by Edward Qualtrough

Developing diversity in technology and IT department – How 19 CIOs are improving levels of diversity, gender equality and women in IT

Aug 16, 2016
IT Leadership

Developing diversity in the technology sector and IT departments has been cited by CIOs as a way of tackling an IT, technology and digital skills shortage. With CIOs who are female making up only 16% of the 2016 CIO 100 – and lower figures reported in the UK and globally by Harvey Nash and Gartner in recent worldwide surveys – and the Tech Partnership reporting that only 17% of technology professionals were female, reaching the broadest pool of available talent pool and attracting women in particular is seen as part of the solution.[See also: Leading UK CIOs – Who happen to be female]

While the benefits of a diverse workforce are well documented and with CIO UK wishing to push discussion around gender equality and diversity in IT departments on to the how rather than the why, we look at mentoring, sponsoring diversity programmes, recruitment processes, interview panels, candidate shortlists and striving to reflect your customer base – and how 19 CIOs and business technology executives are developing diversity and improving their departments:

I am proud to have led teams with a great mix of age, race, gender, sexuality and health challenges. My aim has been to celebrate diversity in all of its forms and create a safe environment. The NHS by its nature is a great place for diversity. Having teams where people feel ok to talk about their HIV status or prayer times as part of flexible work patterns is what I have created.

I have actively supported women in stepping forward and mentored them. I have also actively supported fathers in taking time to be with their children. Overall it’s about each person being seen and heard and acknowledged, being able to voice their needs and being heard. This is not one single action but the result of many interactions. Rachel Dunscombe, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust CIO

Amazingly, we had no women in the senior IT leadership team when I joined, but that has now changed. I do not believe in a policy of positive discrimination, but I do commit to a fully inclusive policy where there should be no form of discrimination, whether on the grounds of gender, race, religion, disability or any other form of bias. To get the highest-performing team you need as much variety as you can to avoid groupthink. I pride myself on building high-performing teams, and that comes from recruiting the best and brightest individual on the market for every open role we have. Adam Gerrard, Yodel CIO

For some time now I have been an advocate and mentor for women in the technology industry. At the end of 2015 we reached over 40% women representation at manager level and above in our function. We ran a specific initiative to help us achieve this last year in India called ’60 in 60′, looking to make 60 female hires in 60 days. We also ran a programme which looked at removing complexity and layers in our IT organisation so that we could enable and drive a culture of empowerment, speed and clarity on responsibilities and accountably across our function. Jane Moran, Unilever CIO

I have led diversity programmes (predominantly focused on gender diversity) in all organisations I have ever worked in, and am a member of various industry groups focused on increasing the percentage of female talent in IT. I have also delivered guest lectures to women’s networks in multiple universities and schools. I believe it’s critical to ‘pull women up’ through organisational hierarchies where they have the talent and capability for broader responsibility because often they self-promote less readily than men, so I commit significant time to mentoring and coaching. In the Home Office, we have a much healthier percentage of females than has been the case in my previous private-sector organisations.

We also have an open and tolerant culture and a flourishing LGBT network. The most critical diversity challenge is BME, so I’m focusing my efforts this year on working with agencies and head-hunters to diversify the applicant population, which is currently incredibly thin in this area, and to focus our marketing campaign with the specific goal of making this organisation more attractive for BME candidates. Sarah Wilkinson, Home Office CTO

Since I joined NWG the proportion of women in the 150-strong IS team has gone from 10% to 33%, and we have increased diversity of ethnicity and those with disabilities. In order to encourage this we have used insights profiling across the team to get the team to understand and celebrate our personality differences. To be industry leading you have to be different.

In some cases we have actively recruited on behaviour style, which may have encouraged diversity. Business relationship managers require huge amounts of empathy and the emotional intelligence skills that stimulate collaboration and teamwork. Interestingly we have a larger than average representation of women in this area.

