Diversity, equity, and Inclusion (D,E&I) is a priority for most organizations. However, reaching or even setting goals can sometimes be a challenge for organizations of any size.
One group that is combatting inequalities in the workplace and bringing them together is the non-profit Tech Talent Charter (TTC).
The TTC works with numerous companies that have made a number of commitments to improving D,E&I within their organization.
On the back of the TTC’s diversity in tech report for 2021, which outlined how the non-profit has helped companies of all shapes and sizes make strides towards better D,E&I outcomes, UNLEASH caught up with Debbie Forster, CEO and co-founder of the Tech Talent Charter, and Debbie Irish, HP’s Head of HR in the UK and Ireland, about D,E&I in the workplace and best practices.
Attracting diverse talent
Here at UNLEASH, we’re familiar with methods of increasing your talent pool and improving the diversity of candidates. It can be done through more inclusive job adverts or removing data from CVs to avoid bias.
However, TTC’s Forster offers a warning, it “is really important for people to do is to realize they can’t hire their way out of this [lack of diversity] crisis.”
Forster explains that a lot of companies want to address D,E&I by hastily ticking boxes, but this doesn’t work well. Instead, “the best companies are the ones like HP who, first of all, make sure they’ve got their culture right, make sure that they understand their data where the pain points are and where the problem is.“
The issues companies face can be broad: “For some companies, it may be recruitment, in others its retention or promotion. That data-driven point, starting with inclusion, and then from there, you start looking at recruitment and alternate routes into training, which I think are really, really important.
“Make sure that you’re thinking about getting people into leadership, so where you see the stats that we have for the gender and ethnicity.”
Reflecting on this point, HP’s Irish adds: “It’s the same challenge for all of us in the tech sector. No one company has all the answers.”
However, HP has a clear direction for D,E&I as its part of the company’s DNA. Irish notes: “That is something that we’re very proud of, but we’re not complacent about it.
“Our founders were Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, over 80 years ago now. They came up with the HP way, and it’s all about inclusion, it’s about recognizing the value.”
Irish comments: “From our perspective, we have a continued commitment that we go out to the world where we have sustainable impact goals.
“Our 2030 sustainable impact goals include the goal to have 50:50 female representation in our leaders around the world, and we want at least 30% of our engineering tech roles to be taken up by women.
“The more generic goal is that we are truly reflecting the local physicians when it comes to the ethnic and racially diverse populations.
“Those are our really big ambitious goals and everything we do, we need to check-in, how we doing against those because if you’ve got goals, if you’ve got those ambitions, it’s much more likely you will be making progress.”
Making progress together
Naturally, progress is not made alone and Irish notes that the TTC is a “tremendous partner” for HP’s success with D,E&I initiatives.
“If we can get them all in together, we’re learning from each other. None of us has all the answers, but don’t be complacent.
“If we’ve all got access to that same talent pipeline, that we all help to build, it will have an exponential positive impact for all of us. There is a real benefit for all companies in getting together in this way.”
One avenue for this sharing of experiences was the 2022 Inclusion in Tech Festival.
Forster reflects on how important group meetings can be: “Last year, someone called us out really well at one of our sessions, saying, ‘Instead of calling them safe spaces, call them brave spaces because safe spaces are to make it safe for us who are the overrepresented where in fact what we need to do is create spaces that are brave.’”
On this point, Forster states: “If I am a white woman of privilege, I can walk in with humility and say, I don’t understand can someone help me understand and make mistakes and be corrected.
“To get the sense of the story of the reality, for inclusion for all, this is not a zero-sum game, this is removing barriers.
“This is not making a choice over some representation over talent. This is braver than that. This is about how do we make sure we’re removing all barriers so that we can get everyone in the room.”
“For tech, that is actually a relatively easy conversation because there’s a huge gap.
“We have too many empty chairs, and we’re not dipping into the whole of the talent pool. This is about being brave, and really trying different ways to make sure we can get everyone in the room to make sure that tech for everyone is built by everyone.”
Changes in tech
TTC works with all manner of tech organizations, and interestingly often companies wish to have the opportunities of others while lamenting their own tasks.
