We interviewed Charlie Marsh, IT Service Manager at DWP Digital on their experience and thoughts on diversity in tech.
I’m in an IT Service Manager role at DWP Digital. The project I’m currently working on is to improve how DWP staff can access the right guidance and robust support through our IT Self-Service Portal, and associated IT Support Channels.
I look after project documentation, and project plans to enable my colleagues to easily identify and collaborate on their tasks. I also support functions by collating, monitoring, and interrogating the existing data we have that is relevant to their goals.
We are a collaborative team that includes Service Managers, Business Analysts, User Experience Researchers and Content Designers.
I didn’t! When I started in tech, my first role was in customer service in a call centre for an Internet Service Provider. Even though it wasn’t directly a tech role, I was surrounded by information about what routers actually do, how telephony networks work, what internet speeds and bandwidth mean.
From there, I was invited to apply for a ‘Service Desk’ role in the same company. I was lucky that the role required good communication skills, and I was told that I could be trained in the ‘techy stuff’.
When I moved to DWP Digital, I started in on-site and remote tech support. Joining DWP Digital was genuinely the point where my tech ‘job’ became a ‘career’.
Not at all, in fact, I was a complete technophobe. I failed the ICT functional skills exam twice in college. My college BTEC was in performing arts and dance, and I had started down that career path until I was unfortunately limited by physical and mental health conditions.
Everything I’ve learned about tech has been on the job, driven by my own curiosity, or provided by my employer.
Tech skills are mostly transferrable life skills. I like a good puzzle. The only difference in tech is the puzzle could be a fault, or a project, a system, or how to communicate to a different audience. Thinking outside the box – creative solutions are the answer to complex problems most of the time – and almost none of them require the need to code!
The short answer is yes. I think that societally, the focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) is moving towards the positive, and businesses and employers are beginning to follow suit, but that’s a large and slow cultural shift that’s taking time.
People with protected characteristics, or minority groups, are less likely to be in a leadership role, are generally under-represented, under-supported, or missing from the workforce altogether.
Communication. A conversation at any level is a two-way street. That requires the speaker to be open and honest, and the listener to actively engage, understand, and affirm. That is difficult to achieve without the right culture, environment, and trust.
At a team level, this is the managers clearly stating their support and employees advocating for their needs, to create greater understanding, leading to meaningful changes like reasonable adjustments.
At the top level it’s about having accessible guidance that communicates the governance on D&I, that listens to the workforce and changes appropriately, and promotes feedback. The more we communicate, the more we learn about each other, the more we can support each other.
I’m driven by my curiosity, and I love learning, but it is so difficult for me. I have a neurodevelopmental disorder, so learning anything new takes a lot of time, energy, and patience, especially if I am stuck reading an instruction manual.
I will re-read that over and over and basically re-write it in a way that my brain can understand. I’d much rather have a demonstration or video and be able to ask questions as I go, rather than searching for answers after.
I struggle to understand how to do something, without knowing why.
A perfect example was when I took a very basic introduction to coding course. I wrote the code and printed ‘hello world’ on a screen like many beginners do. I was told ‘what to do’, but at no point was I told ‘why’. I was in a training course, and I had to google ‘practical application of hello world’ to understand that I had written a program that could put the words ‘hello world’ on a webpage. With that context, I suddenly understood how webpages were created. My brain couldn’t make the connection that the trainer had assumed I knew, and the other delegates already understood. Since then, I’ve written articles in pure HTML so something stuck.
That’s why I like hybrid working within DWP Digital, I can plan my office days around my team to ask questions in person, making it easier for me to learn.
Summing up why diversity and inclusion is important, each person has beliefs and values from lived experience. The way a person sees the world depends on how the world has treated them. The way people think influences their values and behaviours, and depending on how they are perceived, this reinforces those core values, or forces us to change the way we think about them.
The only way that we can learn and grow and change core beliefs that do not benefit us or what we want to do, is to have someone challenge them, and understand that alternate perspective.
The only way I believe that we can gain a true perspective of our goals and successes is through multiple lenses. D&I mean that those minority voices are heard, and we can change our perspective to understand them, and help them feel supported where historically we have failed to do so.
To put an IT slant on this concept – each building block is a step towards a higher level – first comes data, then is information, next is knowledge and finally comes wisdom. Each step answers different questions about the initial data and adds value to it. The only thing that comes from excluding data, as with excluding people, is a deficit of value.
I fall into a few protected characteristics and minority groups. Much of my identity is created from those lived experiences, and I would not have got as far as I have on my journey without other people’s support and understanding along the way, especially within DWP Digital.
Especially in my early customer service roles, my capability was often called in to question because I was perceived as young, quiet, and feminine over the phone. Customers made a judgement only on my voice, that heavily insinuated that I was not able to do my job. In further roles I was the only feminine presenting team member, and apparently that set more of a first impression on colleagues than my ability.
Less so, but also relevant, was the opinion of colleagues in some later roles. I was ‘flaky’ or ‘inconsistent’ when I was actually undertrained and micromanaged. It wasn’t until I left uncomfortable environments that I realised the common denominator wasn’t me, it was rigid businesses and unrelenting management.
Genuinely, in these environments I was at a point where my mental and physical health was so bad that I was off on long term sickness, I thought I would never be able to hold down a full-time job again. Thankfully, with the support I receive at DWP Digital, I am in a better place.
I came from a home where having a full time job was a pipe-dream, but with the compassion and flexibility I receive at DWP Digital, I can work, I can thrive, and I take pride in a job that I enjoy.
Find out more about a career at DWP Digital.