The Women in IT UK Summit tackles sustainability and D&I infrastructure

This year's summit explored how to integrate sustainability initiatives with diversity and inclusion

The Women in IT UK Summit took place online and tackled the topic of sustainability in tech and its role in creating better D&I strategies.

Co-hosted by Ramat Tejani, Founder and Chief Encouragement Officer, The Inspiration Box, and Shereen Daniels, Managing Director, HR Rewired, they introduced Preeti Sinha, Executive Secretary, United Nations Capital Development Fund, who opened the day’s first talk on sustainability.

Sustainability in tech – the “hot” topic

She said that tech and finance could be “drivers of opportunities”, but this can’t happen without intervention. She added that tech firms and investors had to implement the UN’s SDGs into their decision-making by linking growth strategies with the wider purpose of a better quality of life for humanity to achieve this.

She talked about the leapfrog power of technology in developing economies, such as when rural communities jump straight to off-grid solar power or digital banking because of technological innovation; it’s in this way, she added, that “digital tech can enable new business models.”

She also said that ‘pay as you go’ abilities, such as access to solar and other financial services, can foster inclusion for less-developed communities.

She then said that human development should be seen as an asset class and that failing to invest in SDGs and humanity would be a significant market failure.

Then followed a keynote presentation by Jasmine Dhiman, Managing Director, Technology Sustainability Lead, Accenture UKI, who said that sustainability had overtaken topics like AI and digital transformation as the most important issue in tech today.

Rewarding sustainability in tech

She said despite promises from many firms to engage in clean energy and promote industrial practices that are viable for the long term, a sustainable future can’t be achieved without gender equality. She added that sustainability was good for business performance, where firms with “consistently high ratings for ESG performance” had operating margins that were 4.7x higher than lower ESG performers.

She also said that despite sustainability being a broad concept, leaders had a duty to demonstrate “what we’re doing to show up for the planet and how we’re making an impact.”

She said that having supply chains where all partners were transparent and disclosed information on greenhouse gas emissions and diversity data was a good idea. She also said this information should be shared with customers too which can boost loyalty to a company.

She added that blockchain technology is a way to check and track supply chain sustainability and map ESG performance. She said it is also being used to connect sustainability-minded customers to ethical producers where “this visibility can allow consumers to reward good production practices with digital payments.”

Then came a panel discussion on ‘enhancing your cultural intelligence’, the talk was moderated by Jennifer Stanzl, Head of Talent Management UK&I, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). The speakers were Fiona Daniel, CEO and Founder, FD2i; Deborah Williams, Founder, The Women’s Association and Karen Huish, Head of Retail Banking UKI, Google Cloud.

Cultural intelligence – a key element of inclusion

Williams said that cultural intelligence meant having a deeper appreciation and acknowledgement of what makes an individual who they are, which goes beyond “surface level” conversations.

Daniel added that cultural intelligence is “the ability to function effectively in culturally diverse situations”, which went beyond “awareness.” She continued that people with cultural intelligence can “work and relate to people across different cultural contexts”, which includes a deeper understanding of empathy and their own biases.

She said that on a smaller scale, it’s about “getting peoples’ names right”, and being “mindful of language”, and “embracing different accents and local customs.” On the wider side, she said it is about connecting with international colleagues operating in different time zones and “leaning in and not and letting the dominant culture dominate.”

Huish said cultural intelligence is about encouraging people to “participate without fear.” She said at Google their founder’s letter states for employees to “bring your whole self to work.” She also said the company’s storytelling events have been useful in creating a climate of cultural intelligence where senior leaders from all backgrounds are invited to speak and be “searingly honest” about their identities and past struggles, making others feel they can do the same.

Then followed a fireside chat entitled: ‘Are you truly supporting your people?’ Daniel moderated the conversation. The speakers were Joel Blake OBE, Founder & CEO, The GFA Exchange, and Joanne Webb, Founder, The Girls Club – Network.

Getting inclusion governance and infrastructure right

Blake said that having conversations about inclusion was one thing, but the actions that come from conversations are most important. He added that having inclusive organisational infrastructure from the top down was key, where governance structure must be revised to ensure all its processes and systems are inclusive. Otherwise, inclusivity is words without actions.

On the topic of being a good manager of remote and flexible teams, Webb said managers and leaders needed “resources” to be effective in their roles as, without the right skills, they will become micromanagers. She added that infrastructural support was important and should include training for virtual teams where the culture of business needs to be about trust and training leaders to empower teams to do their jobs. She also said performance should be measured by delivering and not about where staff are working from.

For remote teams, she said extending mental health support to the entire family or support system around the employee, as well as the employee themselves, is important considering how family units have been locked down together over the coronavirus period.

Dr. J Harrison, Harbinger of Change at tech inclusivity organisation ThoughtWorks, presented the first afternoon’s session called ‘Inclusive Teams Deliver.’

They said that inclusion is about getting “the mindset right” and that focusing solely on identity politics over common issues can be unhelpful as it’s problematic for people belonging to multiple groups. Instead, they suggested focusing on “core issues” such as representation, inclusion, having a voice, and being seen, which are common problems for people across identity groups. They also said two-way communication is useful, as it can help you understand where someone is coming from when they comment, particularly if it has pejorative origins.

To find out more about the Women in IT Summit and Awards Series, click here.

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