- Diversity & Equality in the Workplace
Diversity & Equality in the Workplace
Recognized as one of the most influential women in the technology industry in the UK, Jacqueline de Rojas is the guest on the latest in Kimble’s series of Professional Services Insights podcasts. Diversity is not always comfortable, argues de Rojas, citing some guests’ reactions to the sermon at the recent Royal Wedding. But it is a basis for building stronger teams – a message borne out by the diverse French side which won the World Cup!
Jaqueline- de-Rojas – Diversity
Doug D’Argenio: Welcome to the PS Insights podcast series sponsored by Kimble Applications. Professional services organizations strive for efficiency, success, and growth. This series is intended to provide key insights on how to achieve this from industry leaders.
Ian Murphy: Hello, my name is Ian Murphy and today I am talking to Jaqueline de Rojas about what diversity means and the benefits it can bring. Jaqueline is the president of Tech UK and Chair of Digital Leaders. She is a business mentor with the Merit Group and serves as a Non-Executive Director at Rightmove plc, Costain plc and AO World plc. With thirty years of digital transformation experience in the enterprise software sector with companies such as Citrix, McAfee and CA, she believes that we can become a digital nation of significance but only if we solve the skills gap by committing to the diversity and inclusion agenda and only if we nurture innovation and entrepreneurship. Jacqueline was awarded a CBE for services to international trade in technology in the Queens New Year Honour list, 2018.
Ian Murphy: When we talk about diversity, it’s a very broad church. It means different things to different people. Where do we start to understand diversity?
Jaqueline de Rojas: It’s a really tricky question. Where I come from, in my thinking is that, we intuitively know that diversity is a good thing. When you start from there, you ask yourself the question, “Why would that be?” For me, it’s because diverse groupings, diverse teams simply make better decisions.
Teams are incredible because when you’re in isolation, you make certain types of decisions, but when you’re in teams, decision making, is 66% more effective. When you’re in diverse teams, 87% of the time, the decision making is much, much better and more effective. Diversity simply creates better outcomes, and it feels more like a community.
Ian Murphy: But, how do we get there? Businesses have limited number of staff. They have limited opportunities to recruit from outside of the people they know. Becoming a diverse organization is a significant challenge for many of them.
Jaqueline de Rojas: Diversity isn’t just the physicalness of teams and people. Diversity is action. It’s how you are defined in the decisions that you make. It’s also cultural. There is something around diverse decision making and diverse and cultural DNA, which means that it creates diverse outcomes without you having to have one of each type of diversity on the team. I do think there is something around having a diverse and cultural DNA inside the business, which simply means that we are diverse whatever size of company we are.
Ian Murphy: When we talk about culture within an organization, what exactly are we referring to?
Jaqueline de Rojas: Let me give an example: I work with a number of large and small businesses. What I tend to do when I work with them is, I take a photograph of the customers that we’re serving, I take a photograph of the leadership team that is serving the customers and then a couple in between. I just ask myself the question: “does the leadership team look like the customer base? Does the leadership team look like the community in which the business is thriving?” And if they do, then there is something around; diversity lives there, versus diversity is done there and, I think that’s a really interesting place to start from.
Ian Murphy: Companies find themselves under pressure to think about specific types of diversity, such as gender and racial diversity. Cultural diversity isn’t one of those often talked about subject matters. How do organizations move beyond the binary options that are often placed in their way to becoming that wider cultural organization?
Jaqueline de Rojas: It’s all about inclusion. There is something really deep me that believes that to be culturally diverse, inclusion has to be at the heart of your values. That’s all about: are you a business? Are you a team that looks outwards, not inwards? If that defines all of the decisions you make and all of your behaviors as a business, as a team, I think that matters and that changes the way in which you engage. For example, you might not have a big team, but you might create a hackathon with a local community and say, “Well, how do we solve this together?” Rather than say, “This is mine. We’re going to do it inside. I’ve got one person who’s an expert.” I don’t think we ever solve the big stuff in isolation. I think we solve the big stuff when we go looking outside, and we stop being so insular. That cultural piece, especially related to diversity, means that we all have inclusion at our core.
Ian Murphy: How do companies begin to see this as being about their creativity? About widening their appeal to customers? And also, what they take to their customers?
Jaqueline de Rojas: I think that’s really interesting. What I’ve certainly learned in my 30-year career in troubleshooting and technology is that no man is an island. We have never solved our biggest problems from inside the business. We’ve always looked for examples externally, the other thing that’s true is that when you look at the markets that have been disrupted: let’s say Uber as an example, these markets are disrupted from without, not from within.
Anybody looking to be competitively agile should look outside their markets to see what’s going on, because, a piece of technology, a technology platform, which is what Uber is, that can aggregate a community together, which does nothing other than own a car.
