Guest: Steven AJ Cox Date: March 28, 2018
Guest Company: Fujitsu
Debra Ruh: Hello everyone. This is Debra Ruh and you’re watching or listening to Human Potential at Work. Today, I am being joined by Steven Cox, who’s today is in London but was in Japan just a couple of days ago. I thought I was a world traveler. It’s hard to know where Steven is going to be.
Steven is representing the pretty amazing brand, Fujitsu. I want to make sure I said that right Steven. So, welcome to the program.
Steven AJ Cox: That’s great. Thanks so much for the welcome Debra and it’s lovely to be able to spend time with you today.
Debra: Yes. And glad to see that you’re home in London for a change.
Steven: For a change. Yes.
Debra: So, Steven, do you mind just telling the viewers a little bit about Fujitsu but also about who is Steven Cox?
Steven: Yes. Sure. So, in a nutshell, Fujitsu, we’re a global IT services; a digital services company. We’ve got about 155,000 people around the world; about 100,000 of those are based in Japan and the rest in all of the different regions of countries around the planet. So we deliver services to all types of different customers; from retail customers, to exploration companies, to government departments and so on and we also have a products business that delivers high end IT systems including things like AI and quantum computing. So we’re quite an all-encompassing brand from a technology perspective.
For personal perspective; if you like a little brief info about me. So, I’ve been in the IT industry mostly with Fujitsu for just over 22 years now. I joined as a programmer. So I used to work on military messaging systems. Prior to that, I actually worked on military submarine command control systems as well. And through a variety of different roles; I managed to navigate different career paths.
So, I’ve gone from team leaderships, through design authorities, I’ve run some of our largest bids and campaigns and I was running a number of our larger business areas including up until relatively recently our tech’s department business and only about a year ago, I was running our public sector and transport business. So that’s all of the work that we have here in the UK; delivering to central government departments, local government transport authorities and so on. I’m sort of driving that from a strategic market sector point of view so engaging with all of the senior stakeholders that go with that.
And I guess a little bit of background about how I’ve ended up sort of involved in diversity and inclusion. Right now, I’m circumvent into a post as our ambassador for diversity and inclusion. So I spend a lot of time over the last year traveling around speaking to lots and lots of people in industries, specialists, experts itself, influencers and so on about what is it about diversity and inclusion that’s so important for corporates and what are the learnings that we can bestow. And what brought me to the topic is that throughout that career history that I’ve had, for about 17 years of it, I was carrying a secret and pretty much every day that I went to work, I was hiding something about myself; not sharing something and that’s a burden.
So you know, every single day when people would ask, “what have you been doing at the weekend?” or, “who you’re meeting up with?” or, “where are you going on a holiday?” I was always having to find a way to disguise what was actually going on in my life and that’s because I’m actually gay. And I came out at work in quite an emotional episode about five years ago to our HR director here in the UK. And it was a really significant moment for me.
It’s a very difficult decision to make for anybody who is hiding something about themselves. And for LGBT people, there’s sort of feeling of an irreversible decision about outing themselves. And of course it applies in so many other different context as well. We all carry something about our identity that is not necessarily visible and we have the choice to whether we reveal that or not and to sort of cope with the positive or potentially negative consequences. And so it’s a really big decision for me to come out on it and I’m really glad I did.
It has made a massive difference to my life in so many other ways. And when I did that, I sort of had two sort of mantras if you’d like. The first of which is that I wanted this my involvement to lead to some form of change and improvement so this wasn’t just a personal step. It was something about the opportunity to make the world a better place and make my corporate environment a better place. So, through doing that, we actually set up and established our LGBT network and we have a number of inclusion networks established as well. So it’s quite keen but it’s not just about LGBT but that we look at what it means to have an inclusive and an enabled empowered workplace and a workforce with that.
I’m always someone to be telling you that this was something about the internal arrangements lining up with the external narrative so that anything that we do isn’t just about the external grounds. It’s not just about the external reputation; this was about the change that we bring for our people and to keep into entirety because it’s a very authentic set of engagements. We can engage with our people within the company and with our stakeholders outside. We can make some real change happen in society; at the same time, we are developing and growing ourselves as individuals and as a corporate culture. It’s really quite important that we get the two lined up together and that’s really what’s brought me to the position I’m in now.
