Strategies for diversity: Q&A with Sarah Kaiser from Fujitsu

Sarah Kaiser talks about her experiences delivering successful D&I strategies.

We spoke to employee experience and diversity & inclusion lead at Fujitsu EMEIA, Sarah Kaiser about her experiences delivering successful D&I strategies, why diversity matters for business and her hopes for the future. We asked spoke to her about;

  • What first attracted you to work in diversity and inclusion?
  • How she sees the benefits to organisations for adopting D&I?
  • Her thoughts on STEM, creative skills and the future of work
  • About Fujitsu’s work in this space
  • Which strategies she’s found effective and which less so?
  • About Fujitsu’s Annual Girls Day
  • Differences between countries
  • Why tech needs women?
  • Her reasons for optimism
  • Why is empathy important in business?

What first attracted you to working in diversity and inclusion?

I’m really passionate about creating cultures where everyone can really thrive and perform to the best of their ability. What I love about the work we do on diversity and inclusion is that you get to have this incredibly positive impact that benefits both people and businesses so it’s an absolute win-win for everyone. But you really do get to see the results of your work very immediately in that really interesting way. It’s always new, it’s always challenging, it’s always – like you said, it’s so broad, there’s always something new to think about and consider. But ultimately you’re creating better cultures that do better.

Sarah Kaiser, Employee Experience, Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Fujitsu EMEIA

The benefits of diversity and inclusion

For a company like Fujitsu, we need to create tech solutions that work really well for everybody. You can’t create an IT solution that only works for half the people that use it. The only way you can really do that and have that real insight and understanding into what exactly your customers need from the tools you’re providing is by having that really diverse workforce. So for us, absolutely, having a diverse workforce you get all those benefits you’d expect around the best talent, no matter where people come from or who they are. But it’s actually very business practical and focused in terms of creating the most innovative and effective products and solutions and really building strong relationships with our customers.

In other companies I’ve worked in in the past, it’s been things like, for example, when I was at the Tate Gallery, the kind of programmes you put on directly impact on the audience you get and art should be for everyone. To build art that’s going to attract everyone, again, you really need that insight into what people are interested in, what’s going to make them feel comfortable to walk through the door of that gallery, and very much to draw on that diversity of thinking and ideas to create something that’s going to really impact as many people as possible.

So generally, no matter where you’re working, by having a diversity of people working for you, you get the best out of people, they’re more productive, more engaged and more innovative. And you’re going to be able to do better for your customers, which is ultimately why more diverse companies tend to be far more profitable.

STEM, creative skills and the future of work

For us when we’re talking about STEM and the fact that we want a more diverse group of people studying STEM subjects, when you look at digital skills, yes, it’s important to have people who are great coders but we also want really creative thinkers. We need people who can look at things in new ways and imagine the future, ways that we will all live and work and interact that we haven’t even imagined yet.

So I personally see the arts as really important for developing those creative skills. I think that when you have people who have that mix of really understanding the tech and how that works and what it’s capable of and having that vision, that’s when you get the most exciting results.

I think it’s only going to get more important. As we are able to use machine learning and AI and automation to do some of those really mundane, repetitive tasks, which aren’t very exciting or interesting but need to be done, we’re going to need people to do far more creative roles, to work out what’s needed to be done and free up people to do much more interesting things. So personally I only see it getting more important. And certainly in Fujitsu when we’re looking at supporting future ways of working, we see the workplace really evolving and changing; being a far more flexible, far more collaborative, having that variety of people who can think in different ways will be really important to make that work well.

Fujitsu, diversity, and inclusion

Fujitsu has always prided itself on being human-centric, which is a funny Japanese-influenced word we use to say that we want to make things that work really well for people. The technology we do, we’ve always tried not just to create things that work well but to have a really positive impact on society. We’re genuinely a very responsible business that is committed to looking at a positive impact on society, which I find very inspiring as a vision to work for.

So given that we are a responsible business, diversity and inclusion naturally had to be part of that approach and in the Fujitsu way, which sets out our values, we’ve had diversity and other aspects of a responsible business in there for a very long time. For the work I’m doing, I could say that a few years ago, we certainly came to a realisation that we needed to do far more around diversity, that we wanted to be really at the forefront of it, not just doing the right thing but being at the front and being one of the best companies for diversity and inclusion. And that’s when we first – well my role was first created and we started to work on this in a really strategic way.

What I find interesting is we’re not perfect yet, we’ve got a long way to go to create an environment where diversity is really self-evident in every aspect of our organisation and our business activity. We have made leaps and bounds over the past 3 years so if any of the companies and the people you are speaking to are at the beginning of their journey, it can feel really daunting. But if you have a genuine commitment to enhancing diversity and inclusion, you can make progress really quickly.

Three successful strategies from Fujitsu

  1. We have an absolute commitment from our senior leaders to making a difference, they’re totally on board with this, and they really give us their support and their sponsorship to moving things forward.
  2. We have an active family of diversity and inclusion networks so we really get all our people involved in shaping this, feeling part of it, feeling ownership of it, and helping us to identify the things that will make the most difference to our people.
  3. We’re very evidence-based, very data-driven, so we’ve set ourselves targets and measures; we know exactly what we’re working towards and we’re really clear on what we’re doing that makes a difference and what isn’t as effective. So we can make sure we’re always doing those things that are going to have the most impact.

