Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.


1 Comment

Walking the talk on #Diversity at Work

“Walk the talk”. “Turn the dial”. “We need to hardwire diversity”.

 

And – “You can’t improve on what you can’t measure”. “People can’t shy away from the data”.

 

These are some of my takeaways from the BBC Diversity and Inclusion in Media event I hosted on 15th September in the stately venue of the Old Broadcasting House council chamber. Essential ingredients : some inspiring talkers, audience interaction, and a networking session with cream tea laid on.

 

Anne Bulford Deputy Director General said she was committed to “a truly open BBC at all levels”. By 2020, she said, “if we get this right, we will have a workforce at least as diverse as any in the industry”.  Managers must “visibly lead by example”.

 

“Diversity” for our speakers was about gender, about disability, about ethnicity and about LGBT inclusion too. A question from the audience about enabling people who are economically disadvantaged also prompted quite a few nods. (I commented that “class still matters” but I don’t think that was the PC term for me to use.)

 

Toby Mildon, Diversity Lead for the BBC Design and Engineering division, gave us the tag line “Diversity includes everyone”. Later in the session Frances Duffy of Capgemini said that has to include the white middle aged man as well.  Toby strongly underlined one of the session’s key points for me: there’s a lot of talk about D&I (i.e. Diversity and Inclusion) but one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. It’s a warning I’ve also heard brilliantly made by the writer and corporate activist Margaret Heffernan. But I’m not sure it is taken to heart by managers who appoint staff – you need to pull together a diverse workforce as step one – And ALSO make individuals feel valued and encouraged to speak out, to collaborate, and to strive to raise the game of the workforce.

 

Toby said it’s sometimes overlooked that the BBC is a technical organisation – it needs to reach out to remind potential recruits in design and engineering and tech just how big an employer it is. He talked about BBC experimentation with blind skills recruiting. He said it gets results. Candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds are three times as likely to be shortlisted. And he revealed that tweaking the wording in job descriptions has led to more women applying.

 

A good number of the panellists and organisations represented in the room are already signed up to the Ten Steps programme of WISE – Women in Science and Engineering. Suzy Firkin described it as “sort of a pledge programme but more – we give you the tools and techniques to make a difference”. More than 150 organisations are now signed up and subscribing to WISE. Suzy revealed their feedback on the easiest and toughest steps to take. The hardest, once again this year, is “educate leaders”.

 

One of the companies in the room that’s already an enthusiastic supporter of WISE is Virgin Media. Jo Dutton is now director of Strategy, Insight and Data for the Customer Division. She talked about new efforts to recruit and to retain diverse talent. Among those, getting genuinely diverse interview panels. Was there resistance to that shift, I asked her? No – she’s been overwhelmed with volunteers.

 

Rachel Higham is MD, CIO, BT group – working in what’s traditionally an overwhelmingly male environment. She has a great PowerPoint on her TechWomen initiative – what’s been done and what still needs doing. The women in the programme have four points of help – a buddy, a mentor, a coach AND a sponsor. These are all different roles. But it’s a two way street: the programme requires that you “Drive Your Development”.  She says they are aiming for 30% women executives by 2020. Too many are still “stuck in middle management treacle”!  She advocates a “full life cycle” approach – all the way up to getting frank feedback in departure interviews, and aiming to make those who leave into either advocates or rejoiners.

 

“We want to mainstream diversity” said Nina Bhagwat, Off Screen Diversity Executive for Channel Four. She talked about the creative AND business case for doing so. Following the channel’s coverage of the 2012 Paralympics, this year she said “two thirds of our presenting team is disabled”. Offscreen targets include 50% apprenticeships and 30% work placements.

 

Aleya Karim talked about the significant changes made at McKinsey, as part of the 30% club aimed at getting a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards. She noted the importance of gender diversity targets being included in board updates. Aleya’s presentation also followed up on Nina’s point about efficacy: “Diverse leadership teams perform better financially.”

 

Our final panellist Frances Duffy works for tech consultants Capgemini as VP and Regional HR director, North and West Europe and UK Country Director. She talked frankly about how hard it is to shift the dial. She said the message has to be – to the middle aged white guy too – one of “active inclusion”. Capgemini started its new programme to that end only six months ago. But already in a diversity survey of the entire company population, she said there was 50% response and a lot of suggestions for change.

 

Hayley Sudbury then brought us a demo – of her new Werkin smartphone app designed to gather data, talent and enthusiasm within an organization to trouble-shoot all sorts of challenges – large and small.

 

She talked about using your “sparks” better – HR speak that’s new to me – and that’s my final takeaway from a session with a lot of fresh thinking to offer.

