Diversity is an organization’s best chance of survival

Sameera Fatima
Head of Solutions – CBO IT Infrastructure Services ANZ Region at Tata Consultancy Services

Diversity is an organization’s best chance of survival

Sameera Fatima
Head of Solutions – CBO IT Infrastructure Services ANZ Region at Tata Consultancy Services

Organizations that consider diversity initiatives a factor of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are making a fundamental mistake, says Sameera Fatima of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Diversity has become the way of doing business, and if organizations want to survive in the age of digital transformation and disruption, they are going to need diverse teams focused on solving diverse problems.

A diverse organization comprises employees and leaders of all genders, ages, ethnicities, minorities in terms of geographic and cultural representations, and more. Businesses with above-average diversity on their leadership teams alone generate nearly 20% more revenue from innovative products and services than businesses with below-average diversity.


Diversity is an all-encompassing topic, so it should be something that we all care about

Sameera is the Head of Solutions for Cognitive Business Operations for Tata Consultancy Services Australia and New Zealand. She believes innovation and creativity are fundamental to the success and survival of an organization – especially in the tech industry, but also across all industries. There are almost 500,000 TCS employees from 146 nationalities, 31% of whom are women. “Imagine how much talent we can harness within the organization,” Sameera says.

As for how to harness diverse voices: “Comfort is one of the biggest challenges for women in technology. One of the best diversity practices that anybody can adopt at an individual, board or corporate level is ensuring freedom and comfort to individuals to come forward and be able to express their opinions. The moment you have that freedom, you will hear diverse voices.“

“Say that the average experience in a room is 20 years. Does a person with 5 years experience have the same comfort to be able to say what they’re thinking?”

 

 

Women in the tech industry should take charge of their own careers
While there is work for organizations to do themselves, Sameera also has four pieces of advice for women who have positions in the technology industry, or who are looking to get involved.

Remove the bias that exists in your own head. “Start with yourself. I see a lot of women who think that these biases exist in the organization, and we are fighting this battle, yes. But do not make it central to your beliefs. If you are denied a position in an organization and you think it’s because of a bias that exists towards you, you are robbing yourself of the chance to fix some gaps that you may have, and you may lose out on the next opportunity.”

Do not treat your career as optional.“You can go out into the world and solve business problems. This means you are capable of solving the problem of handling a household and your career. Look at Indra Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo), Julie Sweet (CEO of Accenture) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). Do not think the first thing you need to drop when you’re faced with a challenge is your career. Take it as another business problem to solve.”

Enlist support. “Enlist the support of everybody you can list the support of, and do it shamelessly. Neighbours, spouses, parents, friends on SOS you can call to pick your child up from daycare. Do all of that. Everybody did it to get where they are; you ought to do it, too.”

Demand change. “If you are in a role, and you think you have outgrown it, go ahead and demand a change. Address the restlessness in you to make the change you want to. If you think you have done justice to the role you’re in and you want to grow, go and ask for that change.”

 

 

The best tech organizations today want to be diverse, but there is a lot of work for us to do

“We have a huge responsibility for changing the way technology is perceived from a diversity standpoint,” Sameera says, specifically referencing gender diversity. McKinsey reports that the number of women graduates in computing and technology fields has actually decreased over the last 30 years from around 35% to less than 20%, which is a major opportunity cost for the entire sector. Companies who want to hire diverse graduates are struggling to hire them in numbers, because the numbers simply aren’t there.

There are ways to increase the diverse talent pool that companies can hire from. “We have ties with a number of institutions to push for STEM at universities and colleges in the ANZ and APAC region. We want to encourage women, tell them what this industry means, what kind of career options they can have.” Technology is a challenging, exciting career path, and companies, universities and schools need to focus on creating welcoming spaces for diverse employees.

Leveraging diversity can be seen in initiatives such as Accor Hotels’ “shadow executive committee”, Fatima says. When Accor Hotels faced stiff competition from disruptors AirBnB and Booking.com, they launched their Shadow Comex to give a platform to young managers within their organization who might have insights into bringing about change from the inside out. At the time, CEO Sébastien Bazin said, “I can guarantee that 50% of what they’ll say will be just the opposite of decisions I’d have taken without listening to their opinion”. This is exactly why the Shadow Comex was necessary; to present alternative, interesting ideas to the board (which was 85% male and 100% over the age of 50) that arise from the lived experiences of people who would not ordinarily have a seat on the board. Simply listening to these voices, having the discussion, helps stimulate business health and transformation.

“At TCS, Our Chief Digital Officer is Aarthi Subramanian; she drives all the digital transformation initiatives across Tata Sons and not only TCS. We also have three different nationalities represented on our board of directors, and also, in terms of backgrounds, there is a professor of economics and a professor of literature. Why are we doing this? We’re doing this because it makes business sense.”

Sameera wants to see diversity in organizations flourish from the top-down, from the bottom-up, and across every industry, because this is the path to creating a wide range of strong, successful businesses better positioned to serve their customers. Diversity is no longer a corporate social responsibility initiative, and it is clear from its benefits that it never should have been in the first place. Harnessing diverse voices is how businesses can not only survive, but flourish.

CIO PROFILE
Sameera Fatima
Head of Solutions – CBO IT Infrastructure Services ANZ Region at Tata Consultancy Services

Sameera Fatima is the Head of Solutions – CBO IT Infrastructure Services ANZ Region at Tata Consultancy Services where she helps clients identify and deploy the right IT Infrastructure strategy in Digital, Cloud, and Analytical transformations. An alumnus of Symbiosis Centre for Information Technology, she is also responsible for shaping effective GTM strategies.