Is Unified Comms Doing Enough To Encourage Diversity In Tech?
I’m somewhat blinkered when it comes to diversity in tech, as a white male who’s been working in unified communications since 2009. And that needs to change.
Over the years, I’ve worked in offices that have been dominated by other white males. The majority of business owners, directors, and line managers have been white males too.
There has been some change throughout my career…
I recall a powerful female figure who ran an adjacent department and a team of Pakistani men doing rather well selling fixed line and broadband services. My most recent line manager was an extremely well-established figure in her line of work.
To my mind, unified comms has been getting more diverse in terms of staff and clients. But I am wrong.
I am by no means qualified to write an article on diversity in tech. I am a white male who has grown up in an industry dominated by white males for 14 years.
Just because diversity in tech has been getting “better”, it doesn’t mean the unified comms industry has done, or is doing, enough.
How newcomers feel about diversity in unified comms
I asked a marketing executive new to the industry how they felt about the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and whether underrepresentation was an issue.
"As a newcomer to the collaboration industry, I’ve seen that diversity is the exception and not the rule in both colleagues and clients. I would love to see diversity prioritized at all levels of seniority and uplifted at all levels of influence."
Another newcomer to unified comms, Angela Harar, Managing Director of UCX USA, says that her first impressions were, “I’ve noticed that many companies have commitments to DE&I in this industry in terms of staffing. But, at in-person events, you don’t see that come through with the audience.”
“In conversations I’ve had, it’s about making sure you have representation in an organic nature. But you have to be proactive. If companies forget to be proactive, that’s where you see a lack of diversity.”
All in all, it is not enough for vendors to rely on organic DE&I. We must be proactive to ensure events, networking, and overall inclusion for underrepresented communities is ongoing.
What are UC vendors doing about diversity in tech?
When you Google, unified comms diversity equity and inclusion, you don’t find any unified comms vendors’ public policies.
But reaching out to each vendor, you do find specific policies and initiatives.
Cisco publishes a Pay Parity document and the Cisco Gender Pay Gap Report.
8x8 launched its Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council in September 2020.
Zoom announced its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program in April 2022.
RingCentral has a page dedicated to being Open To Everyone.
RingCentral’s Social Impact and Diversity Business Partner, Tu-Han Phan, says “At RingCentral, we celebrate unique backgrounds, identities, and perspectives.”
The Microsoft community is perhaps the best example of public inclusion activities.
The Women In Teams community was formed by Community Lead, Laurie Pottmeyer, in 2021 with the message, “Our community rocks because we welcome with open arms. Our community rocks because we celebrate each others’ success. Our community rocks because we support each other in tough moments and when it is least expected.”
Hungarian Microsoft MVP, Agnes Molnar, says it is the right time to have this sort of group about Teams.
"I think we can have open discussions about technical subjects and human topics, like being in this industry as a woman (or any minority) and the challenges we face. It’s good to have a safe place where we can discuss all of these things."
It’s important that these five vendors, recognized by Gartner as “Leaders” in unified communications as a service, continue to be proactive about DE&I.
To make tech inclusion become a must, it needs to be seen as non-optional. And there are no better people to set the tone than those in the top right of Gartner’s prestigious quadrant.
Who else can encourage diversity in unified comms?
Outside of vendors, we do see initiatives at events and in the general community.
At Enterprise Connect, there is both a Women In Communications award and a lunch honoring Women in Communications. 2023 is also the first year that the Women In Communications is on the main stage.
There are also sessions addressing accessibility issues this year:
How Enterprise IT Can Better Support Workers with Disabilities
How IT Can Build a Sustainable Accessibility Program for Enterprise Communications
These are great but do the participants want to be there because of their underrepresentation?
Angela Harar says she’d rather be included on a panel for her expertise than her gender.
“I have a difficult time participating in women-centric events. I want to be there naturally - as a presenter or delegate. It’s great to have specific events towards DE&I initiatives, but they can be demoralizing if they’re not executed correctly. I don’t want to go into a room and talk about being a working mom. I want to be there to speak about my specialty.”
One Forbes article suggests that 2023 must be The Year Of Women In Tech.
But every year must be the year of women in tech. And Black people in tech. And any underrepresented community, race, gender, ability, condition.
It’s also important to include things like neurodiversity among many other underrepresented areas.
Harvard Health describes neurodiversity as “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits”.
Yes, on paper, this sounds like a lot to digest and a lot of people to include.
But they are just that. All people are worthy of your time, your employment, and your inclusion.
When compiling our list of unified comms influencers, some of our key criteria are to ensure representation across gender, race, and ability.
It’s easy to list out a bunch of white men with lots of followers. But it’s a worthwhile exercise if you create an asset to showcase a diverse and inclusive list.
How do layoffs impact diversity in tech?
Among the news and LinkedIn posts where you see your friends, former colleagues, and connections being laid off, there’s an unseen undercurrent forming too.
Latesha Byrd, CEO of talent agency, Perfeqta, writes that layoffs contribute to systemic inequities.
"Downsizing may be the only option, but it isn’t an excuse to abandon your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts completely."
This, as you can imagine, may happen by chance rather than by design. Herein lies the problem.
If 50% of your HR department is laid off, that 50% might be 50% BIPOC. That’s a huge portion of your department (and company) that becomes less diverse.
Even more pertinently, it could be those key personnel in your HR team driving incentives like Women Of Color and Asians in Tech in a business.
Just because this happened by chance, it doesn’t make it okay.
While it’s too late to rewind the clock, proactive planning to ensure previous DE&I efforts weren’t for nothing must happen.
What is UCX USA doing to be as inclusive and diverse as possible?
To promote awareness of DE&I as a continuous and proactive process, UCX USA is committed to representing all communities.
And not just by adding sessions for a specific gender, race, or ability. It’s the conscious inclusion of subject matter experts from underrepresented parties that makes a real difference.
Angela Harar says, “People who work in events have one of the best opportunities to ensure representation. It’s at the forefront of a lot of the decisions we make. This starts with building an advisory board, reaching out to diverse partners, seeing who has been invited to speak and provide virtual solutions for anyone with accessibility concerns. ”
UCX USA will feature a roundtable topic in Austin this September: Best Practices for Upskilling, Recruitment, and Inclusive Environments.
We welcome and encourage everyone at UCX USA.