The role of tech and data in improving D&I at every level – an interview with the CEO of Werkin

03 Dec 2020

The role of tech and data in improving D&I at every level – an interview with the CEO of Werkin

We speak to Hayley Sudbury, the CEO and co-founder of D&I software firm Werkin, about how she’s seen the D&I agenda shift in recent years, and how leaders can improve diversity, inclusion and belonging through technology.

Why did you start Werkin?

I had looked around – I was previously an executive in banking – and I hadn’t seen a version of myself. There were no women above me and there were certainly no gay women above me. I thought ‘wow’, if that doesn’t exist, then I think my career might be elsewhere; so I started to think about how we change that. Alongside my cofounder, we focused on people’s career journeys and what we could change i.e. who actually moves up through the talent pipeline of organisations and how we can help because the reality was, not everyone who should be progressing was progressing, and the top half of organisations were still disproportionately representative of one type of person.

So Werkin was born from this idea of ‘how do we help accelerate someone’s career journey’ and how do we help leaders and managers do the things they said they were going to do as part of being a great line manager and leader. This was at a time – five or six years ago – when people were looking to technology to solve problems, so it made sense for us to bring together this problem that also provided an opportunity for technology disruption, and to look at how we solve the issue of D&I.

Ultimately it was a personal journey and we really wanted to create a company that helps organisations change and turn their intentions around inclusion and belonging into real action and our tech is what helps them do that.

When you approach organisations do you meet any resistance because they believe they already have the necessary D&I initiatives in place?

The world has radically changed for Werkin over the last few months. If you and I were having this conversation a year ago, I would have said yes, we meet resistance but now we’re in a position where we’re no longer educating the market on the reason why companies should be focusing on D&I. Instead we are having conversations around how we can help companies improve their D&I.

However, it’s great if a company is already doing something, and in fact it’s almost better because we can come in and we can help them accelerate initiatives. Our platform enables companies to use real data to talk about the impact their existing initiative is having. We can take an offline programme, migrate it onto our platform and provide the company with data that can be shared with their people and customers about how they’re making real change, beyond just a hashtag of support.

A few years ago, I was talking to c-level execs about their gender pay gap reporting – mentoring and sponsorship programmes were a recurrent theme during these conversations. This was great but we didn’t see much material difference in the numbers. However, there’s now an openness about doing things differently, and the conversation has shifted to ‘we need to do something differently because we don’t have the data around this topic that the market is now demanding’.

When the market demands change, change happens and, the openness is there to try something different.

How have you seen the issue of diversity, inclusion and belonging shift over the past five years?

Five years ago, we witnessed a new wave of awareness and there were great strides from political leaders in the UK who put in place gender pay gap reporting but we were missing that next step.

This next step is happening right now because this year we underwent the biggest remote working experiment in history. The way we work has completely changed, and as a result, we realised that things could be different, and we started looking and engaging with social issues in a different way.

The death of George Floyd galvanised people to say that this isn’t right and that we expect more from society – people are demanding change.

Allies become important as it’s not just the black community; all communities are looking to support and demand change. The combination of Coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement woke people up and everyone saw that change was required, which is why we’re now seeing diversity, inclusion and belonging becoming the number one priority for leaders.

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