EMEA commercial director, SHI
What's the most pressing issue preventing progress with diversity today that no one's talking about?
The ‘WHY', many businesses are looking at their diversity strategies, introducing new hiring and training initiatives, drafting diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) policies, but it feels in some ways like a tick-box activity. True progress will only be achieved if we discuss why diversity is important to our business and our customers. Having that understanding allows us to recognise the diversity that we already have, celebrate it and identify how we can best enhance and grow our diversity better.
What do you believe are the most effective policies and initiatives that companies can implement to promote diversity in their workforce?
There is nothing more powerful than feeling that you ‘belong' within your team, department and business. Companies where diversity is not just recognised, but celebrated are, in my opinion, the ones that gain most from their employees. Having Employee Resource Groups, like the Black Culture Collective, Women in SHI (WiSH), EMBRACE and so on at SHI are a great example of how everyone at any level within the organisation can find a space where they feel that sense of belonging.
How much progress do you believe the industry has made in diversity since you started working in IT?
There has been a lot of change since I started my career in IT over 20 years ago (I know, I don't look it). My memories of that time are of being in, predominantly ‘white' male dominated meetings. Over the years it has absolutely changed - meeting rooms have become more balanced in gender, race, and with other minorities being represented. However, with women still only accounting for about 30 per cent of the industry, there is certainly more to be done. It is why I was so pleased to join SHI, a women owned and led business, which has an almost even split of gender across all its European business and received the CRN WIC Gender Parity award in the UK last year.
What should senior management teams be doing more of to help create a more inclusive industry for everyone?
I think inclusivity needs to be embraced at all levels of an organisation and should form part of the core values and culture. And in the same way business strategy is set and driven ‘top-down', so often are the values and culture. The decision on whether companies need to set diversity targets is an individual one for each organisation to determine. However, I do think that leadership should at a minimum ensure that their business is truly reflective of the variety of customers they serve. And where there is a gap, strive to include the broadest spectrum of candidates for every new role within their business.
How did you first get into the IT industry?
By chance, the first job I was offered after my studies happened to be with a hardware OEM, but I fell in love with technology and decided to stick around a while.
What have been some of your experiences (both good and bad) with how the IT industry has historically approached diversity?
Generally, IT has historically been quite meritocratic in terms of the hiring the best skills, at least in my experience. This however does not mean that bias, unconscious or otherwise, is, and has not been present. All things being equal, the often-selected candidate is the one management identify with most. This is why it is so encouraging to see more women and other minorities represented in leadership over the past few years. I also believe that the growth in the number of diversity organisations such as Women in Tech, Out in Tech and many others are helping communities find a sounding board and offer information and resources to industry leaders to see the value of diversifying their workforce.
Who have been your biggest role models in your professional life, and how have they helped you to succeed?
My mother, who was an amazingly strong and confident person. Professionally, I believe that it would be my first two managers, Gwen Khalfa and Sophie Stanton. They created the foundation for me to be successful. The fact that they were confident, respected, creative women in management, allowed me to see that women had a voice, there was a seat at the table. They gave me the self belief and inspired me to work even harder to make sure I earned my spot. I must add that I have been extremely fortunate to have had some exceptional leaders over recent years.
Has it always been easy for you to be open about your identity in the workplace?
Not always, certainly not in the early days of my career, it was partly due to my own maturity and the fact that there were no out lesbian role models. I've also had one or two instances where I was uncertain of how leadership would react and was even worried that it would impact on my opportunities. Needless to say, I didn't stay in those organisations long… For the past 15 years however, I have not wavered from being my out and proud authentic self regardless of the impact.
What can employers do to create a more inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ staff?
As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, the one thing I want is to feel the same sense of belonging at work as I do at home and within my community. To not feel any different, simply because I have a wife. I believe employers can help to normalise the conversations around LGBTQ+ matters. To treat it as part of the day to day, participating in pride month is a great start but I'm not just gay in June.