Thanks to the way the team has embraced the thinking in this area, and the results we have achieved on things like integrating our onshore Infosys and WiPro teams on the transformation programme, I was recently nominated for the Noon award at the Global Equality and Diversity awards. It’s a fantastic achievement for a north-east organisation where the population is perhaps the least diverse in the UK. James Robbins, Northumbrian Water CIO

Having a diverse team is an incredibly important and personal thing for me. This is why I am one of the executive sponsors of AXA UK and Ireland’s diversity programme and a global sponsor of diversity in IT. I am enormously proud that my team leads the way in employing women in IT. I am currently at a 40/60 ratio, so not quite at my 50/50 vision but we’re heading in the right direction. I am enormously encouraged by the fact that we seem to be attracting such a diverse group to our graduate and apprenticeship programmes with about equal applications for women and men, and with diverse international backgrounds. Kevin Murray, Axa UK COO

There’s a clear link between a diverse workforce and a stable, thriving team. I am committed to closing the gender gap and increasing the diversity of my team. I’m proud to say that two key positions within my leadership team are held by women, and I am an active member of 100 years of women in transport and was a judge at this year’s Women in IT Awards.

As a business, we have specific equality outcomes which are reported on; the scheme focuses on creating a workforce that is representative of London’s diverse communities. I also use this framework as guidance for how my department operates. In a recent survey, we saw a three percentage-point increase in members of my team believing that their workplace is free from discrimination, bullying and/or harassment. Steve Townsend, TfL CIO

This is an area where we need to do more work. We recognise that we have a limited number of women in the ICT function and, at the senior level, little ethnic diversity. We recently worked with a researcher at the University of the West of England to review our recruitment processes and the way we describe our roles and the impact it may have on diversity. We are now working with HR to change these processes, introducing simpler ‘role profiles’ rather than formal job descriptions for the purposes of recruitment, and including more ‘day in the life of’ type descriptions of what we do. Aaron Powell, NHS Blood and Transplant Chief Digital Officer

When restructuring the team in 2014, I measured carefully who was being appointed to all roles. There was no positive discrimination policy and all appointments were made on the basis of competence, capability and potential (which has been fulfilled). The outcome was that the IT leadership team was 50:50 gender-balanced and with a higher proportion of female IT executives in post than before, although this was based entirely on competence, capability and potential, all of which have been demonstrated a year on in the annual review cycle. Ed Hutt, Fitness First CIO

Recently I personally implemented a Women in IT working group to address the lack of female staff within the IT workforce, which was not representative of the user base. To do this I liaised heavily with our head of diversity and inclusion to look at how we took positive action to ensure our service was as female-friendly as you would expect it to be in 2015.

The steps we took included ensuring female representation on interview panels, and some of our female staff blogging about women working in IT and speaking at a local girls’ school to promote the career to the younger generation. Over the past 12 months, we have seen the numbers of women in our IT department double as a result of these actions.

In our transformation programme, which was put together during 2015, approximately 50% of the team are women. As an organisation we also have active staff networks for our BAME and LGBT colleagues. Affinity Sutton is recognised as a diversity champion and among the top 100 employers selected by Stonewall. Finally, we also proudly carry the two ticks symbol awarded to employers who make commitments regarding the recruitment, training, retention and development of disabled people. Kevin Corbett, Affinity Sutton Director of IT

I am mentoring a junior female manager in my team who has come from a non-IT background and moved into IT. I have also improved the culture of the team by organising work on shared behaviours, which was very positively received and I have also organised a social styles workshop for my direct reports and their reports, to improve the strength and understanding of the management team. Alison Davis, Francis Crick Institute Director of IT

In my experience there has been a decline in the number of women in core IT roles. However in the last year we have grown the number of women in our department – and now 33% of the department are women. I could provide other examples based on religion, ethnicity or age; we are a really diverse IT department. Our managers and team members at our sites are from diverse backgrounds, and I truly believe that our own IT department diversity helps us provide a more sympathetic service to our site teams. David Willock, Welcome Break IT Director

Essex was a hierarchical and old-school leadership model five years ago, male dominated and built on instruction. Now it is collaborative, the gender balance has shifted greatly, and staff are confident in engaging at all levels, including in difficult debate. I led the engagement effort with staff through formal and informal engagement sessions, well supported by our HR colleagues, but most importantly customer was at the heart of how we needed to change.

