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Creating an inclusive environment is the key to being able to properly utilise the benefits diversity can bring an organisation, according to Regina Moran, UK and Ireland CEO of Fujitsu.
She says that when an organisation has an inclusive culture, people feel more comfortable being themselves, contributing to a more innovative environment.
“We want people to be able to be completely themselves when they come to work, and be comfortable,” she says.
Creating an inclusive workplace
Like many other advocates of diversity in the technology industry and the workplace, Moran claims diversity is not only about the number of women on a team, but also people from different backgrounds, people from the LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities and those suffering with mental health issues.
Helping those with mental health issues is especially important, according to Moran, as it is a topic that can often be “cloaked in secrecy” and a “one-size-fits-all” approach isn’t effective.
“We’ve had mental health weeks in a lot of our locations where we allow people to speak freely about mental health issues, and it’s on the agenda as another item for diversity and inclusion,” says Moran.
“When we started, we were a lot about gender and LGBTQ+, and we then set up the network for disability seed. Now, we’ve moved on to include mental health.”
Fujitsu provides an employee assistance programme to help those who may be suffering with mental health or other issues, providing services such as counselling or financial training to give employees the opportunity to help work out their issues.
These assistance programmes allow “people to be in a safe environment and talk about it, because they are very private issues. It’s another thing people can feel isolated about,” says Moran. She highlights the need for education in firms to help others understand inclusion.
“Mental health is just another facet of humankind. Actually, it’s probably more common than any of us would like to think,” says Moran.
Read more about diversity in tech
Similarly, Moran explains inclusion and support is important for all members of staff, whether that be because of their background, gender, age or sexuality.
“At Fujitsu, we have a saying about believing in the power of difference to create a future for all of us, and we believe diverse teams are more powerful than teams that are not as diverse. That’s in the broader sense of diversity – not just gender,” she says.
Taking gender as an example, Moran explains that many women may experience a cycle where early in their career they’re prepared to work hard, but may have to take time off later on for child or elder care – and these realities need to be factored in when developing an inclusive workplace. “There are stress points in people’s life where those things become much more difficult to deal with than other times.” says Moran.
To create an environment where everyone feels comfortable to be themselves and feels supported – which in turn creates a more innovative and efficient work environment, awareness needs to be raised surrounding issues people may be facing to help remove any stigma around these subjects.
Then, Moran suggests, with the help of a professional third party, putting in place a support infrastructure and training managers on how to behave, particularly in the case of mental health issues, to ensure people are supported as soon as is needed.
“Life and work are so intertwined; they’re not separate, because a person has to be able to be themselves. If people feel comfortable in being open about whatever their challenges are, and there’s a multiplicity, you can help people through that,” says Moran.
“What you get back from the individual is loyalty and a strong work ethic – if you take a longer-term view, I think in the long term it’s worth it, because hiring people is an expensive business and it has its risks.”
Building the UK’s tech skills
The UK currently suffers from a technology skills gap, and the UK’s digital economy needs approximately 2.3m digital workers by 2020.
Like many experts, Moran says there is “no silver bullet” to solving the skills gap that acts as a threat to the tech industry globally – not just in the UK.
Moran has a degree in electronic engineering, but she explains her parents didn’t know what this was, and neither did her school.
Parents can act as a huge influence for young people when choosing career options, but very few parents want their children to be tech entrepreneurs, and teachers do not know enough about the breadth of tech careers to give proper advice.
To begin solving this issue, many, including Moran, believe there needs to be more communication between industry, government and all levels of education providers to create a visible “pathway” into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers.
Making these different career options and the best path to take for particular roles is something that should be introduced to children from a young age, Moran believes, as “a lot of decisions are made” already when young people are choosing options for GCSE around the age of 14 or 15.
Coding from a young age
In 2014, the new computing curriculum was launched in the UK to teach people concepts such as coding from a young age to prepare them for a more digital workplace in the future.
Senior executives from Fujitsu go to smaller schools and bring experiments which will encourage the children the take an interest in Stem subjects.
When conducting one of these experiments, Moran also noticed the difference in attitude towards Stem between male and female students – teachers have previously admitted they stereotype children based on gender, which can contribute towards girls shying away from Stem subjects.
“We have to address [gender behaviour] very early on, and teachers and parents have to encourage girls to take those steps, to make those choices early on.” says Moran.
A lack of visible role models in the technology industry is also cited as a reason young women choose not to pursue careers in tech.
Moran says the media often portrays the techie as “the strange person”, and more should be done to break down negative stereotypes and expose children to more truthful representations of tech roles.
“You don’t see it in the media, you don’t see it in television and you don’t see it in film that much,” she says.
Skills in the wake of Brexit
It can be difficult to ensure the right skills are being taught in schools as the roles children will be filling in the future do not exist yet.
Moran believes tech can be a passport to anywhere in the world. “Tech is a common language. How can you really pick something that’s going to last you 50 years? But you have to pick something that will allow you as a foundation to keep your options open.”
A number of talented tech workers claim they are thinking of leaving the UK once it leaves the European Union, and Moran says this may also make it difficult to maintain diversity in tech teams.
“If you’re trying to be creative in the technology environment, having multi-cultural teams is very powerful,” she says. “A way will have to be found to still have that option – it might not be the same numbers of people, it might not be easy, but I still think that door needs to be kept open in terms of having the multi-cultural input, because it’s just good for people.”
To ensure the UK has enough skilled workers in the wake of Brexit, there has been a focus on developing home-grown tech talent, putting the focus on the education providers to ensure children are aware of what types of tech roles are available, and ensure children do not get “locked into a siloed stream” without the opportunity to cross into other tech roles.
But though developing more skilled workers in the UK may help towards filling the skills gap, it will still stunt the opportunity for some forms of diversity.
“Over time, that will erode innovation, and that’s not a good thing for any country” says Moran.