The importance of role models for diversity at your workplace

We interviewed employee experience and diversity & inclusion lead at Fujitsu EMEIA, Sarah Kaiser about her experiences delivering successful D&I strategies and the importance of role models for diversity at your workplace. She shared her insight on:

  • Finding the best way for creating  role models for diversity at your workplace
  • Fujitsu’s Annual Girls Day and the importance of role models
  • How culture shapes diversity in the workforce

Sometimes the simple approach works best

We wanted to do some work around role models. We know that role models are really important for diversity because until people see people like themselves doing well, it’s hard for them to believe they can. It’s always difficult to be the first. We’ve done this in a few different ways and we found that some ways are far more effective than others.

So we tried a really complicated way at first where we set up a special role models programme and it just never really took off. But actually, simply by making sure that the role models we have in our company are quite visible, those who feature on role model lists like the EMpower Ethnic Minority Leaders list, or the HERoes Champions of Women in Business list is far more effective. And that was just something that was really interesting to learn for us, that sometimes the simple answer is the right answer.

Authenticity and the importance of role models for diversity at your workplace

I think for diversity to work you need it to be quite authentic, it’s got to feel very real. So when our people, our senior women, our senior ethnic minorities leaders were being externally celebrated for their greatness in their fields and for their achievements, it felt much more natural and authentic rather than the work we’d been doing beforehand to try and almost create role models for diversity at your workplace. It’s such a personal thing that it’s got to be very real. So I think whenever you can be really authentic, you’re going to do better.

See also: Your guide to utilising sponsorship and mentoring for diversity

Fujitsu Annual Girls Day

It’s a bit like a bring your daughters to work day but they don’t have to be daughters, it could be any young female relative, aged 7 to 11; so daughters, granddaughters, nieces. We know that girls self-select out of studying STEM cell subjects really young. Everyone focuses on what GCSEs and A-levels people are doing but by the time they’re 11 they’ve already made a decision about whether they think of science and tech as something that’s for them. That’s why we wanted to target 7 to 11-year-olds before they could have absorbed all those unconscious biases in our society and get them to see that working in tech is really exciting, really creative, really fun, and something they can do.

Sarah Kaiser Employee Experience, Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Fujitsu EMEIA. STEM A-level gender role models for diversity at your workplace
Sarah Kaiser Employee Experience, Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Fujitsu EMEIA. STEM A-level gender role models for diversity at your workplace

We wanted to target 7 to 11-year-olds before they could have absorbed all those unconscious biases in our society and get them to see that working in tech is really exciting, really creative, really fun, and something they can do.

Sarah Kaiser, employee experience and diversity & inclusion lead at Fujitsu EMEIA

We’ve actually been running these events in Germany for 10 years so we exported it to Finland and the UK for the first time this year. I know that the UK events we did book up in 10 minutes and so did the waiting lists; there was a real demand for them. The girls got to try such interesting things. So, for example, they programmed robots, did robot wars and then would reprogram the robots to keep improving them and got really competitive about it. You wouldn’t believe 8-year-olds would be like that but they really could. They’ve been doing scratch projects, coding and talking to their friends about how they want to work in tech when they’re older. So it’s really changed their self-image.

One thing that was quite important to us as we made sure we had lots of our technical women running those days. We didn’t make a big deal of it, it was just in the background so the girls would see people who are like grown-up versions of themselves doing the job, not just a bunch of guys showing them what they could do but people they could identify with a bit more.

Breaking stereotypes and norms

I do think it is a lot of those unconscious influences in our society and the stereotypes we continue to put on people. We like to think we’ve evolved beyond that; I’d love to think that is the truth but it just isn’t unfortunately. If you look at children’s toys, children’s clothes, what’s marketed towards them, they’re constantly receiving messages about what’s expected of them still and unfortunately, they’re not always positive messages. If you look at T-shirts for boys, they say things like being wild, explore, be an inventor, and everything aimed at girls will just say be pretty, be nice. So challenging those things, showing them what options there are is really important for us.
Across our EMEA region, if you look at the representation of women in the tech force, only about 16% of technical jobs go to women in Europe and America. If you looked at somewhere like India, it’s such a different picture. It’s totally normal for women as well as men to work in tech roles, they just don’t have the same stereotypes we do around that there. It’s just always really helpful for us when we remember that something we take as the norm is not the norm, it’s just part of our culture. That means it’s something that can be changed and role models for diversity at your workplace can be part of that.

See also: A-levels, Gender and STEM 2018