In terms of recruitment I established an apprenticeship programme which drew in younger people with social and disability challenges who we have helped develop effective work skills and remain with us as employees or find employment elsewhere. David Wilde, Essex County Council CIO

Our tech team is already incredibly diverse featuring more than 25 nationalities. From a gender-diversity perspective, having a truly awesome female CEO certainly helps and we were exceptionally pleased when Mieke, our world-class female security director, joined the team, reporting to me. Mark Holt, CTO

This year I have continued to build on the long-standing policy that I have developed of embracing young talent. As well as work experience and student placements, we have taken on unemployed young local residents who have a good attitude and aptitude, but not the experience. We take on degree students in their gap year from the University of East London, international interns and I have just agreed to take on a further five apprentices who want to go into ICT, digital and media.

I have also supported initiatives to bring more women into ICT and to support those already in my service to develop their skills and ambition. This coupled with an already high proportion of BME representation in the team means that we have an increasingly healthy diverse mix of employees. The digital natives really help to add a fresh perspective as well as energy and challenge. The women in more senior roles help with customer focus and softer skills, and ultimately the whole team working together helps us better reflect the needs of our diverse customer base (Newham is among the most culturally diverse locations on the planet). Geoff Connell, Norfolk County Council CIO, then CIO of Newham and Havering Borough Councils

As I look in the mirror every morning I see a reminder of everything that is wrong with the make-up of many IT departments today and that is when the overweight, middle-aged, white bloke stares back at me. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true, and I think about how to fix those things, not just in my own team, but the wider IT community.

I’m proud to say I have the most diverse IT team I have ever worked with and because of its diversity it’s also the most effective, creative and inspirational teams and one of the reasons I enjoy going to work. I try to foster a free-thinking and open culture through the use of an agile approach to delivery. Anyone in the team can challenge the way we do things to improve our delivery to the end users. James Findlay, HS2 CIO

Building a strong, diverse and impactful team is a top priority at any business. My vision is to have the number one team in IT fashion retail, so it is essential that my leadership team are role models to the wider department, and this includes demonstrating diversity. I must have one of the most gender-diverse IT leadership teams in the industry as two-thirds of my permanent direct reports are women.

Another area which is important to me is diversity of thought and of thinking. I have changed the traditional mentality and attitude of my IT team by making a number of secondments from the business into my team. This accelerates understanding and insight into business challenges and ensures the needs of the business and the needs of customers are designed into our products and solutions from the ground up.

Lastly, in a business with aspirations to think digital first, I have taken steps to give greater opportunities to younger people. I believe that talented young people are the future of IT. Through training, mentoring and employment my team and I are working to create the next generation of young IT professionals. I do this because I firmly believe it is the right thing to, do but also because training and mentoring these dynamic young people within an environment like N Brown doesn’t just benefit them, it also benefits the future bottom line. Andy Haywood, N Brown COO

We track diversity stats and I have answered questions from Partners in the JL Gazette. We have run Unconscious Bias courses for all our managers. We have run ‘Empowering Partners’ workshops for over 200 Partners as part of our ‘Be the Revolution’ strategy. Paul Coby, John Lewis CIO

In ways of developing diversity this has been achieved in two different ways. One is by hiring permanent staff rather than the previous reliance on interim resources; the second is by hiring for skills rather than the previous approach of a heavily male-dominated organisation. We now have the following split across IT: male 60% female 40%. Rachel Murphy, NHS Digital CTO, then CTO for the Nursing & Midwifery Council