Think about that idea, and you think “Wow, those guys have learned the knowledge for all these years. They are an amazing business. Did they really think about how their market would be disrupted?” I would argue they didn’t. We have to be really mindful of where the shifts are coming in our businesses.
Same for Airbnb: they own no real estate, but they’ve unlocked three trillion dollars worth of real estate, which ultimately was doing nothing, and now we’ve got a very disrupted market yet again.
Those are great examples of looking outwards, not inwards. Competition isn’t going to kill us from our near neighbors. It’s going to be from outside, and come from a place we never even thought of, unless we’re out there having conversations in the community to ask that very question: “How are we going to solve this together?” When you do that, the biggest of problems can be solved almost instantly, and solved by the people that you least expect them to be solved by. I’m referring to the next generation, for example, reverse mentoring. It’s a really good way of getting some feedback over: “Why are we doing this in such a complicated way?” kind of question.
Ian Murphy: One of the big differentiators of startups is their ability to disrupt. They tend to think of new solutions, not the way things have always been done. How much does diversity play to a start-up approach?
Jaqueline de Rojas: My view on start-ups is that we all need that innovative sand pit even inside the biggest of companies, the scale-ups as well, so that we can play around and experiment and fail fast in those sandpits so that we can start to innovate. I’ve never seen big businesses do anything other than acquire small businesses in order to innovate. It’s rare that it happens from within. Start-up mentality’s important.
Diversity is so important in that thinking because that’s the inclusion, the reaching out for new ideas, different perspectives. Geographical perspectives play a massive part in diverse outcomes, if you don’t get that diverse thinking inside of a start-up, I don’t think you’re going to be that new, innovative thing for a big company that’s going to create the new leading-edge technology. So, I think you do need to reach out, but in diversity in all its forms. Geographical diversity, it creates a massive perspective for us all, especially as we are now very globally focused.
Ian Murphy: When we think about hiring and bringing on new talent corporate social responsibility has become a major discussion point. What is your company doing? Why should I want to join you? Are you seeing that conversation now including: “How diverse is your company?”
Jaqueline de Rojas: I think so, because we are seeing a lot more conversations around the idea that: “How are you balancing profit with purpose?” and purpose almost tipping the balance on that one. Of course, profit is an important measure because it enables us to scale, but there is this balance which says: “I need to understand your why. Why do you exist? What are you giving back? Where is your generosity inside the business in terms of sustaining the planet from the green perspective, or from a mentoring perspective, or from a skills perspective?” and also: “are you doing the right things?”
It’s alright to make a lot of money, but it’s alright, also, to balance that with a lot of purpose. I’m seeing that in huge waves coming across the industry. I met an amazing man called Paul van Zyl, who was on the Truth and Reconciliation Council with Desmond Tutu in the apartheid times. He’s raised tens of millions of pounds to create a building in London for people to convene. And you might say: “Why would you want people to come together in a space? There’s tonnes of workspaces in London.”
But actually, what he’s doing is creating a space, just off Reagent Street. It’s called The Conduit. It will be a space where people can come together to talk about balancing profit and purpose. These are people who care about, wake up in the morning and worry about how they’re going to save the planet or how they’re going to make sure that people are not excluded from the workplace, not excluded from skills, or, how do we improve social mobility? All of those kinds of things start to matter. If you are working with people of like minds, then I think that profit and purpose piece makes a difference.
Ian Murphy: Profit and purpose are important for any company. If you don’t make profit, you don’t survive. When we talk about cultural diversity, and the benefits it brings, what does that mean for the bottom line?
Jaqueline de Rojas: Intrinsically, if you are doing the right thing and you are living your values, there is something enormously attractive about that. I think you will be able to attract and retain the best talent, and if anybody takes anything away from this podcast, it’s about: “How do we get great people into our businesses regardless of the size?” You’ll get them because they care about why they’re coming to work. For me, it’s about solving the skills gap, creating people who are motivated about a mission, which is more about humanity and inclusion, and that means diversity of course as well.
But it also means that we are much more likely to see people working together across businesses rather than saying – the idea that we work for a company is quite an outdated idea.
The important thing about the bottom line for diversity, of profit and balancing purpose is that if we are to attract and retain the best of talent, and Lord knows the skills gap is growing and we are very short of talent, if you have great purpose and people really understand your why, they are very motivated to come and work for you. The companies, big or small, who do that well, who are clear about the purpose and what they will give back, will attract and retain the best of people.
Ian Murphy: There’s an interesting challenge here with skills gap, isn’t there? Look around companies, we have socioeconomic decisions that are made: Does somebody have a degree? Did they go to university? What’s their background when they’re employed?
