Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Hitachi Vantara’s Global Upskilling Agenda
“We’re a global company operating in 35 countries. What DEI looks like in each of those countries is different. To be effective requires a strategic focus. While we’ve created DEI policies and frameworks to provide consistent guidance on priorities and direction, to build momentum, focus on your people’s diversity and share their stories throughout your organization. This may be easier than taking on the whole organization in one go.”
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is becoming more embedded in business models to empower global teams. We talked to a people leader tasked with responding to people’s needs at a data services giant – Hitachi Vantara.
Meet Claire Thomas, Hitachi Vantara’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. We caught up with Claire to understand how she aligns people diversity solutions with Vantara’s business strategy.
Claire talks us through Vantara’s leadership development program in the DEI agenda, the obstacles for change and advice on integrating diversity initiatives into your organization’s culture to drive talent productivity.
Amongst the topics we discussed with Claire, two threads are clear:
- There’s a need for scalable solutions to create inclusive global teams across complex global organizations like Hitachi Vantara
- And adopting a data-driven approach is keyto increase talent engagement, inclusivity and effectiveness.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Claire Thomas, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Hitachi Vantara. Vantara is a company focused on everything about data. In essence, we help our clients harness the power of their data to create new business models and underpin their critical services. We are also very focused on using technology as a power to drive sustainability for society, something born from the values of our parent company Hitachi Limited.
I joined Hitachi in 2012 as an individual salesperson and navigated a sales career path for ten years. Then this role came up within the organization. And I thought, ‘I need to throw my hat in the ring for that.’ So after 15 years in technology sales, I made a career switch to DEI. Now I’m in our HR organization. I’m also the mum of two young boys who are three and a half, and 22 months.
What is it that specifically attracted you to that role?
My path to the DEI space has been quite a long journey. After studying a general business and language degree at university, I set out to be a marketer. But nearly every application I submitted was rejected. On top of that, I had some pretty horrible interviews. So, on my Dad’s recommendation, I started looking at the big technology companies because I heard they had great graduate programs.
You didn’t need to know too much about how technology works, and you didn’t need to be hands-on technical (I’ve never written a line of code in my life). You did need to be able to articulate a passion for technology. After several applications, I accepted a role at Microsoft and had an incredible experience. There, I learned a lot about the industry, how to sell, and how technology impacts everything in our lives.
That passion for being in the tech space grew over time. Today, I want to encourage others to make more intentional choices about joining the technology industry, particularly people from underrepresented groups and minorities.
This role appealed to me because it supports our employees, gives them a sense of belonging, and creates an inclusive environment so everyone can succeed. I also get to hear fascinating stories, learn from others, meet people from all over the world and understand their cultures. I’m also playing a part in building a more extensive talent pipeline for our industry as a whole.
How does Talent Leadership Development rank in your DEI agenda?
I work closely with our learning and development teams. We look to support underrepresented groups such as women, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities to succeed in systems that often weren’t designed for or by them.
There are two sides to this. First, how do we support people who are the majority to understand that those systems and processes in place don’t always affect everybody equally?
Second, how do you enable people in underrepresented groups to have their voices heard, share their experiences and be able to have meaningful careers?
It’s about giving people a platform and opportunities.
At Vantara, we’re running a leadership development pilot around storytelling and amplifying people’s voices. We started by giving 30 of our top women a platform to present in front of our leaders. We hope to expand to other high potential employees throughout the company.
We’ve also launched an allyship pilot initiative to educate men on what it’s like to be a woman in tech and be a woman in our organization. We equip them with skills to drive allyship so they can help us make meaningful changes. And so, it’s two sides of the same coin.
How do you weave DEI into business priorities and ensure consistency?
It’s not easy because there are so many different priorities. My approach has always been to come back to revenue and profit.
Business performance is all driven by our people. The more engaged our people are, the more they feel like they belong to our organization. The more they have a connection to our brand. The less they have to worry about their identity. So, when they come to work, they’re going to be more productive, improving overall business performance. Why are we doing this? We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, and there is a business outcome from engaging with people.
Then, I think about finding your champions, sponsors and people who are already out there doing things in this space because it’s something they’re personally passionate about. I want to amplify those activities as well.
We’re a global company operating in 35 countries. What DEI looks like in each of those countries is different. To be effective requires a strategic focus. While we’ve created DEI policies and frameworks to provide consistent guidance on priorities and direction, to build momentum, focus on your people’s diversity and share their stories throughout your organization. This may be easier than taking on the whole organization in one go.
What would you say are the barriers to change that you need to overcome?
Consistency of terminology can be a barrier. What is DEI to us as an organization or to another organization? What do we mean when we say that? Because it means different things to different people, and that determines the role it plays in your organization.
I think it’s important to ask: Where are we going to focus? Because diversity is about metrics and representation, which is different from inclusivity. And you need both; you can’t have one or the other. So leveling the playing field and defining what we mean when we say DEI is a foundational step.
Data is also a big want. It may not be a barrier, but it can be challenging. What do we know about our people and demographics? What do sentiment surveys tell us, and how do different individuals and groups experience our organization? How do you get all that information in one place? How do you make sure it’s as reliable as possible? How do you ensure you’re tracking progress over time in an organization? It’s essential to have a baseline understanding of what DEI means from a data perspective, especially in a data-driven technology company.
While time and resources can be challenging, working with people individually, wherever they are in this journey, is essential to driving change. Again, if you try and approach vast groups of people with a single message, it doesn’t always land. And so, try tailoring communications with smaller group discussions and then build on what this means for individuals. It takes time.
What would you tell your younger self?
You don’t have to prove yourself to anybody else except yourself. I spent a long time in my career trying to be the highest performer at the top of every list. I was often looking for external validation. It’s critical to know what’s important to you as an individual. What do you care about? What motivates you? What things in your work do you really enjoy, and what do you want to do less of? Then choose careers that align with your answers. This enables you to do your best work, no matter the effort required.
I never thought about my values until five or six years ago. Some things you love while others frustrate you. That usually happens when somebody is doing something that goes against your values. So think about your values and match those to your career journey.
And finally, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I spent most of my early career working all hours, all the time. Honestly, you can’t finish everything every day. It’s a long career journey.
I find it refreshing to see how our younger generations are so much better at boundary-setting and voicing those to others, so work fits into their life and not the other way around.
Solve the 2023 Talent Retention Puzzle
Learn how to attract, engage and retain resilient talent in 2023. Understand which skills to prioritize to impact your teams.Download the State of Skills Report