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. And 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, they feature on role model lists like the empower ethnic minority leaders list, or the heroes’ champions of women in business list, and making sure they’re really visible in our company, 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.

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 recognised externally as leaders, being 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. 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.

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. And 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 as something and tech that’s 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.

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. And 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. We’ve seen some STEM; the girls who have been at the days have been doing scratch projects, coding, 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 was 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 them doing the job, not just a bunch of guys showing them what they could do but people they could identify with a bit more.

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. And 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. So we tend to – 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.

Cultural differences to women in tech

I think we would see a bigger difference if we did it elsewhere. So 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. So you wouldn’t see the same – it just wouldn’t have that same feeling. It’s really interesting to see the things that we think of as very normal; we just make the assumption that of course there are more men in tech but actually that’s really specific to our culture.

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.

Why tech needs more women

I find it really interesting that we are going backward and we’re going backward at the wrong time. Because tech is part of everything that we do, it’s not just something that a geeky guy in IT does, it’s every part of the business. So all of us need to have the real familiarity with it. I couldn’t say why it’s changed now but I know it’s more important than ever before that we get it back on the right track.

And I think remembering all the great female role models who are out there really does help. So not just the women in our business but we like to talk a lot about Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer and there are so many great female role models who have really pioneered the way forward in technology. Reminding people that’s the case can only help to change some of the perceptions.

Funding is a really positive step and if you look at Government funding, we’re not just seeing funding for female entrepreneurs, we’re also seeing things like more funding for tech to support people with disabilities into work, there’s lots of great stuff happening, which is really good. But like I said, for our future businesses, as digital becomes part of the way all of us live and work, we need to make sure that all of our workforce has digital skills, understands the power of digital, has that freedom to think innovatively and creatively and to work well with others, for us to really do well as a country, rather than anything else. If we’re not getting all the talent that we can from all the backgrounds, we’re not going to do that. So it’s not just about industry, it’s about education and industry working together.

Reasons to be cheerful

From what I see at Fujitsu, I can only be optimistic. Everyone is so on board with this, recognises it, and we’re always looking at the next thing we can do. So for example, this year we started a reverse mentoring programme for our senior leaders, working with more junior people in the business from a diverse range of backgrounds, to increase their understanding of what it’s like to work in Fujitsu if you’re from a diverse background and how they can be more inclusive leaders. We are seeing more and more diverse role models in our business attaining senior positions and we’re seeing more collaboration and interest in this globally. So for me, I can only see positive changes here.

What I do worry about is we have seen recently a bit of a rise in Europe and the West of – there’s certainly been more ugly rhetoric around difference, there’s been a bit of a backlash, and that does worry me. I think within the workforce we often create this inclusive bubble where people can really be themselves; right now it’s not always like that in society and I worry about that impacting on the workplace in the future. I think it’s really interesting that businesses have chosen to create that bubble and it is because we know it’s better for our people. We get better results, we get more productivity, more engagement, more creativity. And so I hope that that will be something businesses will continue to champion, despite what’s going on in the outside world.

I think there’s a problem that if you imagine a see-saw and at the high bit of the see-saw, historically, you’ve had certain groups of people who have found it easier to get to senior leadership positions, easier to create things, get recruited, get promoted, do whatever they want, get money for their investments. That’s where the entrepreneurship thing is so valuable because women entrepreneurs have historically found it far harder to attract funding than men entrepreneurs, and so on. And at the bottom, you have all those other groups who have been a bit more excluded in the workplace.

So now we’re trying to level the see-saw and that will actually be far better for everyone but the person who is at the top coming down, they’re going to feel that bit of a loss. And I really understand how that feels; it’s challenging, it’s going to be slightly harder for them. We’re actually creating a more level playing field for everyone. Ultimately what we try and say is if you are that white, straight, nondisabled man and you’re going to be part of a more successful business because of the diversity, then that will benefit you too. And it’s about having a balance of people and the skills and a real mix of people and that’s what makes us strong.

But I really do understand that for some people they may feel a bit nervous. They may worry that they’re not going to get where they want to because of who they are; in a way they’re taking on the worries that perhaps women and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities have had for some time, that they also wouldn’t get to where they wanted because of who they are. And we’re seeing an equalisation of that worry. But ultimately it’s about all of us recognising that a mix of people brings more success and we all benefit from working in a more successful environment.

The importance of empathy in business

I would increase empathy so when we talk about a thing like unconscious bias in the workplace, for example, you’ll often hear people say that unconscious bias training doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is that in the half-an-hour training, you’re not going to change years and years of social conditioning and the way your brain works. What really does change people and shift biases is empathy. When we have more empathy and can understand the situation that other people are in, how they see things, what they want, what they need, then we treat people differently, we work more effectively together and we ultimately get better results. So I’m really passionate about seeing more empathy in business. It’s not a word you often hear in the boardroom, it sounds like it’s soft and fluffy but actually, empathy would make the world of difference and would really change quite a lot of what we see.

I’m really passionate about our reverse mentoring programme because I see that as a way of helping to build those relationships and increase your understanding. I’ve seen them having more impact than hours of classroom training; I think it’s all about relationships, it’s about people, it’s about understanding.

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