“I’m proud of being a beacon for diversity in the corporate world and making a difference in people’s lives,” The Tech=Icon told CBR.
The newest series by CBR sees the spotlight put on those championing diversity in tech, positioning themselves as role models for minorities embarking on a career in STEM.
In this latest installment, CBR’s Ellie Burns caught up with Deborah Sherry, General Manager and Chief Commercial Officer of GE Digital in Europe, who revealed her achievements, motivations and top tips for those in the LGBTI community working in tech.
EB: What drew you towards working in the tech industry?
DS: Throughout my entire career I’ve worked in technology in one way or another. My educational background is in business and law, however I have always worked with technology and helped my companies to embrace it and change how they did business, including back in the days when there were nothing but green CRT terminals. I started to work on the internet before the web began when you needed unix code to get online.
One or my earliest forays into technology started in law, when I persuaded my law firm to use Optical Character Recognition Software (OCR) to scan millions of documents to help boost productivity, improve accuracy and reduce costs. Whilst at Citibank, I used technology to change business processes – front and back office.
This was followed by roles at Samsung and Orange at which I deployed technology in my business. And Google, where I deployed technology that helped my clients improve productivity and revenue. In retrospect I have always been passionately interested in the productivity gains you can drive through adopting technology. Wherever I worked I focused on helping companies become more productive and efficient.
EB: What were the main challenges you faced when first starting out in tech and how did you overcome them?
DS: To me, the main challenge is in getting companies to adopt new technology. Frankly, this hasn’t changed at all over the year, even though everything we do today uses some form of technology anyway. The main barriers to succeed in technology – whether internally in your business, or with clients – is helping people take risks and adopt new technologies.
The same barrier exists when we approach companies which have already adopted a lot of technology, but they need to understand why they should invest in further innovation. Everyone needs the business case, and people are risk averse and change averse.
But what I have learnt over time is how to hone the art of perfecting the business case and deliver relevant proof of concepts that can blaze a path in helping companies to adopt new technologies quicker..
EB: Tell us about your current role. What motivates you? What has been the driving force behind your career strategy?
DS: As part of my current role I am running the European Division of GE Digital, directing sales, marketing, services and operations. It is a very dynamic and challenging role and what motivates me is the difference we are making to our customers and to the markets we operate in. Our technology enables large industrial companies to make productivity gains that can truly transform their business. It also allows organisations to take advantage of the Industrial Internet in a wide variety of ways.
In short, at GE Digital we are helping to accelerate the 4th industrial revolution. We can make a difference every day to companies across multiple industries such as healthcare, energy and aviation, for example, and eventually impact economies. All these things impact people’s lives every day.
The Industrial Internet connects machines, product diagnostics, software, analytics and people, so that businesses can operate more efficiently. It presents a massive opportunity to transform UK industry. Our own estimates suggest that adoption of Industrial Internet technologies could add between £200 Billion and £320 Billion to the UK’s GDP by 2030. Industrial Internet technology could bring greater efficiency to key UK sectors, translating into real economic growth. We are at the forefront of this trend and we are focusing a lot of effort on driving innovation across the industries we operate it as well as within the four walls of the company.
Another key driver for me is the opportunity to make a positive contribution to working culture. I’m passionate about encouraging diversity and enabling all people within our company to reach their fullest potential. Driving this transformation across all levels of our business is a key priority for me.
EB: What is your proudest achievement to date?
DS: I’m proud to have built a team from scratch inside GE Digital to deliver the European business.
I am also extremely happy that I was able to contribute to opening up new markets for the companies I have worked for – especially the new business lines I opened up for Google.
Last but not least, I’m proud of being a beacon for diversity in the corporate world and making a difference in people’s lives.
EB: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
DS: We all need strategy, we need models, targets and we need structure. But at the end of the day, human nature is human nature regardless of country, culture or even industry. Learning to understand people and relationships helps you to deliver on everything else.
EB: What are the main issues facing LGBTI tech workers today? How have these issues changed over your career?
DS: Many workforces face diversity issues and this is true for the LGBTI tech workers today too. Age old barriers still exist and many people still feel they cannot be themselves at work. The great news is that the technology sector is now rife with newer companies that have embraced change on many levels, including openness that welcomes diversity. The technology sector is more rapidly embracing change than many sectors and many leading voices in large and small companies are driving positive change, including more diversity, and their companies are listening.
What this means in practice is that there are more opportunities for LGBTI workers to be themselves and open and successful in technology than ever before.
EB: What would be your top tip for those in the LGBTI community looking to start a career in tech?
DS: Because there are a lot of great places to work in tech, vet your company for not only how they invest in their people, but how they invest in diversity, and look for a company that leads by example.
For instance as a supporter of the LGBTI community I have attended and spoken at Lesbians Who Tech numerous times. I was proud and impressed, before I joined GE Digital, that the company was a sponsor and a major presence at the conference. It was a signatory to the Amicus Brief in the US, when the Supreme Court was reviewing the status of gay marriage. And in 2018, GE is sponsoring the 10th Gay Games in Paris. I was proud to join such an open and supportive company. When starting your career, seek the right company environment.
EB: What would your advice be to a member of the LGBTI community who is struggling or facing discrimination in the workplace?
DS: Engage your HR team and follow the formal process. There is no other solution in a corporate context. If you are in a company that doesn’t get it, there are plenty of other companies that do. Find a company where you can be happy and be yourself.
EB: How do you think businesses could better support LGBTI workers and broader diversity?
DS: It’s clear that the LGBTI community has come a long way in terms of rights and inclusion in many societies, and although businesses are increasingly recognising that cultivating an LGBT-friendly workplace is good for productivity, there is still much to be done. Businesses have the responsibility to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for everyone.
At GE for example, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Ally (GLBTA) Alliance invests in cultivating the GE leaders of today and tomorrow. We are dedicated to growing GLBT talent around the world, and build an inclusive, adaptable, and creative culture.
Each year, we bring together hundreds of employees from across the company to regional or global summits that develop attendees both personally and professionally. Our mentorship program educates employees throughout the year in workshops and roundtable sessions that are focused on GLBT employees’ needs in the workplace and creating a more inclusive environment for all GE employees.
Studies and the data prove that all companies benefit from productivity gains when they create a more inclusive environment. In the future I hope to see more businesses drive similar initiatives and champion inclusion in the workplace.