 


2 Comments

The End of Big – a wake-up call #EOB

“Here Comes Everybody” wrote Clay Shirky, tech evangelist, five years ago. He’s a cheerleader for the radical empowerment offered by the internet  – new voices, direct access, more ideas, a swirl of intellectual and political ferment. 

Here comes another book on the impact of the internet which takes the next step.  Nicco Mele’s “The End of Big” pithily summarises the impact of what he terms “radical connectivity – our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly and globally.”

But from the preview extracts I’ve read, it poses sobering questions about what happens next, when Big Institutions get undercut. You know the drill. Free blogs undercut paid news. Online protest, old-fashioned politics. Music sharing, record labels.  You Tube uploads, the film studios. 3D printing, traditional supply chains. And so on.  As Nicco Mele puts it, “radical connectivity is toxic to conventional power structures”.

But if and when the big guys have gone…  Mele asks us to look harder at what we will lose.  “We can’t fetishize technology and say ‘to hell with our institutions’ without suffering terrible consequences.”  Continue reading


5 Comments

Send the BBC your views today on “Technology – the pace of change”

Hi there – I’m very excited to be a first time presenter on the fantastic World Service radio programme “World Have Your Say” at 1800BST today. It’s a programme that belongs to the audience, and I’m asking YOU to give me insights that I can read on air.

Here’s the idea. Can you imagine living in a world without the iPod? Using a computer without Google? Sorting out your social life without Facebook? Or your news without Twitter?
Or imagine a world where you didn’t have to hear about them all the time?

Well it’s not long ago that none of us had heard these names. Today marks a number of BIRTHDAYS – ten years since the iPod was unveiled, thirteen years since the launch of Google. And it seems every day brings us a new product launch – Amazon’s Kindlefire? – or a social media makeover – like the new look Facebook.

SO I’m using the moment to ask how this whirl of invention has changed YOUR life. What does it make you think about the way we communicate, the way we share, how our behaviour has changed

Are you excited about living in a world where it seems every day brings us a new product launch or a social media makeover?
Is it a lifestyle you aspire to?
Or is the world of Apple and Google and Amazon unreal and irrelevant – or one that makes you excluded and frustrated?

You can comment here – or tweet to @PhilippaNews or @BBC_WHYS – I’ll try to get as many of your thoughts as we can into our hour on air.


6 Comments

The Internet’s Unholy Marriage to Capitalism?

This is my take on a fascinating article from John Bellamy Foster and Robert W McChesney, just published in Monthly Review. It argues that the internet should be treated as a public utility but is instead becoming the territory of capitalist robber barons, while the U.S. government is failing its citizens by standing aside. It’s quite rare to read a Marxist economic take on US communications policy, and I recommend the experience. We’ve just had a lively debate in our Kennedy School “2020 Vision” class about the assumptions made within this article; here are the points that stood out for me. Continue reading


3 Comments

“Why the West Rules – for Now”

I just finished 620 densely written pages that propelled me through history from the Ice Age to the Atomic Age – filled with dramatic stories of war and sex and famine and migration and discovery – and suddenly realised that this is the best history book I have ever read.

Ian Morris began in the fields of ancient history & archeology. His book, published four months ago, reads like a life’s work. It aims to chart the entire course of human history “East and West”, tell us which trends matter, explain which factors had most impact and why, and extrapolate our probable future – or extinction – as a species. I’d be interested to hear any other readers’ thoughts on how he does it. Or what I should read next!

“Why the West Rules – for Now” is a book that made me think about why we need to study history, and why I want my little boy to enjoy it. If he grows up disconnected from the past, he’ll lack vital resources for shaping his future – and that of others. Especially now we feel as if we’re hurtling down the path of history thanks to the pace of technological advance – as if time itself is speeding up. My eight year old is going to get so much more out of life if he can adopt adaptation as a lifestyle. Continue reading


Leave a comment

MIT celebrates 150 years of being “brilliant”, “bold” and “ridiculous”

 

The words of MIT president Susan Hockfield at this morning’s launch of the 150th anniversary celebration. We got a sneak preview of a dazzling exhibition which, it’s fair to say, has something for everyone. The world’s first ‘bionic’ arm? artificial skin? a wheelchair that can climb stairs? students earning credits for racecar design? The motto for this 150 years is “inventional wisdom”. I like it.

It’s also very much in the spirit of MIT culture that this is the result of open source curation – the entire MIT community was invited to nominate objects for inclusion. They say the real difficulty was deciding what to leave out since – as one of the professors put it – the intellectual experience here “is like drinking from a firehose”.  The Nieman experience feels that way too, for which I’m eternally grateful. I’ve put more photos up on my twitter feed. Continue reading