But that runs the risk of losing a lot of potential talent because they don’t meet that initial bar. Are companies beginning to widen their diversity polices to include education, socioeconomic background and things that are not generally considered part of the wider diversity conversation?
Jaqueline de Rojas: I’m certainly seeing that. I was excited to visit the company called UKFast last week in Manchester. They have created a training programme, employed three full-time teachers because they’re not getting what they need from the education system in their area, so they are growing their own. They’ve also put aside a huge amount of space in a new building next to them, which is called Tech Manchester. It’s all about, “How do people build and grow their own businesses?” but with some support from the resources that they’ve got.
The buzz in energy inside this building, which is all about how do we work together to solve the very little hierarchy, lots of generosity in terms of who’s included. There are kids running around. There are dogs running around, and it just felt like people come to work in the way that they show up as the best version of themselves, so if it meant that Charlie has to come and be with Dad whilst he’s at work because it’s half term, that’s what happens. And, it just felt like a very supportive, nurturing kind of environment. I think it matters that people show up as themselves verses an airbrushed version of themselves, and that’s certainly what happens in most businesses.
The tolerance, and this is about inclusion, isn’t it?. The tolerance would be, I think, stretched, in terms of its definition by a lot of employers. Here, they’ve just unlocked the passion and creativity of this team, and honestly, I think the results for this business are already incredible but will be massive. I think they will have no problem not only attracting, retaining talent today, but certainly, I think, spawning new businesses as a result of the resources they’re offering. That’s very creative in itself as a culture.
Ian Murphy: You talked about the challenge for companies recruiting talent and people looking at what a CSR programme is. At a B2B level, are you seeing companies saying: “Okay, I’m going to trade with you or I’m going to buy from you? but what are your policies on diversity?” Are the forward-thinking companies now looking for that in their own supply chains both forwards and backwards?
Jaqueline de Rojas: I’m certainly seeing businesses that are challenged with skills talk about security services in the UK, for example. There are lots of people going backwards and forwards from commercial industry into a government service and vice versa.
That’s really smart, because the threat landscape is growing in cyber, as an example. So, taking people from the market who are seeing what’s going on in the frontline, bringing them in to see what’s going on in national-security-type levels is a really smart thing to do. You get different perspectives, again, so that bartering of skill is really, really clever, and I would like to see more of that happening.
I also think we’re seeing workspaces that are springing up all over the country, we see, we see these open spaces; they’re not just coffee shops anymore. They are places where people convene. I’m seeing lots of creative directors working together as a flock rather than: “This is my business and this is where we all work as an entity.” I’m seeing lots of like-minded job titles working together, and they are, sharing, bartering, being very inclusive and communing together.
That is so clever because if one marketing director or creative director asks another one: “What’s going on in your industry? What are you doing?” And they share ideas, surely that’s a much, much better thing, and, that’s inclusion and diversity right there as well.
But, I think that’s changing because of the types of spaces, flexible spaces that we all work in now and, work is not a place; it’s where you are, and the beauty of that is you meet people you wouldn’t normally meet if you were just the same three people in the same pod in the same office. That’s very exciting, and that’s humanity dynamically expressing themselves in a very diverse way.
Ian Murphy: If I were to put you in a position where you were in front of a room full of people who are thinking about what they need to do in terms of diversity, and they wanted three or four takeaways that they could implement straightaway, what would you say to them?
Jaqueline de Rojas: The first thing I would say is that we know diversity intuitively is a good thing. The first thing I would do is take a photograph of your market, take a photograph of your leadership teams and your middle management teams if you have them, and just check that you’re in a good place with that. The physical universe does not lie, so if there’s a mismatch, then I think there’s a job of work to do. Firstly, take a temperature check of where you are.
The second thing I would do is: be super clear about the values that you stand for as a business. If you are a creative business, then inclusion is a good value because that forces you to look outwards, not inwards. The second thing I would say is: “Check your values and make sure that they support that kind of DNA in your business.”
The third thing I would say is: diversity is not always comfortable and we saw this at the Royal Wedding when the Royal’s tittering under their enormous hats whilst the sermon was happening. And I loved that because it really did demonstrate that sometimes, probably always, that diversity is not always going to be comfortable. It’s OK to be a little bit out of your comfort zone. When diversity is happening, just notice that our tolerance needs to grow a little bit and that it’s okay to be uncomfortable.
Ian Murphy: Jaqueline, thank you very much for your time today.
Jaqueline de Rojas: Thank you for having me.
Ian Murphy: You’ve been listening to one of a series of podcasts dedicated to sharing best practices for professional services organizations. These can be found on www.kimbleapps.com.