The LGBTQ+ community makes up a rich and diverse portion of the talent pool. On Episode 5 of the Beyond Labels miniseries we were joined by Sophia Carlton, who is a distinguished fraud and risk management executive, award winning author, and passionate LGBTQ+ advocate. She talked us through her experiences in the workplace as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and shared her advice for engaging wider teams in LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion. Read on to find out how you can foster inclusion in the workplace. 

You’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and you lead initiatives at work to support that, could you tell us more about that?

Employee Resource Groups are where I found community when I first started my career. They really helped me find people who shared my values, who I could connect with, and who were speaking the same language. It gave me this sense of deeper purpose and meaning in my work. I started supporting ERGs at my first firm and rose the ranks from local leadership to national leadership to national strategy by supporting ELT conversations and thinking about equality across the country for LGBTQ+ employees. 

That was an amazing action to be involved in at Accenture. I’m currently the lead of our local chapter here in the DC area. I’m also our national programming lead. In those roles I shine a light on the different identities within the LGBTQ+ community. There’s a lot of identities within that, including some more niche groups, and I want to highlight the wonderful people within them. We want to increase understanding, compassion and empathy by bringing their stories to life. When you know someone who identifies a particular identity, it makes it so much more real, and you can connect a lot better. That’s really the goal of what I do; empower folks in the community, improve visibility and show people that we all have a lot more in common than they might think. 

How do you bring other people along on the inclusion journey, and what’s your advice for people who want to learn like I do? 

There are two concepts that come to mind; assuming positive intent and creating a safe space for failure. I think sometimes allies of whatever community think that you always have to get it right. However, even if you’re in a community, you may not always get it right. For example, I identify as bisexual, but that doesn’t mean that I understand every other identity in the LGBTQ+ community perfectly. I approach it with positive intent, I do my own learning and I get engaged instead of expecting others to teach me. I ask questions where I’m unsure. And if I slip up, I apologise and learn from it. 

We expect the same from allies. You’re allowed to fail. You’re allowed to try again. You’re allowed to learn. I always try to assume positive intent from allies too. If someone slips up, and they really didn’t intend to, it’s just a lesson to be learned. It’s not something to be punitive about, and we’re not going to revoke your allyship for making a mistake. That’s where I get a lot of questions from allies in my role in the ERG. My advice is that if you don’t know what to do, ask. A question that a lot of my trans colleagues get is ‘What if I mess up pronouns?’ Just correct yourself and move on. Don’t make it a big ordeal, because then the person you’ve misgendered will have to start consoling you about something that’s probably been uncomfortable or upsetting for them. Just take little steps and be okay with learning. 

What advice would you give to an employer that’s trying to build a more diverse and inclusive team?

It’s about enabling psychological safety, and creating those spaces where we can be ourselves. Your focus should be on identifying the ways each of us are a value add and figuring out where we can contribute. Ask yourselves ‘How can we all come together to create a really fantastic team?”. We actually hear the term equality a lot, but we need to consider equity too. When we think about equality, it sets the foundation for an equal playing field, but equity levels out the playing field and makes it accessible to everyone. That’s where all of the differences that we have are understood and accounted for, and where we’re set up for success individually. 

To learn more from Sophia, tune into Episode 5 of the Beyond Labels miniseries on The Disruptive Mindset Podcast here

On the Beyond Labels miniseries we discussed a range of diversity topics. In episode 4 we were joined by Rachel Spero, an Account Executive at Gartner, to discuss how companies can bring on next generation talent. Rachel shared her experience of being part of the Gen Z workforce, explaining what misconceptions employers have about her age group. Read on for her insights. 

How do you believe companies should approach recruiting Gen Z talent?

Stereotypically, Gen Z cares about things like independence, autonomy, self direction and freedom. We also want to have our voice heard. I think at any company you’ll go into an entry level job straight away, and you can’t expect to run the business from the get go, or have any of your ideas to be implemented at the top. That’s not what I expected at all. But what I did want from my company was to be valued. 

Because there are more conversations around mental health and work-life balance now, there’s more importance placed on the human side of work than there ever has been, especially by younger generations who are growing up with those expectations. Companies need to recognise that and promote it. 

I would recommend that companies who are looking to hire new talent communicate their purpose and the human centricity of their culture on digital platforms. So I think I speak for myself and a lot of people, when we’re looking for jobs, when I say that younger people go to social media sites like LinkedIn during our job search, so using digital recruitment channels is another key element to attracting Gen Z. 

What would be the top three benefits that stand out to you as Gen Z talent?

The things that always stand out as a sign of a good company are things like health insurance, wellbeing stipends and mental health support. Having an internal team to take care of your people is really important to me. 