So, having been to the passionate amateur to put it simply in this area and trying to make change happen; I have had magnificent opportunity for the last year to really find out what other organizations and companies are doing and that types of things. It’s just… this feel left down if you like into what works well and what may not work so well and how can we all try and make progress in the workplace but also in the societies that we operate it.
Debra: Right. Right. And it’s… there are a lot of parallels between the different diversity groups including the diversity of LGBT and people with disabilities and other diversity groups. And so, I think… I know that in the community, people with disabilities a few years ago, Deb Dagit in the United States who is a disability leader, an amazing woman and she also was the chief diversity director… chief diversity officer of Merck for years and she really was saying you know, “we should pull together the disability community and LGBT and other communities and really come together to support each other because often the walks are very similar.” And that is exactly what you’ve done Steven. Because over the last year; you have really been going to these different corporations and interviewing leaders and market influencers as you said to really understand diversity inclusion but with, should I say with an emphasis on disability inclusion or were you looking at it overall diversity which either way is good. But, how were you looking at it? Because I know you reached out to me because I had a… I know about the programs in the UK that Fujitsu is doing to make sure that people with disabilities are included and they’re pretty impressive. And so the team had introduced me to you and said, “You know, he’s going to take a year to really go around the world and see what he can learn about this.” so, were you focused on diversity or were you focused on disability inclusion and LGBT? Just try to wrap it up for me a little bit more.
Steven: Yes. Sure. So… it’s a good question. So, what I’m trying to do generally is separate the concepts of diversity from inclusion. Because quite often, in the corporate sense, I hear the two being used together. Sort of diversity and inclusion as if it’s a one concept and one piece of work and I did really try and separate them.
So I talk about workforce diversity and sort of focusing on the people side of it; the way that actually we are all unique individual human beings. All of our characteristics contribute to the contributions we bring to work and the energy we bring, the ideas we have, the background we have, the insights that we have that other people may not. And the difference can be defined in so many different ways.
So, absolutely disability is sort of one of the cornerstones of those alongside with gender disparities in the workforce, alongside with LGBT, race and ethnicity but going deeper than that. Sort of into people’s backgrounds in terms of the type of social background that they may have and there are some countries that have a particular aspect, let’s say with indigenous populations that needs to be considered and so on.
So all of the ways that we become unique people with our own name and our own identity. And I separate that from inclusion and that’s why I often talk about workplace inclusions. So very much focusing on what is like to be at work, what are the systems in place, not necessarily technical systems but what’s the way of work and what’s it like around here? What’s the culture of the organization? What policies and processes do we have in place? And obviously there’s an overlap between the two but of trying to separate them a bit sometimes helps clarify.
So, that’s a long preamble to answer your question. So, in the context of the question; I’m instinctively attracted more to the idea of an inclusive workplace.
Steven: So, what is it that we need to do to create a workplace where everybody in work not just at Fujitsu but in all organizations can really be themselves, can bring their utmost, can feel really committed and passionate about the company? And of course that release these discretionary efforts and the values that we associate with diversity as well. And in order to do that, one has to have a really good understanding as to what the different types of difference are.
So, what is it that’s common between different groups? Those changes that we can introduce to one group that will actually have a benefit for multiple groups in across the organization. But also, what things are unique to individual groups so that we don’t just have a sort of group approach where we try and address things from a common denominator perspective but we really understand where there are some unique adaptations and changes. Be they physical ones in the workplace or be they more often than not are both associated with all of our mindset and the attitude we bring to work and the decisions that we take and the way in which we achieve decisions and implement the policies.
So, most definitely, disability is a really important part of that. And as you say, there are a lot of overlaps with some of the other aspect.
Steven: Particularly in the non-visible disabilities area. There are so many parallels with LGBT but also sort of religion and belief.
