Encouraging Diversity

In her 2011 book Bossypants, US actor Tina Fey wrote, “In most cases, being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.” However, when it comes to hiring and retaining those talented people, there appears to be a concerning lack of diversity. Amy Barzdukas, CMO at Polycom explains why the industry needs to get on top of this key issue.

Consider the technology industry, where only 17 percent of the workforce are female – and that is one of the better diversity stats, with underrepresented minorities not faring nearly as well. And with McKinsey demonstrating that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to enjoy above average returns, it has never been more important for businesses to take action to make your employee base look more like the world at large, and your customers.

Giving everyone a voice

Weaving diversity into the fabric of a company will require a change in mindset.

First, a gain for women is NOT a loss for men. Instead, diversity in teams is a mechanism to make sure all voices are embraced and galvanised, which in turn improves employee engagement. Members of a global team that represent diversity in gender, background, age, language, and more, will each see things through a different lens, leading to improved decision-making on both a global and a local level. Looking back at some of the heroic business failures in the last two decades, discussions often highlights ‘group’ or ‘hive’ thinking, where the leadership clearly missed seeing what was around the corner. Encouraging diverse thinking helps to avoid the dangers of wearing blinkers.

It is important to also acknowledge that different people have different communication styles. The need for addressing this issue dovetails the need for changing mindsets. What is wonderful about technology is that it can in fact resolve both problems by helping people read those non-verbal signs comprising 93 percent of human communication, even at a distance, with video. Any opportunity for visibility of the wider team via video conferencing, whether they are based locally or elsewhere, pays dividends in terms of productivity and instils diversity as a norm. It also helps to eliminate the risk of ‘hive’ thinking, by facilitating communication between people of different backgrounds, experience levels and countries, making it far easier for new perspectives to be brought to the table.

Looking to the future

There are clear benefits to making diversity and inclusion a part of the company’s business strategy. When it comes to taking steps to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and valued, there is still a long way to go.

Last month, we hosted the Women in AV Event (WAVE), and brought several industry speakers together to discuss how to support and inspire women on their career paths. Angela Bos, Women in Technology Lead on Microsoft’s board, revealed how the company has pioneered initiatives such as DigiGirlz. The program incents middle and high school girls to pursue technology career paths to promote education and provide support. Simu Basu, a Future Innovation Specialist, Computer Science Teacher and Cybersecurity-Coach at STEM School, Highlands Ranch (CO, USA), then spoke to attendees via Polycom’s video conference solution, and noted the importance of mentoring girls between the ages of 11-15. One of her students created a pair of shoes using coding and software, while another invented a low-cost way to test water for lead – showcasing what can be achieved by introducing strong support systems from early on.

Only 24 out of every 1,000 female graduates in Europe have an ICT related subject, and while a third of UK students who took ICT A-levels in 2017 were female, this was 20 percent lower than the previous year. The hope is that initiatives, such as those run by Microsoft and STEM School, will capture the interest of the young audience and inspire them to explore a future in technology.
Inclusive culture can’t be built overnight, but active steps can be taken every day – take them! If you are a leader who represents an under-represented minority, champion and help those who are following you. Offer yourself as a mentor. Develop allies with the ‘majorities’, and enlist men, for example, to pay attention to bias and call it out, too. Remember, it can be exhausting to have to fight for yourself; it becomes much easier when you have people alongside who are also helping to create new norms.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine