do you think companies should be compelled to publish ‘ethnicity pay gap' data?
Yes, I think they should. We're on a journey and, over time, I believe this will happen.
Do you believe Covid has hampered or helped gender diversity efforts in the IT industry?
It's certainly helped from a talent pool perspective; companies now have more access to diverse talent rather than being hampered by geographic restrictions. The increase in working from home might have also inspired people such as working parents to aim for roles that they never would have done in the past. Hinderances include mental health challenges, insecurities and loneliness as a result of working from home and having less contact with colleagues.
What can employers do to create a more inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ staff?
Encourage Employee Resource Groups and communities, which give a safe space for them to belong to, and to help educate the business on accepting them. Representation is also so important, for members of minorities to feel like staff from different backgrounds are accepted and successful in all levels of a business.
What are the most effective ways an employer can promote a multicultural and multifaith workplace?
Creating a community where people from multicultural and multifaith backgrounds can belong is of utmost importance. Having representation at all levels of the business, and pushing education to the fore, can help others to understand what multiculture and multifaith means. Colleagues can then delve deeper into questions they may have, such as: why do we have prayer rooms, and what happens during Eid or Ramadan? Education starts with all of us, and is key to promoting diversity. We are proud at Exertis to be able to have the mechanisms to put these practices into place.