Donavan Hutchinson

Doug Woodburn
clock • 10 min read
Donavan Hutchinson

Donavan Hutchinson

Managing director, SHI

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

Education, accountability, proactive adoption! All three of these are key issues across all industries.  Many companies claim to embrace the idea of having a diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) strategy but don't actually understand the meaning of what that entails and how that is of benefit to them, their employees, their customers, suppliers, partners nor to their brand and image as a whole. A strong DEI strategy comes with education at all levels of the business and from there comes change. Diversity training should be a compulsory training module across every organisation, ensuring all staff have an ability to apply inclusive principles to everything they do.  A good training programme should also address all types of diversity including race, age, culture, genders and religion. It should teach employees how to embrace our differences and use them to create great work and to never discriminate, judge nor dismiss them. To actively progress more diversity, equality and inclusion, organisations need to take a more proactive approach to their DEI efforts by implementing a strategy, changing their behaviours, reviewing and changing their hiring processes, adding employee resource groups, providing education and accessibility to key materials for their employees.  Consistency also is a factor, ensuring that they are consistent in their approach rather than just promoting DEI at selective times of the year such as Pride Month, where many take the opportunity for Pink Washing or Rainbow Capitalism - a term coined to describe how LGBTQIA+ symbolism is being wielded by companies to heighten consumerism without leading to meaningful improvements for the LGBTQIA+ communities.  [We need] education on understanding the different demographics such as race, age, religion, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation and gender; education of how diversity impacts each of these demographics can help shape organisational behaviour, which is extremely important. Organisations who understand, demonstrate and implement an active DEI programme have lower attrition levels, a more productive workforce, better understanding of their services and customers, satisfied employees, lower litigation expenses and overall higher company performance and more creativity in decision making.   

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

There are many initiatives that organisations can implement or develop. To begin with, my view on this topic would be to educate your workforce, make managers and leadership accountable for diversity, implement diversity training programmes, review recruitment strategies and practices and training on unconscious bias. Organisations in whole can implement affirmative action programmes which are policies designed to recruit, train, promote and retain employees belonging to a protected class. Implementing anti-discrimination policies and employee resource groups are also key.

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

The IT industry has made significant strides forward when it comes to promoting the importance of DEI as a whole; however, there is a lot more work to do. Having events such as the Women and Diversity in Channel Awards has certainly raised awareness, and Canalys events have more focus on DEI. I can see more people openly talking about DEI within their businesses today than ever before.  In the past there has always been a stigma about people talking about certain categories when it comes to DEI in fear of retribution or negative backlash from others within the community. Today, however, I think it's important to normalise the conversation and to actively discuss and raise awareness of the issues faced in this area and to collectively all work to achieve a common goal of equality and diversity throughout the IT channel that will not only support the current generation but attract the younger generations for years to come into the IT industry. Being inclusive and having a diverse workforce today has never been more important. It's within every RFP, RFI that we see as customers, partners and suppliers all now look to ensure that the businesses they work with are not only ethical but also have a solid and inclusive foundation to allow their employees to be the best version of themselves. 

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

Lead by example and normalise the discussion. For change to happen this needs to be supported by managers at all levels and be embraced to ensure that their teams feel valued and also that everyone has a sense of belonging. Proactively discuss DEI in meetings. Understanding the different demographics, the people they employ or that report to them, how to get the best out of them, making sure they feel valued and allowing them to be the best version of themselves are key to a successful business and team. Managers should be educated on how they can support and foster a culture of inclusion and belonging for any staff members they may be managing but also ensuring that they promote positivity while providing the support to their employees to get the best out of them. 

How did you first get into the IT industry?

I got into the industry purely by chance having left the army many years ago and not knowing what I wanted to do. My goal has always been to own and have my own horse riding facility (Riding for Disabled Association) and that is still to this day a goal I aspire to have in the future. My certifications and background were catered towards either working with horses, personal training and nutrition, so not IT related at all. I have however over my time got to love the IT industry as it is ever evolving and certainly keeps the mind very active with all the continued changes and advancements seen over the last 20 years. 

