Belton Flournoy

Doug Woodburn
clock • 8 min read
Belton Flournoy

Belton Flournoy

Director, Protiviti

What's the most pressing issue preventing progress with diversity today that no one's talking about?

The standardisation of reporting is one of the biggest issues for me. As it stands, organisations currently have the ability to ‘spin' their initiatives - and hence progress - any way they would like. Almost all corporate websites and annual reports include a section describing the ‘great' progress the organisation is making, as well as the ‘great' initiatives they are making. I am not saying what they are doing is not great, but does it have meaningful outputs? When a CEO spends money implementing a new technology or system, they track it monthly, have escalations in place, and have defined success criteria from the start. When it comes to diversity, you typically get an individual much removed from the CEO, who executes initiatives within their budget, but no diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) standard way of tracking, and many times, no escalation process in place if things fall behind. When budget cuts come, is your DEI programme really considered critical? Many times executive leaders fall victim to the ‘intention vs action' gap - this means they have the right intention, want to do the right things and even define actions to help address the identified issues. The problem is, many times the actions are not strong enough to effectively move the dial.  If a standardised DEI framework was created, which allowed companies to see objectives measures each year, leaders would be more able to truly understand their progress year on year. Further, employees, shareholders and prospective employees could hold the organisations to account - you could apply to those with higher metrics. Let's have the best companies attracting the best talent. 

What do you believe are the most effective policies and initiatives that companies can implement to promote diversity in their workforce?

I am not a DEI professional. I am a cybersecurity professional, with a passion for DEI. As such, I cannot truly comment on ‘effective policies and initiatives.' What I can comment on are the programmes I have seen that I feel have had the most impact.  First, working to feature senior business leaders speaking about their vulnerabilities is extremely powerful. Protiviti has featured a variety of its leaders sharing various vulnerabilities, from someone speaking openly about their disability, another who had to take time off for stress and another who was feeling overwhelmed working and raising children. These types of stories humanises our leaders, that is what is so beautiful. Everyone has a challenge from time to time, yet for some reason we always view leaders as being the powerful people they are today; we forgot that they were a child once.  I also find it extremely positive for companies to ‘not assume' their culture is inclusive. A McKinsey diversity report indicates that 80 per cent of senior executives are out at work, yet just 32 per cent of junior staff are. What this tells you is once you are comfortable with yourself and you feel secure, you can then come out. What we need to do is make people feel comfortable from day one; the challenge is that sometimes HR, senior leaders and other executives see their culture from the point of view of the 80 per cent, not the 32 per cent. As such, it is extremely important not to rely on the ‘culture you know', but to ensure your company has visible programmes in place, to continually feature its support of various groups, especially via investment in organically run employee network groups. Don't make them ‘beg for money', give them the opportunity to see how they want to spend it! 

How much progress do you believe the industry has made in diversity since you started working in IT?

Well, I may not be a true representative, as I have lived in both the US and the UK; however, I can say diversity is now at the forefront of most companies' agendas. Even while I was running Pride in the City with Pride in London, we helped so many organisations to throw their first event. What was apparent was that change was in the air, and it was no longer something a company could ignore. If you did not work to actively create inclusive policies, your top LGBT+ talent would leave, and rightly so. 

What should senior management teams be doing more of to help create a more inclusive industry for everyone?

Senior management should ask themselves this: do you truly care about inclusion or do you feel it is a buzzword for your HR teams to address? If you are not actively working towards providing input into the strategy, and are relying on other individuals to tell you how things should be, then you are simply not taking it as seriously as you would if your company needed taa new IT system or a new regulation was coming your organisation's way.  One of my favourite stories I heard recently was from an ex-CEO who spoke about his desire to bring more women into his organisation in the 1970s and 80s. He spoke to his HR who spent two years trying to address the issue, with no success. He then took a personal look at the company's HR policies and re-wrote many of them. HR's response: "You can't do that." His reply? ‘Oh yes I can." From then ownward, more women joined his organisation.  You see, CEOs are in the role they are in because of how they think. Senior leaders are the same - provide more strategic support to your DEI teams and true change will come. It's all about time and how much you are willing to give. 

How did you first get into the IT industry?

I entered university studying marketing and finance. I then had an intro to IT class with Dr Monika Adya. It was then I fell in love with IT. I immediately dropped finance, and started taking as many technology courses as I could. I then started my career with an IT consulting firm, initially focused in IT assurance, which taught me the foundations of technology concepts, before progressing to helping organisations implement next gen technologies in order to solve some of their most complex problems. Now, I lead the UK Digital Identity practice, covering many areas including privileged access management, authentication and access governance. 

What have been some of your experiences (both good and bad) with how the IT industry has historically approached diversity?

I think one of the things I do not like to see is how start-ups tend to bring in their friends at ground zero (which lacks diversity), which follows into the early years, when the focus is to obtain more funding, not bringing in a diverse set of people.  I think it would be fantastic if investors paid attention to these types of things and pushed for more diversity from the start - let's try to create more people who can later sell their shares to become millionaires! 

Who have been your biggest role models in your professional life, and how have they helped you to succeed?

One of my early role models was Indra Nooyi, ex-CEO of Pepsi-co. I saw her as a minority ethnic leader of a global organisation, whose thinking was respected by so many.  From an LGBT+ perspective, a moment that changed my life was when I attended the first OUTstanting LGBT+ power list launch event. I still remember being in that room, seeing a list of senior LGBT+ executives, thinking, I can do that too. I can be successful and by myself. That moment changed my life, which I have told Suki Sandhi (founder and CEO) more than once. Making people visible is am amazing thing to do. 

Do you think companies should be compelled to publish ‘ethnicity pay gap' data?

I think a framework needs to be created in order to allow organisations to publish the data in a consistent way. Once this framework has been established and agreed, organisations may feel compelled to start publishing in order to attract and retain the best people within their companies. 

Do you believe Covid has hampered or helped gender diversity efforts in the IT industry?

It depends. I think Covid has allowed organisations to recruit from a much wider pool of talent, opening the doors to so many people across the country. This helps those on lower incomes who could not previously move to London, to enter a new playing field. On the other hand, we have seen that Covid has been a setback across all diversity categories, including LGBT+, gender and ethnicity. People tend to want to work with people who are like them. If you want to read an interesting report on remote workings impact on inclusion, read Virtual Inclusion in the City. 

Has it always been easy for you to be open about your identity in the workplace?

No, I went through my early years hiding it. I truly believed if people found out, it would hinder my ability to become senior in my organisation. Now, I realise that the ability to be my authentic self is what has helped me to become who I am today. When you find yourself, your productivity shoots through the roof. 

What do you believe are the most effective ways an employer can promote a multicultural and multifaith workplace?

As with any other focus area, I would recommend being supporting of multiple faiths. For example, last year we had one of my team members in India speak to the UK team about Diwali. It was a great way for people here to learn about a cultural holiday of their colleague and why it was so important to her.

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