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Leaders Insights: Vulnerability in Action

23rd March: In our latest blog, our Tech Industry Alliance Board Member Laura Hughes from Cloudera captures the conversation at our Vulnerability in Action webinar event kindly sponsored by Deloitte, focused on “Simple tips for attracting a diverse workforce and cultivating psychological safety in the workplace”

Our MC Holly Mc Namara Senior Consultant, Human Capital Management Team at Deloitte, facilitated an insightful discussion with our panelists (Aideen McCarthy, Sr Program Delivery Specialist at Cloudera;  Paddy O’Connell VP of Business Development at Starcircle; and Ryan Mc Sweeney Graduate Deal Analyst at VMware) on how they created successful inclusive environments with the importance of attracting a diverse workforce. We were brought on a very emotive and personal journey on the subject of psychological safety, what it means, how to do it well and how to cultivate a sense of psychological safety in the workplace, and observing first-hand the absolute impact that this can have on a person’s life.

Playing mental health bingo and it almost won. 

Powerful words spoken by Ryan McSweeney about his own journey navigating mental illness and corporate life. As an audience member eloquently captured in the webinar chat notes “A special call out to Ryan for his bravery, honesty and openness. More people like Ryan speaking up, paves the way for others to feel safe and empowered to do the same”. Ryan spoke about the need to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to have a good relationship with your manager so they can understand the context of ‘I’m having a bad day’. As Ryan stated everybody has some form of mental health on a scale of good to bad.

He encouraged companies to look at talent and recruitment from a disability, diversity and wellness lens. As our MC, Holly McNamara, stated we all have a mixture of inherent diversity traits as well as our acquired diversity traits that we pick up over time, and within this we also have our visible characteristics but also our underlying hidden characteristics. She asked us to consider looking at diversity with an iceberg view, the 20% tip is what you can see, the remaining 80% is a formative but hidden part of who you are.

Simple tips to attract a diverse workforce.

  • Be innovative and intentional. Aideen encouraged companies to innovative, to thrive and to grow. To be intentional when crafting job specs to attract a diverse workforce – remove fuzzy / vague language.
  • Focus on competencies and skillsets. Aideen also encouraged companies to remove irrelevant barriers like industry certifications, and set a consistent global standard.
  • Remove hidden biases. This was mentioned by both Aideen & Paddy – craft inclusive job postings, take out masculine terms and make sure hiring decisions are being made without biases.
  • Use communities that promote diversity on their platforms – a great tip mentioned by Paddy, engage with like-minded communities across LinkedIn etc, and for students to reach out to your third level institution to see what communities are available that promote diversity.
  • Blind hiring. Paddy spoke about the use of blind hiring and using this to identify diversity within an applicant group. An audience member agreed with this by adding “Blind hiring is a fantastic way to interview, I was hired through this and also this was a factor in making me choose that company over others” 

What does psychological safety mean to you?

  • To Ryan, it meant being able to be your true self and to bring your true self to work. “Going to therapy is part of my routine – it makes me feel safe in my role”. Ryan candidly stated the wouldn’t be here today without the support of his company and the culture within VMWare.
  • To Aideen, it meant to have the opportunity to be herself, her holistic authentic self, with no expectations to be perfect. To use any failings as a learning or growth opportunity, to normalize not knowing the answer and being able to confidently say ‘I don’t know’. Learning from the past is so important and the pandemic has been a crash course in vulnerability. As a company and as a team, it is important to start this conversation and show that it’s a safe safe to learn and grown, and fail and learn from this.
  • Paddy referred to a sign hung proudly in his office at Starcircle, which says ‘Bring your whole authentic self to work’.
  • Holly, our MC, said that transparent communication is a tool we should all use when building trust in relationships, and she stressed the importance of learning and growth, that when people leave organisations, it is quite often because they didn’t see any opportunities there. Companies need to remove bias from processes like career progression.

Creating psychological safety at work

Ryan urged companies to consider providing disability awareness training to their employees, to train up managers on how to deal with visible & invisible disabilities within their teams. He mentioned the ‘Take a Break’ days offered by VMware for when you need a time out from work; Aideen concurred with this and mentioned the ‘Unplug Days’  that Cloudera takes as a whole company across each quarter. Holly spoke about Deloitte‘s employee resource groups that help to shine a light on underrepresented groups. Paddy said we should all lead by example, to show that level of respect and inclusiveness; to act as role model to others on your team – set clear expectations about what the right behaviours and attitudes are and the culture you expect within your teams and the organisation. The onus is on those in leadership roles to set the tone and standard to which the culture of the org should be.

Allyship in Action

Aideen stated that we need to understand the difference between intent and action, to understand what micro-agrressions are, and what actions we can take to show up not just as an ally, but to be an ‘active ally’. Having the right enablement tools is important for this – you need to know where to start. At Cloudera, Aideen facilitates learning and development sessions such as Inclusive Leadership series and Allyship in Action series for individual contributors. We need to give that constant learning to create that safe space that people need.

How to meet our DE&I Targets

Paddy gave a great insight for DEI targets – to affect change you don’t need a budget, you just need focus. Look to refine your company’s core competencies for leadership – measure and assess against this for performance reviews. Set the parameters early for what you want to do.

Aideen stated that ideas and concepts are important but we need to take action and create accountability. Metrics can become a numbers game and transparency is key, with a focus on goals and progress.

Ryan encouraged students to check out the disability services in University College Cork & MTU Extended Campus, it can be a massive launchpad for early career progression, it enabled him to kickstart his career via an internship with UCC. Also companies should look into the government grant schemes for disability and sensitivity training, and disability awareness training etc that are available.

Actions to take Forward 

  • Companies come in all shapes and sizes, everybody is on different journeys and paths, companies should identify their own journey – advice given by our MC, Holly.
  • Aideen stated that culture should not be a fad; it needs to be sustainable. Start your learning journey, learn about bias so you can dismantle it.
  • Paddy – be intentional about diversity. Start with your recruitment efforts: make your job specs brief and remove biases. Have an open & inclusive process around interviewing: ensure you have a diverse interview panel, and facilitate those coming from neurodiverse backgrounds for example promote as much info as you can as to what an interview will involve so folks are prepared, and to be constantly reinforcing that open communicate is safe within organisations.
  • Ryan – do your research, know what invisible disabilities are. Giving an extra 30 minutes on an aptitude test doesn’t work in today’s environment when it comes to hiring and talent screening and selection.

Vulnerability in Action

The webinar chat was on fire with comments during Q&A, thanking our MC and panel for this wonderful discussion, with special shout-outs to Ryan for baring his soul open so others can learn from it. Great to see this vulnerability in action and the power behind it.

Thanks to our amazing speakers, Aideen McCarthyRyan Mc Sweeney & Paddy O’Connell, all greatly facilitated by our MC Holly Mc Namara, our sponsorship partners Deloitte, and everybody who attend this webinar session.

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