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Does the Channel Have a Diversity Problem?

CompTIA says diversity must be on the channel’s agenda in 2020.

Christine Horton

March 23, 2020

6 Min Read
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Earlier this month, Tracy Pound, director at IT trade association CompTIA, called on channel firms to push for greater diversity within their organizations.

Making her remarks at CompTIA’s UK Channel Community Meeting in Manchester, Pound said diversity “is not a point we can take off of the agenda” in 2020.

According to CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2020, 20% of U.K. companies feel that there has been significant improvement in the diversity of the tech workforce in the past two years; however, the report notes that “the initial chasm was so wide that it will take significant time and purposeful changes to close.”

Speaking to Channel Futures, Pound, who is managing director of Staffordshire-based IT consultancy Maximity, said diversity in the channel is important for businesses for many reasons.

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Maximity’s Tracy Pound

“The IT channel is struggling to recruit and retain talent full stop, so in not embracing diversity, we positively exclude a subset of people who could fill the jobs we have available,” she said. “In terms of market perception, people tend to buy from people and identify with people who are similar to themselves. Diversity not only gives greater reach for sales and marketing, but diversity adds value in decision-making and business strategy through alternative points of view and expectations in working — it breeds tolerance, flexibility and agility.”

Kathy Quashie, head of partnerships and alliances at Vodafone, agrees there is a need to ensure that the workforce is representative of the community the channel sells into. For example, she acknowledges “the channel has a salesman reputation that while dynamic, can often be daunting, especially for women.

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Vodafone’s Kathy Quashie

“With some women now leading businesses,” she said, however, “we have an opportunity to ensure the thinking mirrors that in how and what we sell to those customers. It is an environment that not only needs technology expertise, but also customer-facing, soft skills such as account management, marketing and sales. Technology is still a male gender-led industry and the need to bring diversity of thought to mirror technology trends is important.”

Lack of Diversity: Not a ‘Single-Threaded Issue’

So what’s holding back diversity in the IT channel? According to Pound, there’s still a huge misconception about what the channel is, and does.

“Parents and teachers are struggling to help children look at tech careers because they can’t identify with the roles available. I also think businesses [that] haven’t yet embraced diversity may not understand the benefits to be had and need to see more case studies and stories of businesses that look like theirs [that] have gained from introducing diversity,” she said.

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“I don’t think any CEO or executive is sitting at their desk, dreaming up evil plans to exclude people from joining their organisation,” noted Emily Nerland, EMEA channel director for Masergy, the software-defined networking services company.

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Masergy’s Emily Nerland

In fact, she says it’s probably the exact opposite.

“Untangling all the reasons why diversity is still lacking in the IT channel isn’t a single-threaded issue. It’s obvious that societal norms still play a big role in holding back substantial change in the workplace. There are unconscious biases that go unchecked driving company policy and culture. People tend to like people like themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that — that’s how you make connections, by having something in common. The issue is they also tend to hire people like themselves, and this rarely produces diverse results,” said Nerland. “Finally, there are always far more projects and focuses than hours in the day to complete them, pulling everyone in different directions and demanding immediate attention.”

How Can the Channel be Better?

Given all these challenges, what can companies to foster greater inclusion and diversity in the channel?

CompTIA points to …

… flexible work arrangements, which it says, “could create more opportunities and a more welcoming atmosphere, especially if organizations take a closer look at how their existing arrangements could unintentionally create barriers.”

The association points to a 2019 study by McKinsey, which found there was a 30% increase in women able to work from home compared to 2018, demonstrating an active shift toward more flexible working.

It adds that “recruiting from training programmes that focus on underserved populations can also support an inclusive approach to recruitment while working to plug the skills gap. Furthermore, diversifying workforce planning by engaging lower management in the process can prove beneficial, as entry-level supervisors often know exactly what skills and diversity their teams currently lack and the characteristics that are likely to add value.”

Jennifer Deutsch, CMO of hardware maintenance and support company Park Place Technologies, believes that promoting inclusivity in the workplace requires attention from all of us.

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Park Place Technologies’ Jennifer Deutsch

“Examples need to be set from the highest level, board of trustees, C-suite teams and leadership roles,” she told Channel Futures. “It is never about talking and promising; it is about action and implementation. As more women and diverse groups of people are visible examples of leadership, more will be mentors to younger generations of women who will be encouraged and empowered to choose leadership paths.”

She also says that education is key, “not just at school level but also within training later in life. This will not only help turn the tide but dispel the myths creating roadblocks for those who have thought they don’t match the traditional cookie cutter stereotypes needed for these roles,” Deutsch said.

“It will not be a quick fix: encouraging women into the channel needs to be built alongside a cultural shift within the industry,” said Vodafone’s Quashie. “Companies need to build development programmes, as well as provide supportive maternity policies and flexible working practices.”

The good news is, one in four companies in the U.K. say that fostering workforce diversity is a high priority in 2020, according to CompTIA’s figures. However, there is still a long way to go.

When it comes to diversifying your workforce, “be proactive in seeking to appeal to a diverse audience when looking to fill roles, and don’t automatically exclude or judge people because they are different,” said Pound.

About the Author(s)

Christine Horton

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Christine Horton writes about all kinds of technology from a business perspective. Specializing in the IT sales channel, she is a former editor and now regular contributor to leading channel and business publications. She has a particular focus on EMEA for Channel Futures.

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