PCR September Exertis Roundtable: Change for the better

Exertis held an internal roundtable to discuss its employee’s views towards creating a workplace of diversity and inclusion. On the panel was Dharma Lad, HR Business Partner, Jamie Brothwell, Commercial Director, Accessories, Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager, Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst, Kati Eagle, Purchasing Director and Rosie Gordon, Product Manager. Here’s what came up in the discussion.

The distribution and retail of technology is – perhaps by definition – one of the most forward-looking industries in the world: a business where the most transformative and cutting-edge developments are adopted early and embraced ahead of the curve. But is our industry ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to diversity? Are our businesses cutting-edge on inclusivity?

To explore these questions, Exertis invited volunteers from across its business to take part in a roundtable discussion about diversity and inclusion: to speak openly about their own experiences within the business, their sense of where the Exertis organisation (and the wider industry) have got to on its diversity journey, and the role we can all play on the path towards a more inclusive society.

For Exertis, 2021 hasn’t been the easiest year: a few months ago a tribunal was brought by an ex-colleague who was discriminated against in the workplace several years ago. Exertis apologised to the colleague for the behaviour of the individuals concerned, all of whom no longer work for the company. In turn, he acknowledged that since those events (in 2016 and early 2017), Exertis has done much to promote equality and dignity at work throughout the organisation and is committed to continuing to do so in the future.

We began by defining some terms, asking the panel what the phrase diversity & inclusion means to them personally, and why it is so important.

Jamie Brothwell, Commercial Director, Accessories: “Firstly, it’s not just about diversity of people, but diversity of thinking, and giving people the power to open their minds to new possibilities and the fact that not every person is the same as them. People often live life through their own eyes, and a part of D&I is putting yourself in the shoes of someone else and considering how they might feel and the challenges that they may have faced.

“Secondly, it’s about getting to a place where people are celebrated for their contribution, in both life and the workplace, and to have the freedom to be comfortable to be themselves, to be their best selves, and to not be judged. By having a greater representation of people, we perform better, we’re a greater business and a greater society.”

Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst: “Diversity, for me, is about making sure there is fair representation, so you have someone from every walk of life, whether that means race or religion or anything else. Then, the inclusion part is about making sure that all those different people feel properly included, and that everyone has a voice, and has a place, both in society and in the workplace.”

Kati Eagle, Purchasing Director: “Initially most people will talk about protected characteristics but it’s not just about gender, sexual orientation or heritage. It’s also about lived experience, ideas and thought processes. Everyone does things in a different way and it’s about being open to that, irrespective of what your own viewpoint is.

Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager: “It’s all about making sure everyone has a fair chance to be successful in any industry irrespective of your race, gender, sexuality, or age.”

What have been your own experiences of developing your career in this industry, and at Exertis in particular?

 Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager: “I wasn’t sure I’d be very good at my role when I first started at Exertis. But I’ve had great managers who have really supported me, and here I still am – ten years later.

“They’ve really helped my development and given me the confidence to be heard. I feel like I want to give something back because of what Exertis have given me. That’s why I wanted to do this: The business has allowed me to express myself, by giving me the guidance to be a better person and help my career grow.”

Dharma Lad, HR Business Partner: “I started my career in the public sector, then the automotive industry and now I’m in tech distribution. All of which have been traditionally quite male dominated environments. My career in HR has been really interesting and I’ve moved around in order to get to where I am today. I’ve been with Exertis just under four years now and I’ve noticed a big difference in the change in culture during this time.

“I also coordinate the Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) to ensure that we’re inclusive in that aspect too. We have 26 MHFAs across all of our locations and we’re trained to listen non-judgementally.

“Whether it’s colleagues that come to us directly to talk about their mental health or whether we actively approach people, we can decide how best to support people. We have initiatives running throughout the year, which tie in nicely with our EDIT committee.”

Rosie Gordon, Product Manager: “In my career there have been so many people that have pushed me to do things I thought I’d never be able to, and it made me realise that actually, I can do it. I’m part of EDIT (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Team) and it’s so nice to see so many people who feel so passionately about D&I. We host drop-in sessions, which have gone really well and the discussions will be used to drive change. It’s so nice to know I work for a company that has these things in place.”

Kati Eagle Purchasing Director: “When I first started in the industry, there was definitely a male-dominated culture which is probably characteristic of the IT industry as a whole. But I’ve also worked for some really strong females and had some great male advocates too. I joined the Board almost two years ago and it’s been very encouraging to see explosive growth. It’s really exciting to think about where we’ll end up.”

Where do you feel we are right now, as an industry and as an organisation, in terms of diversity and inclusion? As we sit here today, how far have we come?

 Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst: “I’ve seen a lot of progress in terms of women in the industry; we live in a generation now where people can speak up and change can happen. We still have a way to go in terms of representation of all walks of life in the industry, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. It’s important to surround yourself with people who want to make positive change and will listen to feedback.”

Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager: “I’ve worked here for 10 years now and I think we’ve come an extremely long way. As a company, we give people the opportunity to speak their minds and share what’s important to them. But we need to keep beating the drum as there’s still so much more to come.”

 Kati Eagle, Purchasing Director: “I feel privileged that I grew up in a multi-cultural society and to me, people are people, I don’t need to put a label on any characteristics. As long as people are kind and respectful that’s all I ask. I also feel lucky that I went to a girls’ school and there was no glass ceiling. Then I’ve had some great male sponsors and people who have pushed me in my career. I 100% agree that we have come a long way, but moving forward we need to ensure it’s not just down to the board to drive this and make decisions, and that we include the wider business so everyone can influence this. We need to have a genuinely collective approach.”