What are the biggest misconceptions that companies might have about the next generation of talent?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that Gen Z is a little bit entitled, lazy, or we just want nice things. That’s a really huge misconception. I think Gen Z is much more aware of having a healthy work-life balance, which wasn’t necessarily possible before. I think that just comes from an awareness of these topics. We know now that productivity comes from having a good and healthy work life balance, so it’s a bonus for employees and employers. For companies that are looking to kind of mitigate that misconception, it’s important to have really clear communication with your employees around what their goals and aspirations are and how they want to achieve them, then work together to map out a plan of how they’re going to achieve that. 

To learn more from Rachel, tune in to Episode 4 of the Beyond Labels miniseries here

During the Beyond Labels miniseries we’ve been exploring a range of diverse identities and experiences. In Episode 3 we were joined by Paul Bergin, the Managing Director of the Public Safety Group at Sopra Steria, who shared his story as a professional with ADHD. He explained how that’s affected his working life and shared some advice for other neurodivergent people in the workplace. Here’s what he said: 

“If somebody says, ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ or ‘What do you bring to the organisation?’ I tell them that I bring infectious energy and enthusiasm at a level unparalleled by my peers and colleagues. I bring fresh thinking every hour of every day without fatigue and without stopping. I don’t get tired of new ideas. The more stress you throw at me, the better I get. I’m antifragile; I do not run down under stress, I get better. 

I’m also great at unstructured thinking. If you spend a career being told what to do, a series of structures starts to limit your thinking. Let’s say you get promoted, and you start running a small team. Suddenly you hit a point where strategy and innovation and free-thinking is what you do every day. Most neurotypical people have been rigorously training to do as they’re told and live in a structure, and they’re really good at it. When they suddenly flip and become leaders who have to be open, inspired, have dreams and visions – they can’t do it. There’s a massive difference between people who thrive in ordered structures and creative or strategic thinkers who naturally possess those skills. 

I’m the opposite. I’m somebody who struggled through their early career because I was being forced to do things that went against my genes, but suddenly I popped out thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve got through that hard stuff. Now it’s pretty easy. Now I’m in my element where the strategic thinking is unobstructed.’ I bring a very different perspective. When our CEOs or leaders want more innovation in our organisations, it’s there, but it’s being suppressed by our structures and processes. 

When it comes to working with my ADHD, I have to add structure to keep me focused on simple things. Most people work from their inboxes, but I can’t see it on my desktop or have notifications for it. I decide what I’m doing and then do it. I work from a simple principle of starting my day by planning. One thing I do is give myself a period of time every morning to think about what’s bothering me today, and the three things that are usually on top of my mind are nearly always the things I need to do. More often than not they’re the most important things to the business too. 

When it comes to my emails, if there’s 15 emails saying, ‘I need you to look at this’ if you leave them all day, nine times out of 10, somebody else solves them for you. My general rule is that if it’s coming from your level or above, it probably needs looking at, but if it’s coming from below your level, it probably doesn’t, because they’ll manage it themselves. Otherwise you create a dependency culture where you end up doing things for the team that they should be learning to do themselves. 

I find that the less technology you distract yourself with, the better. My phone has no notifications at all. I have an app on there that switches the phone off for a period of time, and if you don’t use it it will grow a virtual forest for you. That’s nice. I also set timers for how long I’m allowed to look at my phone during the day. I’ve allowed myself enough distractibility to keep going and keep my dopamine higher, but not so much that I don’t get stuff done. 

There’s also things one can do to allow artificial structure. The key with ADHD is that while you know intellectually how to structure somebody else, I struggle to do it myself. I need external rules to tell me how to automate. That’s why I create those rules around me. They’re the kind of structures you can use within technology or outside technology, but particularly if you have ADHD, you have to put external structures and clocks in every room to help you manage time effectively.”

To learn more from Paul, tune into Episode 3 of the Beyond Labels Podcast here

On the Beyond Labels miniseries we highlighted a range of social issues, from gender equality to neurodiversity and young leaders. On Episode 2 we were joined by Emma Parkin, the Strategic Campaigns Manager at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, who is also one of our next generation of leaders. She shared her insights on the importance of creating neuro-inclusive teams, as well as her advice for companies who are trying to recruit them. 

Why should companies create a neurodiverse team? 

Cognitive diversity is massively important. I remember when I was being interviewed for university, I was applying for a physics course but I’d never studied the subject before. Someone asked me ‘How will you succeed in your degree if you haven’t studied physics before?’, and I went back and said, ‘Well, you don’t want everybody to have studied exactly the same thing and had exactly the same experiences, because then you won’t ever learn anything. I will come from a different perspective from my peers because I haven’t studied physics, and there will be things that I need to catch up on, but I can do it.’ When I started my first physics degree I was like, ‘Wow, this is a challenge!’ But I still came out with a 2:1.

