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The diverse challenges of diversity


Earlier this summer I spent two days working for a leading CTO on a hackathon and amongst the striking observations at the event was the diversity of attendees developing technology and business models.  There were attendees of both genders, of a variety of ages, a multitude of faiths, languages and experiences.  

That diverse set of people in a loft in south London over two days came up with a varied set of ideas that would benefit customers and therefore the businesses backing the hackathon.  This event, and many other experiences, demonstrate to me that diversity must not be dominated by just one element of the cause.

Carlson Wagonlit CTO Andrew Jordan remarked at a major gathering of CIOs we were working together on how different the attendance would look if it was in Silicon Valley; as if you need reminding, we looked across at a room of middle aged white men. CIO Richard Williams shared a similar concern at last year’s Gartner CIO Symposium in Barcelona, Spain, demonstrating that the challenge is not just here in the UK, but European wide.

The World Bank states that women, in 2015 are 50.7% of our population, therefore half of the population is a potential innovation force no organisation or vertical market can ignore.  At the Takeoff hackathon women made up close to half of the attendees.  CIO at Thomson Reuters Christina Ashton recently penned an interesting blog on how her data led organisation is using data to challenge itself to improve its diversity.  Ashton and the Thomson Reuters approach is a good example of an organisation challenging its own culture.  The same is true of those of us in the media, it is all too easy to accept the consensus and not discover the diverse leaders out there in the UK economy.  It has been a pleasure to tell the stories of and give a platform to CIOs such as Christina Scott, Sarah Flannigan, Sarah Wilkinson, Anna Barsby, Kelly Olsen, Rachel Murphy, Rachel Dunscombe, Sharon Cooper, Joanna Smith, Carolyn Brown and Catherine Doran amongst others.  These stories were told and platforms offered not because of their gender, these are great business technology leaders.

Married to a business technologist and father of two amazing young women I am very aware of the need for greater opportunities for women.

Recent role changes for Christina Scott, Sarah Flannigan, Anna Barsby Kelly Olsen and Rachel Murphy is, I hope, a testament to a change in culture slowly creaking into action in the UK and long may it continue. But that culture change must do more for diversity than just help women, our organisations are also too white and too straight. A few years ago former CIO now CEO Anthony Watson and I chaired a debate on the need to encourage more LGBT workers into technology.  Watson, once CIO of Barclays Bank here in the UK, is a prominent campaigner on the issue.

As has been discussed on these pages before, the barriers to entry for any business model are incredibly low today. If groups of any age, gender or sexuality feel they are not being offered opportunities, they can create their own product and seize a portion of a market that once would have been secure.  The digital revolution celebrates diversity, dating Apps could be used as an case study, for organisations to remain relevant and to have a scalable consumer base they need to be accepting of all elements of diversity.

The site of the diverse group of people working together at the hackathon will live with me for some time to come and it will serve to remind me why diversity is a diverse challenge.

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About Mark Chillingworth 205 Articles
Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across all media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television.
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