Steven: There’s a topic there that isn’t often discussed in the workplace. It’s another one of those where one has the choice of saying, “should I reveal the fact that I’m actually seeing a counselor at the moment because I’m appreciating that support? Should I reveal the fact that I’m a practicing Muslim or Catholic or should I reveal the fact that I’m a lesbian in the workplace and how will people respond to it?”
Debra: Right. Right. And I think sometimes it’s very difficult when you are an employer and you’re trying to make sure everybody is included because you’re trying to follow the laws and everything like that. But, it also… we know that a diverse workforce is in we’re an innovative workforce. We know that when we have a diverse workforce, people are more productive.
I don’t know if you’re familiar Steven with Jennifer Brown’s work. She is a global diversity and inclusion speaker and she’s very also part of the LGBT community and my producer, Doug Foresta who also has his own show, he also works with her on her show. So, you might be very interested in Jennifer Brown’s work. She wrote book called inclusion. And she’s saying some of the same things that I’m saying, that you’re saying as well. Because, if you look at it only from one diversity group and of course if you’re only going to pick one, okay, I’m not going to go there.
Steven: I know where you’re going.
Debra: Yes. Well, because we’re multidimensional human beings.
Steven: Yes. Yes.
Debra: Of course depending upon where we are in the world; the issues change and shift depending on culture. And as you said, with religion, you know, there are some religions that say things about LGBT. I know I was on a tweet chat the other day and we brought up LGBT and we did the hashtag and I know there’s you know LGBT… I know there are others but I’m just going to stick with the four ones and immediately, we started getting these very nasty bots coming in and saying, “the prophet says…” just real ugly mean spirited. And as fast as I could block them; they were coming which meant to me they were bots.
Debra: And I thought, “I feel really bad for the LGBT community that every time they would use this hashtag they would get all these nasty negativeness and that ‘just want to remind you Steven, you’re a sinner.’” I mean, sorry. But, I just sort of felt bad for the community because people are multidimensional people and we’re made in a billion different ways. I happen to be… I do happen to believe in God myself but I do not look down on people that don’t or… they are called god by different name but… it really is important in work what we’re all doing because, the value is that we have a diverse innovative workforce.
And I had another guest on about a year ago, Sandy Carter, she’s with Amazon now. And she talked about some really really interesting case studies of where companies forgot to have a diverse team working on a product. And the one that I’ve talked a little bit was teaching Barbie artificial intelligence where as we learned yesterday from Vint Cerf more machine learning. But teaching Barbie to respond to we’re going to assume here a little girl about employment options. And, the team was a very small team of Caucasian white young… Caucasian males. And so, a little girl would say when they rolled it out, you know, “I want to be a computer scientist.” And Barbie would say, “well, don’t you think a career in the fashion industry would work better?” or something like that.
As you can imagine, it was a real fail for Mattel. We love, we love Mattel and I love Barbies but, because they did not had a diverse team… So, would it had been wonderful if they’ve had a woman on their team that was maybe a lesbian and had a disability. I mean what’s cool about these diversity groups is one person can represent a lot of different communities because we’re multidimensional human beings. I don’t want to beat that to death; we all are in agreement there.
But, Steven, tell us a bit about your journey. I know you’ve reached out to me it seems like a year ago and you said, “I’m coming in New York Debra, who should I talk to?” so I introduced you to the amazing [John Camp] [PH 0:15:58.6]. If you don’t know about [John Camp] [PH 0:16:00.1], look him up; he’s an amazing man. And others, I believe I introduced you to Cannon and Honeywell and some companies but, I thought it was fascinating the journey that you were on and I definitely want to be where Steven because I couldn’t believe the journeys that you took over this last year. So, do you mind telling us about your journey? Some of the places you’ve visited, some of the people you’ve met. And I know there’s a book in the works. So I look forward…
Steven: Very nice.
Debra: About your book. I’m getting it out. So, tell us more… and also why would Fujitsu be so smart as to know that a journey like this will be valuable for their brand?
