Q&A: Peakon’s New Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

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Q&A: Peakon’s New Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Esteemed DE&I leader and writer Sheree Atcheson will join Peakon as its new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from September 1, 2020. Here Sheree reveals a little bit about herself, and outlines her ambitions for Peakon and our customers.

What about Peakon made you want to get involved?

Peakon has touchpoints in 1000+ organisations, which means that the work we do together allows us to truly set a benchmark for inclusion in all of those organisations too – sharing, educating and creating a movement of learning around diversity, equity and inclusion. Super exciting! 

Alongside this, I’ve seen first-hand how important inclusion was to Peakon’s senior leadership. I need to work at an organisation where the C-suite is engaged with this work because that really helps to drive positive change, and I could see how much this mattered to the team.

I can see the company reaching a whole new level in the years ahead, and setting a brilliant example to the rest of the tech industry and beyond.

Where do you see Peakon in five years’ time?

I see Peakon being the go-to tool for organisations – big and small – to benchmark and improve their inclusion efforts: What they’re doing well, what they’re not doing so well, and what they can do to fill those gaps. I see Peakon being the tool that, among many other things, creates an industry standard around how we measure, report and deliver on inclusion efforts – something that is so desperately needed in this industry. 

And while Peakon has already made solid progress on diversity and inclusion internally, we can and will absolutely do more. I can see the company reaching a whole new level in the years ahead, and setting a brilliant example to the rest of the tech industry and beyond.

What’s your no 1 priority in your new role?

First and foremost, to listen and learn from the employees about the experience of working at Peakon. My role is to listen, and use a data-driven lens to develop a strategy that helps us create a more level playing field. I intend on doing a lot of listening both internally, and also with the many organisations who are using Peakon right now.

We know that diverse organisations have healthier profits. But this is bigger than that.

How do you think COVID-19 will reshape the world of work?

COVID-19 has absolutely transformed the world we live in. From a work perspective, I see a blend of remote working becoming a common occurrence moving forward, and something that organisations will more readily provide as an option for work-life flexibility. This gives us a unique opportunity to really make an impact with DE&I, because our talent pool will no longer be restricted, for example, to people living within a commutable radius of one of the offices. There will need to be significant work done to ensure remote hiring practices and onboarding work for people from all backgrounds, and this will involve reviewing hiring key risk indicators, interview practices, and more.

Those with ongoing caring responsibilities will need a continued focus too. As well as possibly having taken on additional responsibilities, they may also be working with more distractions during working hours. The division of household labour may now have shifted too, creating extra pressure. How should we understand the experiences of these people? We listen.

This pandemic has caused so much pain and bereavement. Peakon has enabled its customers to stay connected to their people, and as an organisation has also done a huge amount of work to support its employees and adapt to new ways of working. We must continue to do this and support our people in whatever way we can. And, as an organisation that partners with 1000+ companies, we must also share our lessons learned to help the wider ecosystem.

Why should DE&I be a focus for businesses? 

Simply – you cannot create a solution that works for many while only considering the voices of a few. We, as a society, cannot continue to hire diverse groups of people but only promote conformity. And what we must do is: 1) Understand the harm we ourselves may have caused through a lack of inclusive practices, 2) Understand what our users need by asking them, and 3) Using expertise, define solutions that work for society as a whole.

We know that diverse organisations have healthier profits. But this is bigger than that. We cannot, and should not, be comfortable creating solutions that create additional exclusion in the world. We must all do more, and we must do it better.

What do you really value in your life and how does that feed into your work? 

I value my family a lot: My partner (we’ve been together just over 9 years, married for 3), our dog Alfie (more on him later), my dad and my brother. I value my family ahead of my work – always. I am a huge advocate for the real need of a work-life balance, or at least the opportunity to choose if you want to have a heavier work balance, and so on. I’ve experienced burnout in the past and it was one of the worst experiences of my career. 

This feeds into how I work every day. I make it very clear what my priorities are, and unless there is an emergency, or a deadline that requires it, I am strict with my working hours. As a senior leader, this is super important too. Our behaviour is modelled throughout the organisation, and our impact should be positive. Making it clear that a work-life balance is available for everyone is really important to me.

What was your first job? And what did you learn from it that you have carried with you in your career? 

My first “proper” job was as a Software Engineer. I have a computer science degree and have always been technically minded. I utilise this background everyday in my work, extracting some of the bits that work for me – agile methodologies to continually listen, creating a solution to fill the gaps of inequity I see, or continually receiving feedback and reworking plans as needed. My background as a Software Engineer has given me a very data-centric view of how to do things, and the skills needed to analyse with rigour. 

I’m really excited to bring these skills to Peakon, both internally and in the development of our new products.

I try not to attach age milestones to things, but as someone from a poorer economic background, who grew up on free school meals, whilst being a woman of colour in an overwhelmingly white space, I never imagined I would achieve these things.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself 

I was adopted at three weeks old from Sri Lanka by an Irish couple. I’ve gone back to Sri Lanka and found my biological birth mother. If you search my name, you’ll see lots of news stories on it as it went viral. There was a hot-line for my search and (unfortunately) the media videoed our reunion. Interesting nonetheless.

Also, our dog was the ring bearer at our wedding. That went viral too!

Through our ‘Be You Be More’ value, we encourage everyone to bring their full selves to work, including hidden talents. What hidden talent do you have that might surprise us?

I always say I’m an incredibly boring person that does really exciting things. I actually don’t think I have any hidden talents. But I’ve worked really hard, and now have enough confidence to say that if I have a talent, you’ll hear about it. 

When it comes to your career, do you have any regrets? 

I try to consider the mistakes I’ve made as opportunities, and times when I have learnt something new about myself. It’s a chance to learn what not to do if I come across a similar situation again. I don’t have regrets because I am where I am now because of any curveballs.

What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of?

Writing for Forbes and signing a book deal before the age of 30. I try not to attach age milestones to things, but as someone from a poorer economic background, who grew up on free school meals, whilst being a woman of colour in an overwhelmingly white space, I never imagined I would achieve these things.

I never believed someone like me would be an international, multi-award winning Global leader, who provides leadership insight on a platform like Forbes. Or that I would have my first book coming out right after my 30th birthday. I’m pretty proud of that.

Read more about Sheree’s appointment here.