Diversity & inclusion manager, Computacenter
What's the most pressing issue preventing progress with diversity today that no one's talking about?
One of the biggest challenges for the workplace is that we inevitably reflect what's going on in society, and that's something that we have a limited ability to influence. For example, we know that the way to improve gender diversity in our sector is by showing young people the opportunities that are available and challenging the stereotypes of the people who do those roles, but those stereotypes are reinforced throughout society and embedded at an early age. We work closely with schools and colleges to encourage and inspire young women and girls to consider a career in technology, but many of their career aspirations are set at a very young age and influenced through a range of different methods. It will be incredibly hard to reach the 50/50 gender split we want to see across our industry until we see those societal changes first. We absolutely have a key role to play in this, but it's something we can't solve on our own; everyone has a role to play.
What do you believe are the most effective policies and initiatives that companies can implement to promote diversity in their workforce?
It's vital that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is threaded through everything we do, not just as standalone activities. The most successful initiatives are ones that aren't led by just HR or senior leaders, but are supported at all levels of the organisation. People want to see and hear from people they can relate to, and who better than their peers? One of our most successful recent initiatives has been our ‘Inclusion Series' webinars, where we give our own people a platform to talk about D&I topics that are important to them and share their views and experiences. People relate better to real stories than theory, and even more so when it's people they know and can relate to, so giving people the opportunity and a safe space to share not only improves psychological safety but also improves engagement in D&I activities.
How much progress do you believe the industry has made in diversity since you started working in IT?
The industry is almost unrecognisable to where it was even 10 years ago. The way we talk and think about diversity has improved significantly and it's now standard practice to have D&I managers like myself in post. Having the dedicated expertise internally ensures that the industry does not lose focus and is constantly moving forward. Not only are individual companies working on creating change in this space, but we're also working together as an industry to use our collective influence to have the greatest impact.
What should senior management teams be doing more of to help create a more inclusive industry for everyone?
Creating accountability for D&I is key to driving change; identifying D&I objectives and discussing D&I into 1:1s and team meetings will make sure people know that it's something important to the business and that it's taken seriously. Keeping it fresh and making sure teams understand the link between D&I and business success will keep it high on the agenda.
How did you first get into the IT industry?
I started out in the charity sector over 10 years ago providing disability consultancy and training across multiple industries, including IT. Having seen the passion and drive on D&I across the IT industry from an external perspective, I was excited to be part of continuing to drive those changes from the inside when I joined Computacenter.
What have been some of your experiences (both good and bad) with how the IT industry has historically approached diversity?
Historically the industry has had an issue with people hiring in their own image, leading to a lack of diversity. I've always found that strange given that IT has always been an industry that values innovation and diversity of thought; to create new products and services we need people who challenge us to think differently. That's thought about much more consciously now and across the industry people are taking steps to reduce the risk of unconscious and conscious bias in the recruitment process to make sure we can attract, retain and develop a diverse workforce that allows us to continue to drive innovation.
Who have been your biggest role models in your professional life, and how have they helped you to succeed?
Having worked in the charity sector supporting both individuals to secure and retain employment, as well as supporting business on how to support disabled employees, I've worked with many people who have faced barriers to reach their success despite having a great deal they could offer any employer. It's people who have faced those barriers on their journey to success that continue to inspire me to make sure that we're creating an environment where everyone can succeed, and each person is valued for what they bring as individuals.
Do you believe Covid has hampered or helped gender diversity efforts in the IT industry?
During the pandemic we saw women disproportionately affected by taking on increased caring responsibilities, not just of children but of relatives and elderly parents. As an ageing population we're seeing the number of carers increasing significantly, but this was more pronounced during the pandemic with people shielding and needing additional support. Women were also more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic as they made up larger proportions of employees in the hardest hit industries such as retail. Overall, it definitely seems to have had a more negative effect on women; however, the pandemic also allowed us to talk more openly about things like wellbeing, life balance and being a parent/carer, and I hope that this openness continues and will help us to make more progress in gender equality.