Steven: Sure. Yes. Well, great question so thank you. So yes, I reached out on a number of different diversity topic areas and disability was one that I was quite conscious; I wasn’t personally particularly au fait with. I’ve done some work with our disability network called SEED in Fujitsu but I was really keen to get us the broader understanding of the topic areas but also different perspectives for taking it on. Because of course, all corporates have their own culture, their own typical ways of working, their own ways of solving problems and I was really interested to find out how have other corporates addressed solving problems like this in the different culture context. How have… not just IT companies like ours but how is it being handled in financial services and how is it being handled with engagements with the UN or within social labor organization, what are the learnings that we can extract. Because we’ve been doing some fantastic work in Fujitsu but I think all organizations would acknowledge that there’s always a lot more to be done.
So rather than us making it up or just using point expertise from outside, I thought it’s really important to try and gather what the latest thinking was and to give our organization the opportunity to effectively link from. We don’t need to pick up the narrative of what company x did and started doing five years ago and go down the list and tick off the things we’ve already done and then start doing the things we’ve not yet done but actually what’s been proven to work. How has society moved and more generally, how can we work with bodies outside and charities and such organizations outside the company to actually bring about change?
And one of the things… one of the big realizations I came to is there are set of those certain criteria that many companies site as being this is either what’s made a difference, here’s how it’s been made to happen. Or, where they turn around and say, “if only we’d have this type of support and engagement; it would have made a difference.” And so, I’ve then taken those as being some of the criteria that we need to think about.
So topics such as really having senior leadership onboard that actually understand the topics; can speak to them in an authoritative way and can set the expectations in their corporate context as to what they expect of their leaders and the type of environment that their people can expect and benefit from. So, line that up then with the strategies just like any other business challenge. And so, some organizations and companies are approaching it very much from a grassroots perspective which I think is great because you get people’s energy involved. But in the absence of an overall approach; it’s going to struggle to actually get traction and make a difference.
And I come from a business perspective so… and up until 12 months ago, I was leading one of our business sectors. And so I look at this and think, “Well, you wouldn’t do anything else in a corporate without having the leadership and then the strategy. What is it you’re trying to achieve? Why are you doing this? And what are the benefits? How are we going to know what their benefits are?” and then building out from that to say, “Okay, what’s our program of work? What is it that we need to do at the strategic corporate level? What is it that we need to encourage around the rest of the business as well?” and then just treat it like a business program in many senses without it being cynically just a thing we’re implementing but to actually get going, to have knowledge where there may be gaps that need to be worked on, to work on the communications and engagements, to engage internally and externally and so on.
And through doing a lot of that thinking which has come from conversations I’ve had in places like Toronto, talking to some of the larger banks in Toronto, speaking with groups in New York who are specialist in the field, consultants as in professional consultancies but also individual consultants, speaking to corporates in Japans. So, technical companies but also non-technical companies in Japan to say, “Actually how does it work here?” and to really start to understand what makes a difference in some culture context and what doesn’t and how can one make progress in all of the areas in a way that is a combination.
You got to get a balance like sort of culturally respective and respectable but also suit to be challenging because if one just lines up with the culture at any particular place; then I suspect progress will be relatively slow. So there has to be a bit of attention there and it’s sort of finding where is the sweet spot where you’ve got people suitably engaged and you’re being respectful but at the same time raising some challenging subjects and saying, “okay, these are some things that we need to sort of think about.”
I’ve had some great conversations with some of our colleagues in Europe and understanding again some aspects of you know, how do we know what we’re doing? In some countries, we can gather all sorts of information about people and we can use that to a really positive effect and we can run programs of engagements so we know how many people with disabilities we may have so we can start to engage them directly and communicate and get a feedback and make changes that make a difference. But in other territories, we’re not actually allowed to gather that data so we need a slightly different way of engaging and reaching out in a way that allows the protections there in place for very good reasons. You know, there are very good reasons why these protections are in place but they sort of prevent in some ways. Progress been made when we’re approaching it from this sort of particularly human perspective.
And so, the learnings have definitely come from such a variety of different sources. I’ve spoken… I’ve probably spoken to about a 150 to 200 people and organizations around the world from all sorts of different sectors. And just… as you say, interviewed them; DNI, professionals, executives. You know, what’s it like? What do you do? An executive sponsor for example of a disability network or a women’s network; what is it that they bring when they don’t necessarily have the authority and the budget to specifically activate but they can tap into people’s enthusiasm and energy? So how do you create that grounds of the grassroots engagements as well as the top cover if you like the corporate strategy in the approach.
