As Halloween is past and the children are back in school after their half term break, we also come to the end of Black History Month. I’m always in awe of the number of activities, awareness campaigns and social media posts I see during Black History Month. This year, we marked the month with a variety of thought provoking talks from special guests, including the founder of Cocoa, the UK’s first range of magazines aimed at black children, and the founder of TechInclusionUK, a charity aiming to help close the digital exclusion gap. While it is a great reminder of the importance of race in our history as well as our present day society, it can be an excuse to focus on diversity and inclusion only once a year.
At Thoughtworks we have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, driving real change to make tech reflective of the world around us. Two years ago, in the UK we introduced a number of employee network groups to help steer, drive and scale our collective impact. This included our Race and Ethnicity group for which I am Executive Sponsor, where I work closely with our group leads and the wider network to champion initiatives as well as hold myself and our leadership team accountable.
Over the last year, the group has driven high value impactful changes, including:
Advising Thoughtworks leadership to become a Race at Work Charter signatory and helping create an action plan to ensure we are pushing ourselves to achieve the five key principles to amplify our commitment to improving the quality of opportunity in the workplace.
Launching a 13 week leadership accelerator programme in partnership with Coding Black Females where we supported 20 females to develop their competency in areas such as managing conflict, influencing and persuading, building resilience, managing risk and setting strategic vision.
Organising events like ‘Understanding the Black Experience’ and securing external speakers to talk to the organisation about race and mental health, the intersections of sexuality, gender and race.
Driving race and ethnicity data collection within our personnel processes so we can measure, spot trends and track progress more meaningfully.
We created a safe space for Thoughtworkers to come and speak about internal or external topics that would usually be deemed as uncomfortable. An example of this was the aftermath of the European Championships for football that took place during the summer, which saw some England players subjected to horrendous racist abuse.
Inclusion cannot happen overnight and it involves so much more than just hiring more diverse employees. The culture, policies and processes (fair and equitable access to opportunities, transparency etc..) need to be aligned to support the diversity in the workforce. Even at Thoughtworks, with a real focus on diversity, we don’t always get it right but we remain committed to learning, evolving and improving. In order to make the meaningful changes needed to drive inclusion, senior leaders must listen to the experiences of people who are different to them, understand the challenges faced and work proactively to remove barriers that stand in the way or hold people back.
One of my key learnings as Executive Sponsor for the affinity group was through my involvement in helping to conduct a number of interviews with black colleagues to learn more about their experience of being black at Thoughtworks. This opened my eyes to the key issue of lack of black leaders in our UK business. As Executive Sponsor, and a member of the leadership team, I am committed to ensuring our business has more leaders and role models who are from minority backgrounds in our business. This is one example of the power and importance of sponsorship. As leaders we own the responsibility for inclusion in our businesses. We must be prepared to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, to try new things and fail fast and we must hold ourselves and others to account and continually push for progress. This is why executive sponsorship is key to moving the dial on diversity and inclusivity.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.