Forster explains: “There’s a tiny company thinking, if only we had the big-budget, but actually the real envy comes from the big companies thinking, if only we were a tiny ship that could work in this way. Then the penny drops.”
Every organization wishes it had different issues to address, but fortunately all businesses can take concrete steps to improve their inclusion.
There are three areas that can impact all businesses that Forster outlines: “You need buy-in from the top of an organization, there needs to be grassroots involvement, and people need to be made part of the target-driven element of D,E&I.”
Forster highlights the need to keep improving in diversity areas that aren’t always the priority of an organization. These invisible lenses include “social mobility, neurodiversity, disability, LGBTQ+, mental health, and age.”
On the note of people with unseen disabilities not coming forward about the challenges they face, Forster advises: “The first thing is, you’ve got to create that trust.
“You’ve got to do this with people, not to them, and they have to understand. It does need to be data-driven, but you don’t need them to do a questionnaire and tell you everything about them.
“Usually, they’re building on the back of something they’ve already done, like gender, so there’s already some track record.
“Often what happens is somebody at a senior level becomes that story that leans in and says ‘I am this and my family is this’ it begins a story and encourages people to buy-in. That creates that safety and that starts trust.”
Forster notes the importance of storytelling and creating spaces for people and “as that’s happening, you begin empowering people at the grassroots level and you start that conversation.
“Sit down with a group of people from that underrepresented community and ask, ‘Where are we getting it wrong? What were the barriers? What are the processes? Then start to come up with things that could change.”
On the point of trust, Irish comments: “At HP, it really is all about belonging. we use DE&I as the phrase that is becoming very, very familiar indeed. Feeling that you can be your authentic self is perhaps another way of describing this.”
Part of welcoming all workers is surveying staff and encouraging openness in responses.
Additionally, “we have deliberately been increasing the section that we call the inclusion index. Within that we ask people questions such as, do you see HP as a diverse company?
“We need to listen; we need to hear how people are feeling […] That data is incredibly useful for us, we can see the overall results, we can see it by teams, we can focus in certain areas of the business.”
Listening to employees
On the back of collecting data and insights, HP can then focus D,E&I feedback. Surveys are not the only way HP encourages authentic employees. The company also focuses on setting up impact networks.
Irish explains: “If you imagine a university society, where you’ve got like-minded individuals, people from underrepresented groups and allies, as well.
“You’ve got the combination there, and people voluntarily get together in groups, we support them as a business, we encourage them to do it. They discuss ideas, concerns, they come up with proposals. It’s really, really effective.”
Currently, HP has a pride network, a women’s impact network, a next-generation network, and a multiracial network.
“We have created a D,E&I Executive Board, which has been made up of the execs in the UK and Ireland and senior business people, along with the chairs of those impact networks. Together, we meet on a regular basis quarterly, and they share what they’re doing. They ask questions, we ask questions.
Irish adds: “Collectively it’s had an exponential impact. So many of the ideas in the individual groups go ‘wow, we could try that.’ It’s a two-way street, raising awareness, it’s putting it on the radar massively.”
Improving D,E&I with data
Forster notes that data is essential in moving forward with D,E&I initiatives: “The journey that you hear HP doing is really important because it is about gathering the data, it is setting ambitious targets and creating accountability.
“It’s creating that scary transparency, public targets that you’re going to be accountable for. Then looking and thinking about the steps that drove you towards it.”
Undoubtedly, taking ownership of goals is essential in making tangible progress. Moreover, these targets need to be meaningful to the specific organization.
On top of that, difficult conversations need to be had “for example, at last year’s TTC festival, the theme was difficult conversations and taking action because there is that important part of hard look inward about where you are setting some good stretch goals, but realistic goals.”
Forster adds: “A lot of our companies are on this journey, where they’re going from the big goals to setting really meaningful targets.
“We hear from Unilever, where they take five years of statistics of this and put that in front of their line managers to scrutinize the data to talk about it.
“One thing that cuts through a lot of delusions or unconscious bias is to look at your stats.”
There are many steps to becoming a more diverse organization. The first is opening channels of communication and looking at the data.
What you find may be difficult to swallow, but it is evidently essential in the development of robust and successful D,E&I programs.