Debra: Yes. And something that you said; leadership and then strategy. I was at a meeting in Chicago few years ago and somebody in the audience had said, “Okay, alright. So, I agree, we should start hiring people with disabilities; what’s our first step?” and somebody… well, I was on the panel and somebody on the stage said, “Just start hiring people.” And I said, “You know what, I agree, go and hire people with disability; but, you’re a business. And so, you do have to have a strategy.”
And giving another plug for Jennifer Brown, Jennifer Brown talks about that a lot; that you got to have a leadership before you start talking about the strategy. If the leadership is not onboard; it’s not going to happen. and I will say also that I’ve seen ERGs (Employment Resource Groups) and they’re called different things in different places but, when leadership isn’t really behind it; it will backfire on the brand and I’ve seen that happen.
So they say, “Oh yes. You’re going to create that cute little ERG group about people with disabilities or parents with… or whatever.” And then it’s not supported by the corporate brand and then actually, people will leave. They get very disillusioned by the company. So can have a very negative impact to create an employee resource group when it’s perceived that the corporation and the leaders are not supporting it.
So, you do have to have leadership and you have to have a strategy. Sometimes you can start with the strategy which part of it can be… make sure the leadership is truly engaged and probably your leaders are multidimensional human beings too. And so, the reality is they themselves are part of some of these diversity groups or somebody in the family are part of these diversity groups. Also, our producer behind the scenes reminding me of Kenji Yoshino’s work on downplaying the marginalized aspect of our identity. And you know, we’ve said a lot in our field the disability field, “Focus on the ability not the disabilities.”
Yesterday once again had Vint Cerf on the show and he’s the father, one of the fathers of the internet, how cool is that? Let’s talk about his ridiculous accomplishments to society. Oh, by the way, he also is a member of the community of people with disabilities because he has significant hearing loss at birth and his wife was born… became deaf at three years old but what does that have to do any way with anything? Let’s focus on what Vint brings to the world but at the same time, because we’re in a time in the history where we’re trying to decide; is one group bad or better or we’re figuring out how to stop marginalizing people and disenfranchising people.
It is important and I think, if people are comfortable, like what you did Steven which took a lot of courage to come out. And we sometimes use… we steal those words from your community and we’ll say to our community, “come out.” If you have an invisible disability; come out. But at the same time, I’m not silly or naïve about that because the reality is there can be repercussions from coming out. However we want to use that word; whether you want to use it from the LGBT, whether you want to say…
I was at a conference at United Nations ILO conference in the United States and a woman on stage said that she’d come out a few years ago about her MS because she didn’t want to tell people she had MS because they didn’t want to… she didn’t want them to look at her differently and think she wasn’t capable and she was a senior member now of this team. So, that term can be used in different diverse groups. I mean, sometimes you know who we are. If you can see me, I am a woman and so… but I think, the work that you’re doing and that others are doing to focus once again, if the best thing for a corporate brand is to hire a diverse workforce, we know that. You are not going to be as transformative, transformational, innovative, productive, you’re not going to be a place that the millennials want to come and work or the generation after the millennials. They want to work for corporations that make a difference and that are giving back to their society. So, I think that’s why the work that you’re doing through the leadership of Fujitsu was very impressive to me. So…
Steven: Thank you for that. I think you’ve raised some really good points which I’ll just sort of pick up on if I can and that’s the power that role models can have. So, getting to a point where certainly senior executives but not only senior executives; people throughout an organization feel that they can share their story whatever their story may be. You know, it’s really empowering for other people in the organization to be able to see that senior women and that there is an opportunity for women to be successful here or if one does have a disability that actually doesn’t matter in a practical sense for doing one’s job and for being successful in the company.
