Everywoman Forum 2022: Inclusivity, support and involvement

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How increasing diversity and inclusion in an organisation contributes to business benefit is a question commonly asked by those looking into advancing diversity and inclusion.

People are generally in tune with building diverse teams being the right thing to do, but can be fuzzy on how and why it will advance a business.

Eleanor Sim, director of security architecture at Bupa, hit the nail on the head at the 2022 Everywoman in Tech Forum: “I’m a better employee when I’m more me; I’m a better leader when I’m more authentically me.”

When it comes to building a diverse workforce, many would argue it isn’t possible without inclusion – throughout her career there were times Sim struggled with inclusion in the workplace, and it “made [her] worse at [her] job”.

“For some roles, being me wasn’t what people wanted,” said Sim.

Describing a summer job as a lifeguard where she was forced to cover up her dyed hair during shifts, she said: “They couldn’t see past my appearance to the ability I had.”

Later in her career, when she felt she was in an environment where she was able to come out, challenge the language used by others in an organisation and be herself, she said she found she succeeded better “when [her] values are aligned to the organisation’s and [she] can be authentically [her].”

The value in complexity

When people feel like they can be themselves, they do a better job, which is beneficial for the company – Sim said when organisations “see the value” in the “complexity” that you bring to the table as an individual, people perform better.

While role models are often cited as important for encouraging young women into the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector, encouraging more people to join the sector is just a stepping stone towards diversity, and Sim pointed out role models are also important to create a safe space for others to start to show up to work as themselves without feeling alone.

“By being visible in these spaces, by challenging the culture and creating opportunities, I want to make cyber security and tech a better place for everyone to work,” she said.

Finding your tribe

A common theme of the 2022 Everywoman in Tech Forum was nurturing a support system, finding your allies and building the same space for others.

“One of my passions is being authentic and creating spaces to allow others to be their authentic selves, too.” said Sim.

A huge part of eventually creating that inclusive culture, she said, is the allies she found throughout her career who were willing to listen, change and stand up for her.

Paraphrasing Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to American congress, Sim said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair, and I encourage you to not just to bring your folding chair, but to use your elbows to create room for someone else.”

Once people join the technology sector, inclusive culture becomes important to help them feel welcome and more inclined to stay.

Without work on inclusion, those who aren’t in the majority may feel like they don’t belong, can’t be themselves at work, or might try and find a company to work at, or industry to work in, where they feel more comfortable and therefore more productive.

Viktorija Karciauskaite, manager governance and tribe lead for Virgin Atlantic, said this isn’t limited to the experiences of women in tech in a male-dominated environment – it’s anyone who doesn’t fit the “default profile”, including people who didn’t take a traditional route into tech.

Having found herself in these situations throughout her career, Karciauskaite said a “strong support mechanism” was a “source of inspiration” for her, whether that’s friends and family or another community.

Many of the speakers across the day recommended building a support network – either friends, family, colleagues, a mentor or a networking group – then inviting others to be a part of the group, too.

There are lots of women’s networks across the tech sector, as well as groups dedicated to people who have disabilities, or are LGBTQIA+, all of which can help people feel part of a community, and in many cases, companies will set up these groups for people in an organisation.

Getting everyone involved

A support network can be especially important for underrepresented groups in tech. As Sarah Chapman, application engineering manager at 3M, pointed out, there won’t necessarily be a role model you can look towards in the sector who looks exactly like you “because we’re underrepresented; we’re not going to find role models exactly like us and our teams are not going to find people who have had this typical path”.

But Chapman warned that people can often feel “nervous” to participate if they don’t fully identify with a network – another reason inclusivity is important.

At Thoughtworks, according to J Harrison, harbinger of change at the technology consultancy, internal employee groups were developed to include as many people as possible in the communities and networks, so instead of it seeming like an “us and them” situation, it just became an “us” situation. “We increased the scope of what diversity meant,” they said.

What true inclusivity looks like

Harrison went on to explain the main things that make a team truly inclusive: when people can “talk without fear”, for example, share any problems or issues without feeling like it will be held against them; when teams make decisions by consensus; when people listen before talking; where there are equitable chances to contribute – introverts and extraverts alike; and where “care and safety” is part of conversation – where people might feel like their life experiences are relevant or helpful contributions, then a team starts to become truly inclusive.

“When you’ve got those five things, you’ve got a team that can work together,” they said.

Those who are in the majority in the technology sector, such as men, have a large role to play in helping to build inclusion and equality, but can sometimes feel “worried” to join a conversation or get involved.

Gina Wiley, engineering manager for grocery at Deliveroo, said she thinks future success will mean those in the majority will ask what they can do to help rather than being asked.

But for now, Wiley claimed under-represented groups in tech have the “opportunity” to be the first person to steer the leadership group towards making a more inclusive culture by asking questions, having difficult conversations and introducing important topics that need to be addressed.

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