Walking the talk: top tech CEO on making diversity and inclusion an enduring business priority

27 Jul 2020

Walking the talk: top tech CEO on making diversity and inclusion an enduring business priority

Chief Executive Officer of Avanade, Pam Maynard, explains what it takes for issues of diversity to be taken seriously, and why it must start at the top to have any chance of success.

Pamela Maynard

Mike Drew, Partner and Global Head of Odgers Berndtson Executive Search’s Global Technology Practice continues this episode of the “At home interviews” with the CEO of global IT solutions provider Avanade. You can read the first part here.

Mike: Pam, a great deal has happened since the turn of the year, bringing a much-needed spotlight on social injustices and the continuing importance of diversity and inclusion. Can you talk about what Avanade is doing to ensure underrepresented groups have a greater opportunity to accelerate their careers?

Mike, Avanade has been on this journey for many years. It’s absolutely critical at times like this that we do have that focus on creating a diverse, and above all, inclusive environment for our people.

Our priority really started with gender, that’s where we started the journey. It’s great to see now after 20 years, we have a board of five members, of which three are female. Pretty unusual for a tech company and something I’m very proud to be part of. But there is still a long way for us to go at Avanade.

The first thing I would say is any culture of inclusivity must start at the top. It must start at the exec team.

That means starting with a set of tangible actions, KPIs, transparency, and measurable accountability as well, across the executive committee. Also, reporting in a transparent way about how you are making progress.

Some of the things I need to do on a regular basis is to report to the board on the progress across our diversity and inclusion agenda. The first thing is to make it intentional, by treating it in the same way as you would any other business priority.

Secondly, it’s about the employees' network and employee resource groups. We have been very intentional around driving that change.

Our three largest employee networks and resource groups are the Women’s ERG, focused on the gender diversity agenda, LQBTQ+ ERG, we call that group Prism, and then also our Inspire ERG, which is focused on our African American community, given our employee base in the US in particular.

We have several other affinity groups and networks. These groups are incredibly important for several reasons. They help you to better understand the lived experiences of the people those groups represent. That’s important so that you can make sure that you have the right intentional actions, and as a leadership community, you are focused on doing the right things. They are also incredibly important for the reverse mentoring opportunities that they provide.

Watch a ten-minute video of this ‘CEO leading through the lockdown’ interview with Pam Maynard, Chief Executive Officer of Avanade.

The third thing that we have done is really look at our talent process to ensure we remove and eradicate any bias that might exist in those processes. This includes unconscious bias training for all our leaders throughout the organisation and then learning the lessons from that.

Also, I think there is an important connection between unconscious bias training and your employee resource groups to ensure that your unconscious bias training is reflective of their lived experiences.

One of the things we’ve done as well examines the succession planning and performance rating processes of our senior people. We have included a neutral challenger in the room, who has challenged the dialogue we’ve been having on individuals. This prevents bias from creeping in.

The last vital thing we’ve emphasised is the importance of role models, their visibility, and mentoring and sponsorship.

I know first-hand, and I really sense the huge responsibility that I have as a black female CEO, to be out there as a role model and to help people to see the opportunity that can exist for them.

I also know first-hand the importance of mentoring and sponsorship and the impact that’s had on me and my career.

What advice would you give other companies that are looking to create greater diversity and inclusion across their organisation, especially their C-suite? Is there one nugget of advice that you could give them?

I would go back to the point that it must start from the top. It must be seen to be very deliberate, and very intentional. D&I needs to be a clear business priority in the same way that any other business priority might exist. KPIs, associated with action plans and above all, transparency in the progress that you are making, and accountability. That would be the one nugget of advice that I would give.

Pam, we have seen some data over the last three or four months since the pandemic started that suggests that both technology and the virtual recruitment process has played a part in bringing more diversity to the executive search process. Do you think embracing the new technologies and working patterns that we’ve had to over the last four or five months can have an impact on the diversity and inclusion agenda long term?

Yes, I can absolutely see that opportunity ahead of us. If you think about gender diversity, one of the challenges that we face is how do we create an opportunity for women who may have stepped out from their careers to look after their family. They may be getting to a point where they can come back, even part-time, but are struggling with how to balance that with a commute, for example.

One of the things that has happened throughout the pandemic is that we have seen that we can be effective working from home, without having to be there in person.

I think that will start to bring opportunities for us to connect with and attract more women who may be still juggling their home and family life, but they will have more of their day accessible if they have not got the commute. Because they have more of their day accessible, they can really start to think about returning to work.

Secondly, going back to the point about borderless and boundaryless, I think it will allow us to access talent again in other parts of the country that we may not have been able to access before.

Suddenly, we have access to people with great skills in remote areas, we can look to get those people on board to become part of a virtual workforce.

One of the challenges we need to consider with all of that though is about culture. As you create an organisation which is more virtual, how do you stay true to the brand and cultural values of that organisation?

This will be one of the lessons that we will have to learn and adapt to. And further, how do we carry that through our recruitment process, which is something Mike you will know a huge amount about.

Yes, what we’ve heard from our US colleagues in Odgers Berndtson, is that a major aspect of the war for talent in Silicon Valley is the extreme cost of hiring. So, being able to disperse your talent across the US will open opportunities for new hubs with great talent. I suspect that there will be an opportunity for most companies, not just Avanade, in the future. If we can find that balance between the workplace experience and remote working.

Thanks Pam, for your time and your insights.