But I think, all of us would recognize that in many societies in many communities, there are various different versions of stigma and biased and what we are really doing in many of these conversations is just trying to create a lot of dialogue. A lot of this is about understanding and the more that we can relate to these different situations and to different people and realize quite how much in common there is between those. The opportunity for us to be biased against each other and to have a stigma starts to reduce and the way that companies could enable that comes across in so many different ways. and I think, I’ll say mental health is one in particular but that comes in from massive amount of stigma and unfairly so obviously. And corporates will be so much better off if they really did understand the mental health of their people.
I was on an event yesterday actually and it was brought to life by somebody saying, “if you talk about somebody who is physically healthy or you talk about somebody’s physical health, you immediately… well, mostly think of people you know, athletes, being healthy and not being ill at any particular point in time; your mind goes to a positive perspective of what physical health means. But then when you say mental health; for some reason, one immediately starts to think of a negative. One doesn’t think of somebody who is sort of mentally healthy in any sense; one immediately thinks of people who may have mental health conditions and you start to think about negative connotations.”
So why is it that physical health brings to mind a positive mind and mental health somehow doesn’t? and so, turning the language in talking about mental ill health to be really clear that that’s what we’re talking about and therefore, that’s what needs to be thought about in that way. So just tweaking the language to realize quite what conjures out in people’s minds when we talk about these topics I think is really important as well.
Debra: Yes. Great. Great point. Great point. So, what’s next for you Steven? And also, I want to make sure that people know how to get hold of you. So, tell us about what’s next for you and then also, can we find you on social media? You know, tell us a little bit how the viewers can track your work.
Steven: Sure. Sure. Cool, thank you. So, you can probably tell that I’m really passionate about this topic so I’m really keen to continue to do so. The perspective I bring on it is very much connecting it with the business strategy. So, I position this within Fujitsu to say what are we about as a company? What are we trying to achieve in terms of our global narrative? What are we doing in terms of cocreating with customers? What are we doing to have good quality customer relationships and to research and develop and innovate and create? And all of those require diversity. And so, in the context of technology that we are providing and in the context of people with disabilities; having an insight into the technology that we’re deploying, the way we’re delivering it, the way we’re sourcing is so so important and so easily missed out unless we really think about it, unless we involve people who can bring that perspective to it.
So I’m really sort of passionate about the topic and I’m planning to continue to work in this area to connect the business strategy, enabling what the corporate wants to achieve for their customers and for their shareholders and their staff and all their stakeholders with what it means for the human capital of our company. So, what is it about our people that we need to get right to make sure we enable our strategy? Because that’s a bit of a try it fraise. You know, we used to sometimes say that people are our single largest assets which is a great way of objectifying people but it’s also a great way just aligning them at financial value and a number but taking the essence of that which is to say, what keeps corporates alive? What keeps them relevant to the communities they’re in? And how do they support the communities that they’re operating in but also the ones that they serve maybe remotely? And it’s all about people. And so, what is it that corporates need to do to really focus in on what they’re doing to create a great diverse workforce and a really inclusive workplace. So that’s what I’m sort of really passionate about.
So, just on the social media stuff; I’m sort of on LinkedIn, you can find me there, Steven AJ Cox. I’m on Twitter of course so @StevenAJC and I’ve got microblog which I play with every now and again which is at stevenajcox.com. And I’m probably looking for some guidance from you Debra at some point actually on how I can make that more meaningful and useful but that’s a subject for another day I suspect.
Debra: We will turn the volume up. That’s when… we love telling the positive stories about individuals and brands that are making a difference in the world. so, you… you know, I had the pleasure of and getting to have dinner with you, Susan Scott-Parker and dr. Christopher Lee in Geneva, that was so much fun, and learn more and more about your work. So, I’m just very impressed with what you’re doing and we want to continue to hear from you Steven.
So, thank you so much for being on the program today and we will tag you in the link and we’ll make sure that we put some of the information on the website as well so that people can find Steven S-T-E-V-E-N AJ Cox. C-O-X. But, Steven, thank you so much for being on the program today. Talk to everybody later. Bye-bye.
Steven: Thanks so much Debra.
You’ve been listening to Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization visit RuhGlobal.com. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future epsiodes, go to itunes and subscribe to Human Potential at Work. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.