It’s the same thing with neurodiversity. Neurodiverse people will see the world in a different way and have experienced the world in a different way, so they’ll bring a different set of insights and perspectives into your team. That’s really important, because the only way you’ll create a product or service that everyone can resonate with is by including a diverse range of perspectives in the creation phase. 

Do you think companies are becoming more accepting of neurodiversity and seeing the value in including neurodiverse people?

Definitely. In my industry companies are actively targeting neurodiverse individuals now because they recognise that their skill sets are highly valuable. That’s not something that they’re utilising at the moment, so there’s an active push to hire more people with those backgrounds. More people are becoming aware that they have those traits as well, because it’s becoming a more common topic and there’s more education surrounding neurodiversity now than there was a few decades ago. People are reading about it in articles and realising ‘Oh, I’ve got that!’, and getting diagnosed. Companies in turn are putting different mechanisms in place to make neurodiverse people’s lives easier. 

Neurodiversity is just one angle of creating diverse teams. You’ve also got the younger generations like Gen Z coming in, who are going to be quite a large population in the workforce quite soon. They’ve actually got different values to some of the older generations, and diversity is a big one for them. Being different is very acceptable to them. That requires a different set of working practices, so employers need to start thinking about how to best cultivate their talent. One of the best ways to do that is to make them feel included by deliberately creating a diverse workforce. 

What advice would you give employers who are trying to create more diverse workforces? 

You should be able to point to different programmes or examples that they’ve got that have been designed specifically to people with their skill set. As a woman, most industries that are quite male dominated, but where I am now, there are multiple women on the leadership team, to the point that it’s nearly 50:50. I didn’t realise how much that impacted me until now. It’s great to see people like me at a higher level who are succeeding, because I’ve never had that before. That’s why being able to point to programmes and examples of where you’ve helped people with their specific neurodiverse traits succeed before would be fantastic. Tailored programmes mean much more than a catch-all course would, because that can support them and their individual needs.

To learn more from Emma, tune in to Episode 2 of the Beyond Labels miniseries here

The Beyond Labels miniseries helps shed a light on diverse talent within the workforce. We looked at topics such as gender diversity, young leaders and neurodiversity, in the hopes of bringing more awareness to leaders in the tech space. On the first episode we were joined by Maryna Barysheva, the COO at LKI Consulting, to talk about managing Gen Z talent. She shared her experiences of managing Gen Z talent as a young leader, the best ways to attract Gen Z candidates and the different values that they have when it comes to work. Read on to hear her insights. 

How does Gen Z differ from previous generations in terms of their work and expectations?

Gen Z’s grew up around technology, so they’re the most tech-proficient generation, hands down. They have a different way of thinking and generating ideas because they grew up surrounded by so many technologists and so much media – they were always immersed in this creative world. 

If I’m looking at their career prospects, they want to advance quickly. Sometimes that becomes an obstacle when people want to jump through hoops and grow really fast, but sometimes that’s a big value add, because they’re willing to go the extra mile to achieve those goals. Other Gen Z people prefer autonomy. They can be self starters who generate their own ideas, which leads to creativity. The feeling of ownership is really important for us. 

Gen Z can be a bit more rebellious because they have a strong sense of social justice. Corporate structures don’t inspire them and they don’t want to be restricted by certain boundaries early on, and where they really shine is in making their own decisions, setting their goals, creating KPIs… I’ve had Gen Z employees come to me with their goals and whole plans for how they’re going to reach them. Generally, they have more control over their work, and also more accountability for what they do. 

That accountability also translates in the space that we create for them. They need to have a space where they can express their opinion and disagree, which is very healthy. We’re moving away from the traditional workspace hierarchy. Now, in many agencies, most of them have the freedom and the opportunity to express themselves. They have a little bit more inner confidence, which for me as a manager is a nice benefit.

What are the challenges that companies have in attracting and retaining Gen Z employees?

One of the biggest challenges has to do with people’s impatience. It’s quite difficult to capture the attention of the Gen Z, because they get bombarded with so many different messages online. Things like ‘Be your own boss’, ‘You can be a freelancer’, and ‘You only have to work a few hours’ are all great messages, but when someone’s perspective of working as part of a team can get really disturbed. 

