Hitachi Vantara: Employees value being listened to
Hitachi Vantara has a new chief diversity and inclusion officer – here, Claire Thomas talks to editor Jon Kennard about DEIB plans for the tech company.
Why You Should Care
It's no good just drawing up a load of DEIB policy documents - you have to walk the talk get your workforce involved.
This is something that Hitachi Vantara's Claire Thomas is doing with great success - find out more in this exclusive interview.
Editor Jon Kennard sits down with Claire Thomas to discuss her new role as chief diversity and inclusion officer at tech innovators Hitachi Vantara and why achieving real equity at work is everyone’s mission from the top down and bottom up.
Let’s get introduced…
Tell me about your role as CDO at Hitachi Vantara.
I’ve been in the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Hitachi Vantara for 12 months, although I joined Hitachi Vantara 11 years ago. It’s a global role which was newly created when I took it, covering circa 11,000 employees and around 35 different countries.
DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) means different things in each country, so part of my role is to consider how to engage a global audience while also ensuring our work is relevant to each region and country. This is of course challenging, but DEI is an increasingly important topic across the world, and something I’m deeply passionate about.
What does equity mean to you when breaking down gender barriers at work?
In recent years the conversations surrounding gender inequality have shifted from equality to equity, signaling a growing acknowledgement of the need to provide individuals with the tools they need to achieve success, as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We’re now learning to recognize individual differences like race, gender, ability and sexual orientation, and equip people with the support they need to excel.
The challenges that women face in the workplace are often different to men, so when considering how to break down gender barriers at work, we can’t just rely on giving women the same tools as their male counterparts.
Starting conversations around our differences and integrating policies to support them – such as flexible working, leave policies and additional support for parents and carers – is an essential first step.
A classic example of the assumptions that can be made if we don’t have these conversations lies in stereotypes around parenting. Parents could be any gender, but we usually speak about mothers, when in fact, many men may want the ability to spend more time at home with their children!
We need to encourage people to build awareness of unconscious biases like that, so that over time, we can notice our own biases and ultimately self-correct.
What initiatives have you implemented in your current role to encourage gender equity?
Operationalizing equity is so important and, in my role, I’ve worked on several initiatives in this regard. They focus on raising awareness of the systemic biases that typically impact women more than men, as well as uniting and building women up across the business and providing a supportive space where they can both develop key skills and advocate for change.
I think DEI initiatives can sometimes overlook the value of allyship and nurturing it in the workplace – men should be just as included in conversations about gender equality, so that they can feel informed and encouraged to advocate for their female counterparts.
That’s why we offer workshops and e-learning resources with Catalyst on Men Advocating for Real Change, to raise awareness that gender equity benefits all genders, that gender stereotypes can negatively impact men too and to inspire male employees to speak about the need for change. We’re also co-creating an allyship program with Token Man Consulting and Potentia Consulting, led by our Women of Hitachi employee resource group (ERG).
This program also has input from our Rainbow Connection LGBTQ+ ERG, which provides us with a concurrent lens to address gender equality, so we’re always keeping everyone’s unique differences and circumstances in mind.
How can organizations equip their staff with the knowledge and skills needed to advocate for greater equity in the workplace?
I think the best place to start is by trying to make people aware of what equity is and what it’s not. It’s not about blaming anybody or finger pointing, but about building awareness of situations where inequities may arise or have done in the past due to systems, and society. These factors may not be specific to an organization but can be present within our culture and society. Once we acknowledge their existence, we can then begin the work on how we change them.
We’re also constantly developing our learning platform which includes trainings on things like inclusivity, leading by example, and role modelling. It’s important to create the right environment for people to succeed and, as such, we have sessions where our organizational leaders share anecdotes alongside learnings and advice. Employees are also welcomed ask questions directly to leadership.
To really build awareness of equity, I think a healthy combination of initiatives specific to your organisation as well as education on broader issues and topics are needed.
What tools can be utilized to inform decision making when devising winning DEI strategies?
At Hitachi Vantara, we use general data capture on a centralized HR information system to understand current levels of diversity at each level, but these are merely facts on representation and don’t capture everything. Supplementing this, we also encourage employees to take part in surveys, which allow staff to share their thoughts and recommendations. It’s important that employees feel heard and to feel that they have equal opportunities to progress their career.
We also conduct regular listening circles for small groups to support this effort. We start with a few questions to kick-start the conversation. Sometimes we use a theme we tailor the conversation. For example, we hold tailored sessions during Black History Month in the US and others during Pride month.
We’ve found these to be invaluable opportunities to simply listen to everyone’s views, and I think that’s what’s key – employees value having a space to be listened to.
What are your future plans for your role?
I’ve worked to lay a lot of foundations at Hitachi Vantara, and over the next year or so I want to build on those by further studying our data to consider what we know about our people and where the barriers or gaps are. Such analysis enables us to talk to those findings and build personalized initiatives – for example, through incorporating more specific ongoing training around inclusivity.
We’ve been looking at how we expand some of our communities around things like ability and ethnicity and are really pleased to have some momentum here, with volunteers having put themselves forward to shape those.
I’m also excited to see how our pilot initiatives evolve, including our talent development program on storytelling and public speaking training to help raise the voices of those who may not always be heard. Opportunities like this within the organization help employees to speak directly with executive leadership, and they also enhance our internal and external communications.
I’m really looking forward to building our progress around breaking stereotypes and cementing the knowledge that equity isn’t always just about opportunities for women – it requires consideration of everyone to have a true impact.
If this story got you thinking, you can find more insight into diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging here.
Editorial content manager
Jon has 20 years' experience in digital journalism and more than a decade in L&D and HR publishing.