PCR catches up with Jo Lawrence, UK HR Director for Exertis about empowering its people, creating a workplace of inclusion and embracing diversity
Jo Lawrence, UK HR Director for Exertis is relatively new to the channel having joined Extertis in 2019 here Jo chats to PCR about life so far in the channel.
Please can you tell me a bit more about your role within Exertis?
I’m the HR Director for Exertis UK and I also sit on the Board of Directors. I work alongside a great team in our people function where we champion all things people related, at all stages of the employee life cycle. This includes attracting and onboarding talent, ensuring colleagues are set up for success with access to learning and development, providing reward and recognition programmes that drive business performance, creating listening mechanisms that help us continuously improve our people experience, all the way through to creating advocates of the brand.
I’m a champion of diversity, inclusivity and engagement and part of my role is ensuring that managers have the tools they need to get the best out of people and that we have a strong offering to help our people be the best that they can be.
I recently headed up a project to launch a ‘You Belong Here Toolkit’ for all people managers as we ask them to ensure they contribute to making a demonstrable positive shift in diversity representation within their area of the business.
What’s your background in the tech channel?
I joined Exertis in 2019 and this is my first experience in the tech channel. Previous to my current role, I spent two years at Life and Pensions Insurer LV where I was Head of HR for talent, learning and resourcing. Prior to that, I spent more than fifteen years at the Kingfisher Group in senior HR positions within the PLC and its DIY and home improvement retailer, B&Q.
Have you encountered any challenges working as a female in the tech channel, if so please explain?
I haven’t personally experienced any challenges as a female in the tech channel, but that’s not to say that I haven’t observed that there is less female representation when it comes to senior positions. This is something we’re working on improving by implementing our new diversity and inclusion initiatives across the business, both in the UK and globally. We’re working hard to raise awareness, understand the blockers and shift the conversation.
In the last year we’ve increased the number of females in our senior leadership population from 14% to 28%.
What made you want to work within the tech channel?
The opportunities within the tech channel are endless and it’s been great to join such a fast moving and dynamic business. Exertis is a company that fosters an inclusive culture and really empowers its people, providing fantastic prospects for both business and personal growth.
Technology is reshaping business and society in ways that were previously unimaginable, and innovation is taking place at such an accelerated rate that it’s a really exciting time to be in the tech world.
Do you have any outside work involvement beyond the remit of Exertis within the channel?
As a business we get involved with a number of great initiatives such as PCR’s ‘Top 25 Women in Tech’ and ‘30 under 30’ to ensure we’re celebrating the achievements of our people. We have a voice on LinkedIn and other platforms where we ensure we’re driving dialogue around the benefits of diversity and inclusivity and championing our people.
We have a regular schedule of celebration and awareness events throughout the year to increase understanding and empathy. These events are driven by our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team (EDIT), which is an incredible group of people who come together every month to champion D&I and encourage others to do the same. Our celebration and awareness days centre around everyone’s right to feel valued, included and celebrated and have recently included initiatives such as International Women’s Day and LGBTQ+ History Month.
All of these things play a part in ensuring that Exertis is a place where people can bring their true selves to work.
For other aspiring young women in the channel, what words of encouragement can you offer to aspire them to pursue a career within the channel?
My advice to aspiring young women would be to try new things, be brave and always strive for success. The channel is so exciting because of the pace in which it moves, and this means that so many opportunities constantly present themselves. Technology has such a huge impact on people’s lives and over the last twelve months we’ve really seen just how crucial it really is. Being part of the channel means that we enable working, learning and entertaining from home.
Where do you see a shortfall in female representation within the channel and how can companies look to overcome this?
I’ve definitely seen a shortfall of females in senior roles, which isn’t dissimilar to other sectors. One way we can enable women and improve representation at senior levels is to seek to understand the lived experiences of women currently working in the channel. This helps with identifying and removing any perceived barriers that prevent women from entering these roles. Male allies play a huge role in listening, understanding, and removing any blockers that may be in place. Involving senior executives in reverse mentoring is a great way to do this, and we need to involve men in this too.
Training and development play a crucial role in enabling females to progress in their careers. We offer career opportunities across a wide range of functions from sales to finance and have over 860 courses available for employees.
When considering performance ratings and talent profiles, it’s important to analyse data by breaking it down in to male and female segments in order to see the bigger picture and identify any key takeaways.
Most importantly, we need to tackle micro inequalities and challenge and remove unconscious bias.
What subjects or disciplines do we need to be advocating more of at a young age to encourage a more even adoption by both sexes at education level?
I believe more could be done in schools in terms of educating and encouraging young females when it comes to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The opportunities are vast, and we should be encouraging young women to understand the art of possible. One way of inspiring and motivating people from a young age is to celebrate fantastic role models and their achievements. If you can see it then you can achieve it!
There should also be more focus on core competencies, such as self-belief, resilience, and agile thinking, rather than subject specific grades.
Why does Exertis want to encourage a culture of diversity what are the motives behind this?
Above anything else, fostering a culture of diversity is the right thing to do. A diverse workforce with equal representation supports the development of an excellent, progressive company culture. There’s evidence to show that diverse teams outperform and do better in terms of productivity. It’s also extremely important that we’re representative of the needs of our diverse customer base.
Part of this is to ensure that all of our people complete unconscious bias training and are accountable for implementing all reasonable measures to ensure a diverse range of candidates are interviewed for vacancies.
We recently announced a new set of diversity and inclusion initiatives, to demonstrate our strong commitment to fostering a diverse culture across the business. In recognition of the differing needs of employees, Exertis has increased maternity, paternity and adoption packages as well as offering flexibility in terms of location and hours, which we believe will encourage diversity.
Is diversity within the channel still a major issue or have things moved on in recent years?
I haven’t been in the channel for long enough to comment on this one, but it was brilliant to see so many organisations within the channel celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March. Seeing so many businesses get involved in the campaign felt like a real shift, however, it’s crucial that under-represented or marginalised groups are given the platform and tools to prosper every day of the year.
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