WIG interviews Sarah Brooks, Head of Service Activation at Atos and Speaker at WIG's D&I Conference 2017

Sarah Brooks, Head of Service Activation at Atos will be speaking at WIG's Diversity and Inclusion Conference on Thursday, 16 November 2017

What are the top three priorities on your D&I agenda this year?

Atos UK’s employee networks are relatively new, and have only been set up 18 months ago. Now we have networks for Age, Armed Forces, Race, Disability, Gender and LGBT. Building on the experience of the past year we are now focussing on: increased accessibility via our new Access Unit for staff who use assistive technologies, increasing the number of women in the organisation (as a technology-based organisation, we experience the societal issues of the under-representation of women in STEM) and leading the way with LGBT in our partnership with Stonewall. We have recently introduced Mental Health First Aiders and will be focussing on mental health issues this year.

What started your interest in workplace equality/diversity/inclusion?

Whilst working for a former employer I experienced discrimination due to my condition. Later I discovered that some technology and software was not available to me as it didn’t work with assistive technologies. I started speaking up about these issues as I felt the system was setting me up for failure.

Do you think the Parker and McGregor-Smith reviews have impacted how organisations are looking at their D&I strategies?

The McGregor-Smith review is very important as it emphasises the systemic challenges built into everyday society that prevent certain sections of our society from progressing in careers or even getting into them in the first place. A lot of D&I conversations stress how “you”(i.e. the individual)should strive to alter the situation on your own, but this report highlights that no amount of personal ability can overcome systemic bias and discrimination.

What would you say the main differences are between the public, private and not-for-profit sectors when it comes to D&I? Are some sectors doing better than others?

Diversity is positioned differently in these sectors due to the focus of each area. For private firms who have the aim to make profit and remain in business the emphasis is on competitive advantage and driving profits. As this is evidence-based, in many studies it is treated as a business priority and has the same methodologies applied to it as other business processes with metrics and planning. In the not-for-profit and public sectors, the narrative is more around “doing the right thing”.

Tell us about the topic you will be speaking on at the conference and why you wanted to share this.

I am speaking about disability as I am disabled: I have experienced discrimination both overt (demotion) and covert (inability to use business systems due to poor design). I also lead the Atos Employee Network for disability and this has helped me understand issues faced by other disabled people. The sheer breadth of disability experiences our staff have, has made me a lot more thoughtful about how we run our business. I wanted to share my storyas many disabled people do not speak about their experiences, particularly those with mental health issues due to the stigma surrounding these topics.