Great minds think differently
To truly achieve diversity, the rhetoric must be channeled into reality. Purnima Sen, Operations, People and ED&I Director at Sparta Global, talks about the benefits of diversity – many of which have come to the fore in the last year, which has been a year of the real societal and economic reset.
The lack of diversity in tech companies is a complex problem, according to Purnima. She knows this more than most: she has over 20 years of experience in operations and HR within IT services organisations. She puts the complexity down to a long-lasting narrative of discrimination in the past.
For Sparta, diversity is no longer synonymous with women; it is about race, gender, background, culture, life stage, parenthood – a whole gambit of spectra. “At Sparta Global, we are interested in the wider spectrum of diversity. We promote the idea that “diversity” is an overarching concept, one that considers both the visible and invisible facets of identity which make each of us unique. We also believe in intersectionality: the idea that individual experiences are shaped by the intersection of gender and other aspects of identity such as ethnicity, age, nationality, mental health, socioeconomic status, disability, culture, or parenthood. This approach guides our holistic approach to equality, diversity and inclusion. We are committed to championing under-represented groups in technology through digital education and employment” Purnima enthuses.
Sparta’s business model is about training graduates in a range of technology skills and then deploying “Spartans” in relevant roles within its client base. By being a source of diverse talent for a multitude of firms and sectors, Sparta can help foster the diversity elsewhere that it creates within its own firm, in turn helping clients meet their own diversity objectives.
“Our unique business model has helped us to train so many young people from diverse backgrounds into excellent roles. By championing the inclusion of more women, migrants, ethnic minorities, neurodivergent talent, and talent from lower socio-economic backgrounds in our company, we have done so much more than ticking a box on the ED&I agenda. We have completely transformed the culture of the organisation. We live and breathe a working environment in which everyone is respected no matter their backgrounds. An environment in which we strive to be inclusive through both words and actions. An environment in which we teach respect for others’ perspectives and views even when these our different from our own beliefs and learn from them. An environment in which differences are celebrated for what they are – assets. And although we recognise that this is a long-term commitment, we will never stop striving to educate to better ourselves,” she explains. Their focus is paying off: Sparta has a workforce that is 30% female and 46% from ethnic minority groups, and boasts a 0% median gender and race pay gap.
We need a cultural mix, not a cultural fit. Who can bring something different to the table, providing a more globalised solution as against a localised one?
"In the medium term we need to solve societal factors which are behind the lack of diversity, such as nurturing a wider pool of talent. Through this diverse hiring of youth, Sparta has helped cause social mobility through youth employability. Our next step is working towards outreach programmes and target areas with no ICT programmes to try and redress this,” Purnima says. It is also about challenging our recruitment processes to level the playing field – many capable people may not have formal education. 10% of Spartans had never attended university, 71% of trainees attended state-funded school and 20% of the 71% were on free school meals.
“We all have profound roots in our culture and society, and it won’t change overnight. The way we can fix them is as parents, employers, teachers and pedagogues – it will take all of us to collectively change it, we can actively contribute to painting a more inclusive picture of technology, which will in turn encourage future generations of diverse talent to pursue careers in this space” she stresses. By placing so many people into IT roles across myriad sectors, Sparta has excellent insight into how these firms and sectors look at diversity, and it run’s regular workshops with it’s clients and prospective clients to address their ED&I challenges through Sparta’s unique business model.
She offers inspiring food for thought: “Thriving businesses must be built around a sense of corporate social responsibility."
We need to be the change we want to happen. If you hold the power to change someone’s life, then do that – If you’re at the top of the ladder, you need to send the lift down to get more deserving people up.
Six tips for promoting diversity
Purnima suggests areas firms should focus on to address diversity:
- Identify barriers to full inclusion in your business – noting there will be different biases in different sectors. Are there barriers in culture, leadership or process? Create data and use it to create evidence-based strategies for change within your firm. This way you can measure your progress against a starting point.
- Develop and reward inclusive leadership around diversity. If you have a diverse team around the table, then you have a range of decision makers setting a narrative of inclusion, and creating a more globalised solution.
- Create and share a strong business case for change. Create a strong business case and explain why it’s necessary in an effort to change the psychology of those resistant to change. It needs to be genuine and then showcased so others can communicate it and want to drive that change.
- Audit the employee lifecycle for bias. It’s important to scrutinize the lifecycle from talent acquisition through to promotion – look at processes, identify the biases, determine whether they are conscious or unconscious. Then consider how to support people to change their behaviours and processes.
- Take practical action to break down barriers to actual change. People need a real toolkit to achieve this. Sparta inductions include a workshop around language and behaviour, discouraging phrases that isolate certain groups of society. Debate is possible without offending people if emotional vocabulary is considerate. These workshops help establish an environment that helps people to feel secure.
- Establish role models. It’s difficult to be what you can’t see. Role models act as tangible evidence that the companies actively know what good looks like.
We recognise the importance of diversity and so are supporting our portfolio by developing a diversity toolkit for the portfolio., which includes encouraging diversity across Boards and executive teams.