Graeme Watt

Doug Woodburn
clock • 3 min read
Graeme Watt

Graeme Watt

CEO, Softcat

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

It is probably the failure of companies to have made more progress in the composition of their executive leadership teams. Many companies have made significantly more progress at board level. It is a tricky area though - at Softcat we believe strongly in equality of opportunity for career progression and promotions but the outcomes have to be merit based. Ultimately, we have to do a better job recruiting and retaining more diversity lower down the organisation and focus on developing that talent into leadership positions. It is going to take more time, more focused execution and a little more patience.   

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

I think it is about communicating how important diversity is to those inside and outside the company and continually demonstrating ‘diversity in action'. At Softcat we really care and we have a very active group of community networks that create safe spaces and forums to talk. They drive awareness and allyship is a fundamental foundation to the success of these groups, too. We are keen to recognise success too and actively support as a leadership team.   

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

The industry has made loads of progress. When I started on my IT career, diversity wasn't really a thing. It wasn't actively considered or talked about… but we are still at the relatively early stages of the journey. We still have a lot to do to teach and convince a diverse talent pool that IT is a great place to have a career and where diversity is championed and valued. I can see the progress and am excited about the further advances we can make.  

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

Leadership and making diversity count and be a consideration in everything we do. Create diverse leadership teams, recruit from diverse talent pools, have diverse interview panels, celebrate success and keep demonstrating the value of diversity to us as individuals and to the business and our performance. Make it become part of your company DNA and culture so it happens naturally and automatically.

How did you first get into the IT industry?

By accident - I was qualifying as a chartered accountant and a company called First Software (now Tech Data) were one of my clients. They were the leading IT distributor in the UK in the 1980s. They were the fastest growing and most fun of my clients and they offered me a financial manager position. I took the job despite a 45-mile commute each way. With hindsight it was a great decision, and the rest is history.  

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

I think collectively the industry has been guilty of a lack of awareness of the situation we have found ourselves in. Now we have that awareness and desire for change, then I think great progress is both possible and probable.   

Who have been your biggest role models in your professional life?

People like Mark Mulford and Martin Hellawell. They have believed in me and trusted me. I have been empowered and I have been given the space to express myself and make mistakes. I have been taught by some of the best and have been exposed to brilliant minds and a different way of looking at things. I learned from them almost continuously and have highly valued their counsel. They have been great friends, too.  

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

Neither - I think those that understand the value of driving greater gender diversity in our teams continued to keep this on the agenda throughout Covid. We certainly did at Softcat - diversity and inclusion remained to be one of my CEO priorities throughout Covid.

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