Another challenge comes with Gen Z’s emotional resilience and their big focus on mental health. If you want to retain younger employees, you need to invest in their mindset early on by supporting how they approach stress and the way they take care of themselves. I’ll give an example: one of the first things that I do within my onboarding period is make a new employee tell me what their hobbies are and when they are going to be practising them. It’s easy to come into a new job, get stuck into the work and forget about taking care of yourself. By the end of a three month period, people get burnt out, they’re really unhappy and they leave. We want to avoid that, so we build some hopes for our new team members and remind them and empower them to take care of themselves too. I think that the retention rate would be much higher if other companies did that too. 

When it comes to attracting people, I personally moved away from the traditional interview format. I’ve moved into having a conversation, telling some of our stories about how we do things and sharing experiences, because it feels more authentic and transparent. Then I dig deeper into the person’s motivation. If we see that the candidate is amazing, their skill set is there and they have the right attitude, but we’re not the environment that will work for them long-term, we’re very honest about offering them alternative options, whether that’s being a freelancer with us or considering another role, because I see absolutely no point in attracting talent that will not be retained long term.

What are the best management techniques and styles you’ve seen for your generation?

I think honestly there is no one size fits all management technique. I tend to go more with the coaching style when it comes to younger employees, so I try to answer as few questions as possible and encourage them to think about and find the solution on their own. We have an agreement that they can come to me with a few solutions and I will help them pick the best one, but I’m not here to be a teacher for them. My job is to mentor them on how to reach the solutions on their own. 

The one thing I would recommend quite generally is to not micromanage people. I made this mistake on my own, and maybe some younger execs will also relate to this. You take a management job early on, so you feel a great responsibility and the pressure to deliver. Then you see that other people in your team are about to make mistakes, so the natural instinct is to run and prevent the mistake and stop them falling. But the more you prevent this, the less people learn. Sometimes I know that there will be a failure, but I let people fail in a controlled environment when they’re learning from it. Some managers forget how they learned and how many times they failed, what challenges they went through, etc, and they assume that their people will automatically just know things. That’s not the case, you have to let your people learn. 

To hear more from Maryna, tune into Episode 1 of Beyond Labels here

Diversity and inclusion is a prominent issue in the tech industry. It’s also one that we’re addressing at Disruptive by promoting higher levels of gender diversity in leadership positions. On Episode 17 of The Disruptive Mindset Podcast I sat down with Ghela Boskovich to discuss how companies should think about inclusion. Ghela is a renowned expert in the FinTech field and currently works as the Head of Europe and Regional Director at the Financial Data and Technology Association, giving her valuable insights into the daily workings of the tech industry. Here are her perspectives on inclusion:

Inclusion is, ‘Do people belong? Do they feel like they are accepted? Do they feel like they are considered from a staffing and a human resource perspective? Do the teams actually have spaces that are accepting and inclusive rather than exclusive? Does the company actively seek out people who are fundamentally different and bring something unique to the team? Is that uniqueness allowed to flourish?’ It’s a wide range of considerations. 

Companies need to be willing to say, ‘we’re not going to do what is convenient and easy in the hiring process, we’re going to look at ensuring that we have representation across the board, especially if we serve a diverse clientele’. They have to acknowledge that it’s not just a small segment of the population they serve. 

They should also be asking ‘Are we considering our customer base as we start to design? Do our teams that design products, structure products or deliver services also reflect our customer base? Does our customer base feel like we also are concerned about their daily challenges?’ Those daily challenges vary across different populations, attributes and assets – they are not common across the board. Customer bases can change and fluctuate based on attributes, which will affect your market segmentation. Those attributes are also associated with privilege and advantages, yet businesses often don’t recognise that privilege is different for each one of their consumers and colleagues. 

Everybody in your talent pool has a different perspective. To not make sure that they are all included in the discussion means limiting your company’s view. You should be actively seeking representation of those disadvantages, those challenges, and those gaps in privilege so that you can understand the client base that you’re serving. To me the most important question is do we actually reflect the community that we serve? And if you don’t make efforts to do that through your recruitment and culture, you’re failing. 

An inclusive culture is one that says, ‘you belong, and I recognise you as a human being that deserves dignity and respect as a baseline, and that you have interesting insights that I will never understand because I’ve not walked in your shoes’. If you think about the billions of pairs of shoes that are out there, if we only look at 1% of them, how could we possibly succeed in opening up our own perspectives? How could we possibly connect with our customers or create a product that actually has meaningful impact to them if we don’t include those perspectives and lived experiences? That 1% can only produce something that appeals to a very narrow segment of the population. That is antithetical to doing business, because you want to appeal to as wide a swathe of people as possible. 

Just from a philosophical perspective, inclusion is critical. We also know that there’s a business case for it, but I don’t think that’s as important as the philosophical point of view, because business should actually be human centric.

To learn more about inclusion in the tech space, listen to Episode 17 of The Disruptive Mindset Podcast here

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