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Spotlight Series: Sheree Atcheson, Group VP of Diversity & Inclusion, Valtech

Sheree Atcheson, Group VP of Diversity & Inclusion, Valtech

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Listed as one of the UK’s top most influential women in tech, and an international multi-award winner for her services to diversity & inclusion in the industry, Sheree Atcheson is a global diversity, equity and inclusion senior executive; advisory board member, women who code; contributor, Forbes.

She is the Author of “Demanding More” – a book which aims to teach readers about how deliberate exclusion has been in systems and society, so we can be purposefully and deliberately inclusive moving forward.

Having worked in many regions developing tailored, data-driven DE&I strategies, with clear goals and lines of accountability to embed success and inclusion that scales, Sheree now works at Valtech as the Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion. As a passionate advocate for gaining/retaining women in the industry, in 2013, she launched & led the award-winning U.K. expansion of Women Who Code the world’s largest non-profit globally dedicated to women in tech, where she now sits as an Advisory Board Member.

As an industry leader, Sheree Atcheson has spoken at many global events, conferences and leadership sessions and is regularly profiled for her work, having been featured in many publications, such as Forbes, Business Insider, BBC, FastCompany, Evening Standard, HuffPost, Business Post, Marie Claire, Wired, ComputerWeekly, The Guardian, Sunday Telegraph, Newsletter & many more. The aim of her career is to ensure that people are aware of the fantastic opportunities the industry has to offer and make certain that all humans are able to benefit from these and reach their full career potential.

WE SIT DOWN WITH SHEREE TO CHAT ABOUT HOW SHE GOT INTO HER ROLE IN TECH, GENDER DISPARITY WITHIN THE INDUSTRY AND HER ADVICE FOR OTHER WOMEN IN TECH.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR CURRENT EXPERTISE, AND WHAT ARE THE KEY ROLES IN YOUR FIELD OF WORK?

When I was three weeks old, I was adopted from Sri Lanka by a working-class Irish family. My experience of growing up as a child of colour in a very white space has become an avenue for me to expand on the ability of being both underrepresented and privileged.

I have always believed that I would work in the tech industry, however I never imagined I would have the responsibility or impact that I have had on the industry. I started my career as a software engineer at Kainos — a digital services provider in Northern Ireland. This technical background significantly influenced my roles in the diversity, equity, and inclusion industry. Over the last decade, I’ve held leadership roles at different companies including Head of Consulting Inclusion at Deloitte UK, Global Head of D&I at Monzo Bank, Global Director of DE&I at Peakon, and now, Group Vice President of D&I at Valtech.

At Valtech, I oversee, create, and lead the development and implementation of the company’s group D&I strategy — including the best practices, frameworks, and solutions for all their 20+ regions. We have the privilege of having 60+ offices around the world, and that means we have a true melting pot of cultures and diversities. My work is to ensure collaboration across the different regions and build a sense of accountability, guidance, and advisory. Under my leadership, we’ve implemented several changes, including a reworked hiring process that’s trained on inclusivity, leadership programs to help underrepresented talent, and data-backed decision-making on D&I initiatives.

HAS ANYONE EVER TRIED TO STOP YOU FROM LEARNING AND DEVELOPING IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE, OR HAVE YOU FOUND THE TECH SECTOR SUPPORTIVE?

Yes. When I began my outreach for Women Who Code UK at the age of 22, as a fresh Computer Science graduate, I received criticism from people who “didn’t get” what I was trying to achieve. It’s easy to be discouraged by negativity however, disruption is never a walk in the park. I wanted to make a difference, I persevered and here we are today, with several successful Women Who Code UK branches, many new connections being made, and new leaders being empowered every day.

Looking at the bigger picture and the potential impact Women Who Code could have on people, helped me to overcome any negativity.

Accepting that some people won’t always “get it” but realising that my goal is bigger than them has got me to where I am today.

It’s also important to highlight that I am in a very comfortable situation – with a partner on an equal footing, financial stability, and few health limitations. But there were several obstacles that I had to overcome to get to the position I’m at today. It’s important for people to be aware of the limitations and pressures that others face, even if they are not from underprivileged walks of life.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY?

Get ready for an exciting journey ahead!

Listen to yourself and be prepared for challenges along the way.

Stay focused on your goals and what you want to achieve – the great thing about working in this industry is the freedom to shape and create solutions that affect so many people and societies. Having the opportunity to do that is incredibly exciting and rewarding!

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ADDRESS THE GENDER-DISPARITY ISSUE IN THE TECH INDUSTRY AND ENSURE THERE ARE MORE WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP ROLES?

When it comes to addressing gender-disparity in the tech industry, progress is being made but with women currently holding only 26.7% of tech-related jobs, there’s still a long way to go. Systemic barriers must be addressed in understanding the entry point, progression, and the ability for women to have a career in the industry.

Industry leaders and organisations all have a responsibility to play a part in changing this. For example, at Valtech, we set up Tech Girl, which is a core initiative that focuses on empowering the next generation of women in tech through educating and showcasing tech careers to young girls, especially those from underprivileged areas.

HOW CAN DATA BE USED TO CREATE UNBIASED AND INCLUSIVE WORKPLACES?

A data driven approach is key to creating unbiased and inclusive solutions in the workplace. Data is essential in helping organisations understand the varying challenges faced by different groups and establish effective D&I initiatives to address these challenges.

Analysing patterns in hiring or promotions data, makes it easier for employers to see whether they’re demonstrating preference to a particular group of people. Businesses must use the data available to them to create focused and strategic initiatives and assess what is working well, and what needs to be improved. For example, if organisations find that they’re predominantly hiring individuals from similar backgrounds, they need to identify ways to challenge and call out biases in hiring processes and widen the recruitment pool.

It’s crucial that organisations use data to measure the impact of their D&I initiatives.

This should go further than tracking whether or not a more diverse group of people is being hired or promoted.

Anonymous feedback tools also give employees the opportunity to provide honest feedback and volunteer demographic information, which gives employers clear, real-time insights into how different groups are being supported by their organisation.

Taking a deeper look at statistics enables employers to see the effects of intersectionality and understand how multiple biases are impacting people’s experience in the workplace.

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