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

While the industry has evolved and continues to do so, I have had both good and bad experiences. When I first started in the IT industry it was very different and has always been very male dominated. With advancements on diversity we have seen many more women enter and develop in the channel to become great leaders.  Some of the negatives over the years have been around the way individuals were previously treated or viewed because of their gender, race, age, beliefs or sexual orientation. In many instances people were not able to be their true selves and led to them not being selected for promotions or not having the ability to progress their careers or were pigeonholed into certain groups, which were often left out or treated differently. I was myself a victim to this, especially during my transition to being more open about my sexuality. While I am a huge advocate for everyone being the truest version of themselves, there is still a lot of work to do to remove the stigma across all communities.  Other positives have most certainly been that of the implementation of the anti-discrimination laws and the need for organisations to provide equal opportunities to everyone. Since social platforms such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, TikTok and many others have become more widely adopted and used as forums for free speech, the ability to share information, educate and raise awareness has also helped significantly. 

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

I've had several amazing role models but also mentors over the years within the IT industry. My parents, however, have always been my guide, sounding board and inspirational leaders I look up to who showed me what it meant to be a good leader but to treat everyone equally and with respect. In addition, the support, encouragement and friendship of several individuals I have come to know within the industry have allowed me to keep driving myself forward and who I am forever grateful for their support. There are far too many other names to mention but they all know who they are. 

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

I do think transparency is key. This will allow us all to identify any necessary steps to make changes as required to help drive change. 

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

I believe that it has helped in many ways. Given that more people have the ability to work remotely, this has widened the talent pool significantly for organisations who typically focussed hiring efforts within a specific city or region. Due to hiring challenges, which have been seen across the industry, I do also believe more organisations are open to looking at talent outside of industry as the IT channel has typically used the same resource pools often recycling the same talent year over year. By looking outside of industry and with a much larger focus on DEI, more companies are taking the opportunity to invest in talent and to train and develop them in their career within the tech industry.

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

Over recent years it has been much easier to be more open about my identity; however, it has been a long and somewhat challenging journey which has taken significant effort to get to this stage. There are still challenges within the IT channel when it comes to being open about my own sexuality. The fact I have a husband and two beautiful children has also led to people asking more questions or having negative and confused viewpoints, which have often stemmed from lack of education.  Being a leader but also openly gay man, I have intentionally put myself out there to not only promote awareness and education but to show to others that it is OK to be yourself regardless of what level of role you hold within any organisation. This has had very positive outcomes where others have felt more comfortable being the truest version of themselves and feeling more confident normalising the conversation, which has also helped to attract more diverse groups to want to come and work for a company that drives and actively embraces all people.  By being open about my own challenges and the journey I have had to go through in some way has helped to remove the stigma associated with the LGBTQIA+ community and to which motivates me even more to drive change and create awareness to help achieve the goals we are all aspiring to achieve of an inclusive and diverse channel where everyone can be the best and truest version of themselves. 

What can employers do to create a more inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ staff?

There are many tasks employers can take. As I mentioned above, education and driving awareness but also acknowledging the different communities and demographics while understanding them are key. One key action would be to create employee resource groups.  At SHI we created an employee resource group called EMBRACE, which I lead as the chairman and has been an extremely vibrant, fun and growing group of individuals both within the LGBTQIA+ community and as allies to the LGBTQIA+ community that are all working together to raise awareness, educate and also provide a safe and welcoming environment to all employees across the business. We have several other ERGs focussing on the various groups within and outside of SHI such as the Black Culture Collective, Asia Pacific and Islanders Committee, FUSION Group and Hispanic Heritage, all of which are sponsored and supported by WiSH (Women in SHI) which has been in place for many years. 

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

There are a number of effective ways employers can promote this by changing the recruitment process to attract and retain people from different cultures and backgrounds, implementing inclusive dress codes, utilising neutral language, respecting all religious holidays and celebrations, providing a room for reflection or praying along with education and awareness or access to resources on the different multicultural and multifaith groups. Once again, education, awareness and active adoption is key!

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