Data-driven organisations are at the forefront of flexibility, inclusion and diversity in the workplace according to Amanda Parker. The communications, public affairs and policy specialist who does inclusion training and development for different sectors said that there is a massive appetite for change in sectors that have already adopted processes for flexible working and that these are more likely to be data-driven organisations.
“I find that people who very simply work across time zones are the most receptive to change and have the most flexibility in their approach, generally,” she said, giving finance as an example of a sector that is flexible to new approaches as long as the business needs are met.
"The more data-rich organisations are, the more adaptable they are."
Parker went on to say that the opposite is the case among more traditional organisations.“Sectors where data informs the business rather than drives the business you often have protocols and practices that people feel have to be in place because they have always been in place. Whereas the more data-rich and individual-neutral organisations are, the more flexible and more adaptable they are.”
A global survey of 500 women in technology found that 63% of respondents said their biggest challenge is being taken seriously due to gender perceptions. For 42%, the greatest challenge is having no female role models. The Women in Data conference and other similar event can go some way in helping to highlight such professional relatable role models to female data professionals.
But what of the gender perceptions? “If you asking how to change perceptions of protected characteristics, I would say that is about the legislation that makes workplaces more intersectional,” said Parker (Intersectionality, according to the person who coined the term, refers to the way in which people of colour, women, disabled people and LGBT people and other groups experience society, especially the negative aspects of it, in different and layered ways.)
"If men take up flexible working it makes the paradigm gender neutral."
Legislative change would mean that flexible working and statutory parental leave are not only available, but strongly encouraged to be taken up by men as well as women. “The more men that take that up, the more it will be seen as a norm, so it won't be just a women's issue. Equally flexible working, if men elected to do a four-day week, then it wouldn't be unusual, it makes the paradigm gender neutral.”
According to Parker, it is also imperative to make spaces, places and devices accessible to all so that everybody can be included in whichever important conversation is taking place. She gave the example of a brilliant social media editor who has albinism and suffers from poor eyesight. “While her workplace is completely converted for her, when we go into team meetings and the screen is the wrong size or the wrong distance, she’s not part of that conversation. So having a thorough approach to inclusion is the way.”
“It is not about tackling the individuals involved and saying you need to change your perception. It's not that. It's normalising the other and making intersectionality something that is a given, so that you don't actually see it,” added Parker.
"We need unfairness to build more fairness.”
A data collection and report writing project Parker did for Directors UK about the gender of those who were getting hired to direct TV and film revealed an “appalling, inexcusable picture.” The report, "Calling the shots", did however lead to the production of a subsequent report every year after that and led to industry change with more training, shadowing, networking and return-to-work schemes.
I put it to Parker, who is also the chair of Parents and Carers in Performing Arts, that some might see initiatives such as those mentioned (and the very event at which we met) that cater exclusively to women or other specific groups as unfair by those who are precluded from accessing them. “No, the situation as it is, that's wha i’s not fair. It is momentary unfairness for long-term parity. We need unfairness to build more fairness.”