The ‘Diversity Dialogue’ – are you listening?

Back The ‘Diversity Dialogue’ – are you listening?

As a general rule, the greater the mix of people, talent and skills applied to a problem, the more innovative and successful the outcome. This has been proven in many organisations where inclusion and diversity initiatives have been significant factors in promoting employee well-being which in turn have contributed to company growth.

However, for many firms, diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies are still in their infancy, often led by HR as standalone initiatives rather than actively embed new ways of thinking within company culture. This is perhaps understandable given how firms have traditionally viewed HR departments and their role, but when these values become intrinsic to a firm’s culture and being, the real value of the investment can be realised.

The question is of course, how to evolve from an initiative ‘mindset’ to an approach that truly embeds D&I values in an organisation.

To implement a new product strategy without consulting an industry expert would be misguided, and it’s the same when looking at D&I. To reap the benefits a diverse workforce brings, the practice of active listening and encouraging conversation amongst employees should be instilled in a company’s culture. It is only when companies engage in active listening and facilitate a ‘diversity dialogue’ that concerns, ideas, problems and opportunities can come to the fore and appropriate actions can be taken.

One issue that demands active listening and regular dialogue is that of gender diversity. The lack of gender diversity within the tech industry is well documented, and it’s not only confined to the workplace. Across the technology ecosystem as a whole less than 30% of females enrol in STEM degrees at University level while a recent study by Pew Research highlights this imbalance further showing women account for just 14% of the software engineering workforce.

With this imbalance comes the risk of misrepresentation and lack of support. Key initiatives such as female-led support groups, employee engagement surveys, social listening to understand employee sentiment and mentoring programmes to drive personal engagement are critical in helping organisations becoming leaders in D&I and indeed role models for the industry.

However, as firms roll out these initiatives, they must avoid accusations of tokenism. With corporate reputation at risk this has on occasion even acted as a deterrent to investing in D&I initiatives, or perhaps from increasing investment in them. Again, this goes to highlight the critical importance of promoting active listening amongst employees – especially senior management - to ensure any issues are identified at an early stage.

This is the approach we have taken at First Derivatives, and while still on a journey ourselves, we have made a firm commitment to challenge the status quo of women in the workplace from the grassroots level up. We recently launched the ‘FD Impact Programme’, a mentorship initiative designed to empower young women in higher education by providing insight and guidance on what a career in technology can offer.

In addition, our ‘FD Women’s Network’ and ‘FD Mentor programme’ provide increased networking opportunities for female employees globally, developing and mentoring relationships and furthering the resilience of our staff. The culmination of these efforts was recently demonstrated in the recognition of our D&I programmes in the recent Computing Women in Tech Excellence Awards.

Despite the challenges that lie ahead for many firms on their path to achieving gender diversity, there have been clear gains as evidenced in the many support groups, training courses, leadership forums and award programmes created to advance and support females within the workplace. Whilst the transition to achieving gender balance within the workforce will require time, firms must not become complacent.

By fostering active listening and facilitating a diversity dialogue, firms can not only work to embed these values within corporate culture but also benefit from the performance gains associated with a diverse workforce.