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The three pillars tech leaders need to build inclusive organizations

Naz Mir Profile picture for user Naz Mir April 20, 2023
Naz Mir, ServiceNow’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion lead, provides practical and helpful guidance for organizations that want to continue to drive change during tough economic times.

Diversity And Inclusion. Business Employment Leadership. People Silhouettes © Andrey_Popov - Shutterstock
(© Andrey_Popov - Shutterstock)

This year’s turbulent economic environment means that it is all too easy for culture initiatives to take a hit, or to be put on the back burner altogether, as business leaders battle to keep the lights on.

The challenge for tech leaders in the coming months is to stay the course. Organizations now spend an estimated $8 billion a year on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training, but the tech industry still has a long way to go in terms of diversity; for example, a mere 19% of tech workers in the UK are women. 

To continue to drive change, it’s important that business leaders continue to double down on the impressive investments many of them have made in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) over the past few years. 

Tech leaders can take control to build truly inclusive companies, even in today’s challenging environment, by focusing on three key pillars. First, DEI needs to move beyond its ‘one size fits all’ approach to a new way of thinking, fit for 2023. Second, business leaders also need to do more to support families, including those which don’t fit into the traditional ‘nuclear’ family. Lastly, leaders need to truly engage with employee wellbeing, which delivers not just happier workers, but an improved bottom line. 

There’s no denying that business leaders will face hurdles along the way. Engaging with these challenges will be key to building more inclusive companies in 2023. 

  1. Move beyond a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for DEI

A ‘one size fits all’ approach to DEI initiatives no longer works. Equity doesn’t mean the same as ‘equality’ (i.e. equal treatment for all). Rather, it calls for fair treatment and access to opportunities dependent on individual needs. What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. 

This means identifying an approach that works for each employee - and that starts with getting to grips with the data. Data can help leaders understand the broader needs of the business, gathered from sources including diversity data and employee engagement surveys. 

Leaders also need to take a wider perspective than just their own headcount when it comes to DEI and hiring in tech. Organizations can change the ecosystem around them by grappling with the big questions: why are underrepresented groups not participating in STEM education? Why don’t they have career aspirations within the field? One effective approach to deal with these issues is to support education programmes to encourage young people to engage with STEM regardless of their background or identity.

Increasing transparency on DEI goals and moving beyond performative actions to delivering real, measurable change, is key. Prospective employees, as well as investors and partners, are more likely than ever to ask about DEI progress and they are looking for the numbers that showcase how companies are backing up their words with actions.

We walk the walk on this issue at ServiceNow, with measurable improvements we can share with partners and employees. We now have nine Belonging Groups within ServiceNow, which make up our DEI community and drive change within our company, including Pride at ServiceNow and People With Disabilities at ServiceNow. These groups keep us true to our purpose and values - but we know there is still more work to be done.

  1. Engage with employee wellbeing

Burnout is a serious challenge for industry leaders, and one that cannot be ignored. Up to 42% of tech workers report high levels of burnout, according to a 2022 Yerbo report. Thankfully, many leaders now realize that they have to lead by example and show employees that it is okay to look after themselves. 

It’s important to create a working environment where taking time to focus on wellbeing - even during working hours - is acceptable. Speaking up about ill health cannot be seen as a sign of failure to do the job. 

At ServiceNow, we have continued our efforts to deliver on this front, including by offering six additional days of paid time off – “Wellbeing Days” – for employees to focus on wellness. We encourage our UK employees to take regular breaks throughout the day, with calendar invites sent for meeting-free days, and to think about which of their meetings they can turn into ‘walk and talk’ meetings to stay away from screens. 

Even these small changes that focus on wellbeing deliver results.

  1. Show support for families, including non-nuclear families

During the pandemic, many companies rose to the challenge of supporting parents grappling with caring responsibilities and work at the same time. The best technology organizations have learned from this, and now normalize the need for flexibility as a way of supporting parents. Children get sick, childcare plans fall through - having responsibility for children doesn’t fit perfectly into a box on an Outlook calendar. 

This is very much a place where leadership by example is necessary, helping to create a psychologically safe workplace for parents. I sat in a meeting where a director’s two-year-old was waving at people on video and intent on showing us a drawing. It led everyone to open up more, and have more honest conversations with each other. If we see leaders as parents, talking about their joys and hair-tearing moments, it enables everyone else to show that side of their lives as well. 

The other key challenge for organizations is to bring into focus family systems beyond the ‘nuclear’ family. That includes LGTBQ+ families and single parent families, as well as people with caring responsibilities for parents or other loved ones. 

The future of inclusion

Hybrid work has helped to humanize the tech industry. The shift in the way we work caused huge gains in inclusivity, opening up organizations to people who may not have been able to do a 9-5 office job before, and enabling more workplace opportunities for employees.

When you join a video call and see a colleague’s child or a pet, you see beyond their business persona. This builds empathy and connection. But there is still a huge amount of work to be done. Focusing on moving away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to DEI, boosting support for parents and improving focus on wellbeing will be key goals for forward-thinking business leaders in the months to come.

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