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Case study: How Ocado Technology became Diversity Employer of The Year

Ocado is more than just a British online retailing brand: its technology arm, Ocado Technology, develops warehouse systems, e-commerce and logistics software, and robotics, selling its technology across the world. And to do this it needs to attract the sharpest minds, not just in the UK, but in expanding offices across Europe, too.

Hence, the company’s diversity initiatives aren’t just rolled out in the UK, but in Kraków and Wrocław in Poland, Sofia in Bulgaria and Barcelona – and, on top that, its initiatives aren’t just focused internally, but globally.

These are just some of the factors that helped to make Ocado Diversity Employer of The Year at Computing’s Women in IT Excellence Awards in 2017, setting a challenging example for entrants in this year’s Awards to follow.

“I’m proud that our diversity efforts have spread internationally. Outreach projects like ‘Mind the Gap’, which our Krakow office took over from Google, and ‘Code for Life’, our non-profit initiative that delivers free, open-source games and teaching materials to help children around the world learn to code, will have a big impact on the next generation of technologists,” Anne Marie Neatham, chief operating officer at Ocado Technology, told Computing.

She continued: “Code for Life now has more than 130,000 users in 96 countries, and is working on translating its first game, Rapid Router, into many different languages to further its reach. I love that we promote our diversity initiatives externally as well as internally, as it gives us the potential to make real change within the industry.”

For Karyn McComiskie-Wood, head of human resources at Ocado Technology, the highlights of the company’s initiatives have been somewhat different. She emphasises some of the work done internally to promote diversity, not just over the past year, but over a number of years.

“Some of the highlights for me include rolling out unconscious bias training, reviewing flexible working, offering English lessons to support our large workforce who have come to us from 41 different countries, reviewing our job adverts to ensure both men and women are encouraged to apply, forming the ‘Women in Tech’ discussion group to encourage networking and support. And, last but not least, developing a new structured careers model, which helps us to avoid bias,” said McComiskie-Wood.

In practical terms, says McComiskie-Wood, the initiatives have helped encourage employees across the board to “step outside of their comfort zone”, whether that is applying for promotions or taking on speaking and presentation roles inside or outside of the company.

For Neatham, the initiatives have paid off with far more women putting themselves forward for more senior roles than just two years ago. “I believe this will have a snowballing effect, as having women in highly influential positions throughout the company will encourage others to follow suit,” she tells Computing.

Decisions, decisions

One of the challenges of running multiple diversity projects is simply choosing which ones to pick and, therefore, which ones to throw corporate weight behind.

“The difficulty is deciding which project is most deserving of your time and effort. You’ll never know if you have picked the very best option, capable of bringing about the greatest possible positive change,” says Neatham.

“Ultimately, however, if you remain indecisive and don’t act, you won’t achieve any of your goals. We carefully consider our options but, most importantly, we throw ourselves wholeheartedly behind the projects we commit to and aim to work to the best of our ability.”

For 2018, McComiskie-Wood has decided to target mental health at work training for all managers.

“We believe that if our managers are equipped with the tools to recognise and help address mental health issues, we can further increase the well-being of our employees and make sure everyone has the support they need to lead a well-balanced life.

“We also have plans to expand our ‘Women in Tech’ initiative, as we have seen the positive and wide reaching effect it had on our employees last year.”

Longer term, the organisation is also aiming to encourage more people with registered disabilities to apply for technology roles. “We don’t believe anything should hold our employees back,” says Neatham. 

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