Jamie Brothwell, Commercial Director: “If you look at our UK board, the diversity and shift we have seen over the last two-and-a-half years is seismic and something we should all be very proud of. It’s an indication of where our business is moving. Equally, every single one of us in the business is a custodian of our culture. We recently had an EDIT workshop, which was absolutely fantastic. One of the things we spoke about was being able to ask anyone in the business, at any point, what are you doing to make our culture better? Every single person has the opportunity to make a difference, every single day.”

What can we do as an industry to welcome and encourage more people from ethnic minority communities to join the tech industry and develop their careers with us?

 Dharma Lad, HR Business Partner: “It’s about breaking down stereotypes. When you say ‘tech industry’, I automatically think ‘techie’, and that might deter some people. So we should be talking about the very broad spectrum of all the work that we do, and the breadth of roles available, and make sure we educate people about what the industry is and the incredibly broad range of opportunities.”

Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager: “For me, there’s no better advertising than word of mouth. If you talk truthfully then people will listen. They’ll be interested in the industry and you’ll capture their imagination.”

Jamie Brothwell, Commercial Director: “One of the things that the industry can do better in, is focusing on the grassroots and apprenticeship schemes. It’s important to work with education establishments to showcase the career opportunities that this industry can present to people. This isn’t a job, it’s a career, and we have so many examples of this within our business.”

Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst: “I think we’re always going to live in a world where people have different backgrounds and have been exposed to different things, which is fine. However, because of this, it’s important to respect and celebrate different cultures and different backgrounds.

“I don’t understand why there isn’t that much diversity in this industry, and I think it’s maybe because it’s not really marketed properly. I agree that education is key to finding people and from there you will get much more diversity.”

In many parts of the world, the empowerment of women is making real progress. How well is this translating into the technology/retail industry?

Rosie Gordon, Product Manager: “Anyone can be a feminist; you don’t need to be a female to believe in what’s right. In an ideal world, everyone would be treated completely equally but unfortunately we’re not there yet, so we do need to continue to educate people on this. It’s good to have uncomfortable conversations with people, think about unconscious bias and how you can adapt and learn.”

Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst: “I think everybody should be treated the same regardless of whether they are male or female. Women should be treated fairly, especially when considering things like the gender pay gap.”

Kati Eagle, Purchasing Director: “It’s all about having the right culture and external communications that welcomes everyone and makes everyone feel comfortable to be themselves. I also think there’s more we can do within the community, and giving back, and making sure women understand that they will be heard and respected in our industry.”

What would you say personally to a friend from a minority community who was thinking about joining this industry?

 Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager: “The main thing I’d say is that if I can do it, they can do it too. There are a lot of positives to working in this industry and I’ve personally found that there’s so much support available to help individuals drive success but it has to come from within. You get out of it what you put in.

“I also really love it that every day I have conversations with the senior leadership team and that everyone is treated the same way regardless of their role. It makes such a difference when people say hello and ask how you are.”

Kati Eagle, Purchasing Director: “This industry is a phenomenal place to learn, as it’s really agile and entrepreneurial. If you are resilient, motivated and driven then this is the right career for you.”

Some of you are members of the Exertis EDIT Team: how do you find the experience of advocating for Diversity & Inclusion in the business?

 Rosie Gordon, Product Manager: “I’ve been involved with EDIT for about 18 months and I’ve definitely seen it grow in importance and become high on everyone’s agenda. Recently we celebrated Eid; the feedback has been great and people have told us that they’ve learned a lot.”

Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst: “I joined EDIT so that I can use my voice for those who either haven’t yet found or don’t want to use their voice. I genuinely believe that the business wants everyone to feel included.”

Could you give us an example of how you, or colleagues, make team members from different backgrounds feel a sense of inclusion, belonging and equality in the course of daily business?

 Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst: “It can be small things, such as speaking to people that you wouldn’t usually speak to and making them feel comfortable. I would recommend getting to know people and making the workplace a safe space.”

Kati Eagle, Purchasing Director: “We’re shifting the approach and allowing people to innovate. Coaching, questioning, and bringing people together is really important.”

Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager: “Having the opportunity to be recognised is really important. Everyone here goes the extra mile, not because we have to, but because we want to, and it makes you feel good. I always speak up if I think someone is doing something brave.”

Jamie Brothwell, Commercial Director: “It can be very difficult to influence and be a change agent working in a corporate organisation. One of the things I love about Exertis is the fact that nobody suggests they have all the answers but every single one of us can make a difference. If one of us comes up with an idea that is truly a good idea that will benefit the company, it will happen. That’s unique in the world we live in.”

Where are we going? Outline where you would like us to be, in terms of D&I, in 5 years’ time?

Esther Ogundeji, Commercial Financial Analyst: “I’d like to see more people from different ethnic backgrounds, and women, in more senior positions.”

Jamie Brothwell, Commercial Director: “I absolutely embrace what’s been said about the diversity of both people and thinking. We need a broad background from different cultures with different experiences and beliefs. We need to get to a point where that’s not a discussion topic anymore and we’re all just working together as one to be the best we can be, and for everyone to be the best examples of themselves.

“It’s also important to understand that we’re all one part of the Exertis family across the globe and if you look at the diversity across the global EDIT team it’s a very different spectrum to what we see in the UK. There are lots of learnings we can take from that and embrace it.

Louis Rogers, Retail Account Manager: “I hope we’re on the same path of trying to achieve equality across everything, and using our platforms positively. I hope this comes from outside of the industry too. We need to stamp out racism in other industries too, such as sport; there have been recent examples of racism in football and F1 so we definitely need to keep beating the drum and not be defeated.”

Rosie Gordon, Product Manager: “For me it’s simple: I hope in 5 years’ time we still have the same energy and passion about driving D&I as we do today!”

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