Racial Diversity: There’s More Work to be Done in the Workplace

An Interview with Dyann Heward-Mills, CEO of HewardMiIls

To support the Black Lives Matter movement and to share the stories of leaders who have faced racism and discrimination at work, CEO Today reached out to Dyann Heward-Mills, the CEO of data protection consultancy HewardMills.

Below, we learn more about her experiences as a black female who’s unfortunately faced a myriad of hurdles in the workplace connected to her gender and race.

Tell us a bit about the process of setting up HewardMills.

I wanted to build a diverse team of international data practitioners with a high level of expertise and autonomy. I was delighted to have attracted such talented individuals when starting the company.

The HewardMills team includes data protection practitioners, lawyers, data analysts, social scientists, and cybersecurity experts with a wealth of data protection and privacy knowledge. In addition to a wide level of expertise, we needed to set up a team that is culturally diverse to understand local jurisdictions and how data regulators operate. It was crucial for us to be a global company and offer the ability to communicate in multiple languages. Our teams support clients to navigate requirements and interface with employees, customers and regulators across many jurisdictions.

Throughout your career, have you experienced any challenges in the workplace that have been connected to your gender or the colour of your skin?

As a black female, I have sadly encountered many occasions of “misogynoir” where both race and gender play a part in the biases directed at me. It is shocking that this should still be the case in the 21st century. The horrific killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others serves as a painful reminder of how much more needs to be done to fight insidious and systemic racism. I try to stay balanced and protect my mental health by regularly checking in with myself to ensure my wellbeing and optimism is where it needs to be.

I am massively encouraged by the enthusiasm of the younger generation and racial equality allies. I take proactive steps including walks in the country, practising yoga and mindfulness and hosting wellbeing retreats for friends and colleagues.

In your opinion, is there enough diversity in the tech space?

No. In terms of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and more, there simply isn’t enough diversity in tech and specifically in the cybersecurity space.

Organisations and people are missing out on an opportunity for growth. The impact is long-lasting. Very talented individuals miss out on opportunities to enjoy an enriching career and companies risk becoming out of touch and homogenous if they don’t change their ways. The best ideas and opportunities for growth come from different people, with different experiences and perspectives which ultimately leads to innovation.

What could be done to improve this?

It’s not going to change overnight but greater awareness and willingness to speak up about the issues is a step in the right direction. I’m seeing this happen more now and it’s very encouraging. There needs to be a blend of practical changes as well as mindset changes and, critically, measurable targets.

There has been a recent surge of Chief Diversity Officer appointments in the current climate. However, there are opportunities to increase diversity beyond this. Why not look at other avenues of internal and external leadership? Including recruiting and retaining black talent, providing the infrastructure and support to ensure success, appointing black talent to boards and holding companies accountable e.g. yearly audits and an ongoing obligation to publish diversity figures.

Organisations need to look outside the office walls and review suppliers and additional agencies or consultancy groups. Take an audit of who you are working with and see how you can ensure a more diverse ecosystem of providers.

The horrific killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others serves as a painful reminder of how much more needs to be done to fight insidious and systemic racism.

What do you think are the biggest issues for women in tech?

Challenges start at a young age with education and social conditioning and this needs to change. There’s still a prevailing mindset that men are better with machines and women are more empathetic and this is just not true. The career path to tech is never straight and narrow. We need to open more avenues for diverse talent to shine through.

Internship recruitment is a simple initiative companies can lead towards diversifying. Organisations should do more to attract and support interns from a diverse background.

As a CEO, what do you do to ensure that there’s diversity in your company?

 HewardMills is diverse by design. I mindfully set out to achieve this when I established the business. Ultimately, as a CEO, I need to challenge myself to do more to foster a culture of inclusion when bringing in new team members. We are very proactive around this and our efforts on unconscious bias training and work on our culture and values has been very well received by the team. We’re at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workplace diversity. We need to become self-aware and reflect back on our company. Is this an accurate representation we want to portray? Do we reflect the customers that we wish to attract? The first step is taking a look at our boardrooms, management structures, website team page and recruitment process. Who do we see? How can we, at a C-Suite level, make sure we are properly representing the company and the faces behind it? Seek out diversity at a senior level, it facilitates growth and is better for everyone.

Avoid engaging in any ‘banter’ to do with something a person cannot change – their colour, age, sexuality, social-economic background, disability.

What should CEOs across the world do to embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Think about it. Every CEO should have diversity as a business priority. This doesn’t mean setting targets for the sake of it. Targets have to be SMART and maintained. Just think about how diverse your company truly is across all levels. Would everyone from different backgrounds feel comfortable in your office or applying for a job? Actively encourage your teams to recruit and do business with a more open mindset.

Senior executives need to challenge ingrained behaviours from the start and in the moment. Avoid engaging in any ‘banter’ to do with something a person cannot change – their colour, age, sexuality, social-economic background, disability. Be aware of cultural differences. Compliment and compensate for one another. Microaggressions based on difference and unconscious bias or insidious racism breeds toxic environments from the top-down. This behaviour, like cancer, becomes very difficult to eradicate from a business once established.

If we fail to create a diverse workforce, we will fail to innovate and grow. We automatically limit our talent pool if we search for one ‘type’ whether it be age, look or background. It’s key for us to remember that everything comes from the top-down and the boardroom sets the expectation. CEOs must lead by example on diversity.

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