Diversity and Inclusion is something I’ve always felt instinctively passionate about. I firmly believe that a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and approaches welcomed into a community can truly enable individuals to thrive.

And it’s not just my thoughts – research backs it up. According to the recent Microsoft Diversity and Inclusion Report, diverse and inclusive companies are more innovative and profitable. They’re also better at retaining top talent.

My entire professional career has been at Microsoft. I have been incredibly fortunate to work for a company tirelessly working to lead the way when it comes to diversity and inclusion. I have, therefore, always kept an eye peeled for opportunities or projects to weave this into my day job.

Investing in new skills

Over the summer, Microsoft made an exciting investment into the digital skills of our customers through the Enterprise Skills Initiative. As technology advances the importance of skills to leverage new tools and processes grows.

The need for re- and upskilling was highlighted in every single customer engagement I had. The launch of a program of training and certification to help our customers on their cloud journey was music to my ears.

As part of my role on the Women@Microsoft Board I’ve witnessed the incredible impact Ella Cockerell and her team had with the 2019 launch of the data science returners program on International Women’s Day.

This initiative focussed on women who were considering returning to work in the technology industry but lacked the technical skills to land a role. It was aimed at helping women into data roles by supporting their professional development and training them. This program enabled diversity into the workforce. And not of just gender, but of experience from various industries and diversity of thought.

Attracting a diverse and inclusive talent pool

I had been working with Alex Butler, Chief Digital and Information Officer at the University of Bath for a year. Alex was ambitious in the innovative project she wanted to run with us. As with many of our customers, unfortunately the skills and diversity of candidates could limit these ambitions.

Over a few cups of tea and a box of Celebrations, we decided we needed to get creative about how to attract a diverse pool of talent to technology roles within the University.

We considered how the Enterprise Skills Initiative could be used as an asset to develop the skills of new staff. We also thought it could broaden the pipeline of talent beyond those with the typical qualifications. This, in turn would enable the University to attract a more diverse talent pool of individuals.

In October 2019 at the Bath Digital Festival, the University of Bath, in partnership with Microsoft, approached the local community of those looking to return to work with the ambition to fill exciting technology roles. Since then, the University of Bath has already filled two positions within the Digital, Data and Technology Group in User Experience and Business Intelligence roles.

A group of four women posing and smiling at the camera

It’s also opened up numerous other conversations with people who are interested in the approach the University is taking. And whilst the right role might not be there now, there’s plenty of interest as their team opens up.

An ongoing journey

Alex knows that this isn’t just a diversity issue. She’s hugely committed to building an inclusive team, but says this is a pragmatic move too:

“We struggle to recruit people with new skills in cloud, data, and programme management for example, but I know they are out there in our local area. It’s just that they might not know what a great place it is to work here at the University. We offer an incredibly flexible package – one that you can almost design yourself, one of the most interesting digital transformation challenges in the area and we’re great fun to work with.

“An inclusive team includes people who have a different lens on the way we work. It’s how we stay creative, pioneering and how we keep things interesting. I believe we have space for anyone who shares our mission, wants to keep learning and wants to contribute in their own way.

“Our collaboration with partners like Microsoft allows us to invest in skills development in those core areas like cloud and data science. We think that’s a real draw for people who want to step back into a tech career.”

It’s important to remember change won’t happen overnight. Becoming more diverse and inclusive as an organisation is a long-term commitment, and it takes effort. But by actively working towards it like Alex, your organisation will slowly not only be more diverse and inclusive, but have a talent pool of highly skilled, innovative employees who can deliver better results..

Find out more

How inclusion is changing the way we think about recruitment

Develop your digital skills

Sarah Hicks headshotAbout the author

As an Azure Cloud Specialist, I act as the dedicated lead consultant for a select number of Higher Education and Museum clients. I lead their Microsoft digital strategy creation and implementation, with the support of my team of Azure technical specialists. The primary objective of our team is to help our clients create a transformation strategy leveraging the latest innovations available through cloud technology.