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What every business can learn from the start-ups tackling inequality

27 Nov 2019
Kerry Small 2019

Kerry Small

Commercial and Operations Director, Vodafone Business
Member of the board, Vodafone Business Ventures

In my experience, changing a culture from the bottom up, with technology as a tool, has always delivered the best results in any transformation. I believe the same is true for diversity in business.

I feel even more strongly about this after meeting the finalists of Vodafone Institute’s F-Lane program, a seven-week accelerator to support digital ventures that empower women as part of their business.

From over 280 submissions across 62 countries, five were chosen as finalists to receive a €12,000 investment each alongside on-going coaching, mentoring and a chance to build their knowledge and networks at a two-day event in our London office.

Putting a heart into business strategy

Whether you are a team of two or a multinational business, there is always something to be learned from one another. What impressed me most was the customer-centricity and agile approach to problem-solving that these finalists use on a daily basis.  

It was refreshing to see that our finalists were so customer-focused and ready to adapt – something that businesses of all sizes need to remember. As well as this, their business foundations are built on a passion to make a difference to society. This is clear both in person and through the care they put into their work.

The technology itself is secondary to the customer need – which is where it should be.

Their strategy is always to start by outlining the societal mandate before applying the right technology. For example, Together for Her aims to improve the relationship between doctors and patients in India. And while it does this through technology, the measurement of success always comes back to a human metric: how much more time are we giving the patient with their doctor?

But what stood out most to me about our finalists, which I think we can all learn from, is that these businesses are truly change-makers: they don’t just say, they do.

We all agree that making money is important for the sustainability of a business, but their drive to make a difference is what really inspires them. Just like Priscilla from Developers in Vogue, whose team has trained and placed more than 200 women into coding and software development roles in top tech brands.

It is easy for a business to be vocal in its support for societal causes, but it is a lot harder to do something about it. This is the reason I found our finalists so motivating and why other businesses will too.

Coding bootcamp experience, hosted by Together for Her in partnership with Stanbic Bank

Video: Coding bootcamp experience, hosted by Together for Her in partnership with Stanbic Bank

We can all make a difference

What these start-ups show is that change from the bottom up has a more significant, longer-lasting impact. When coming from a broad range of backgrounds, diversity and inclusion becomes a natural by-product of that change.

F-Lane is one way that Vodafone can make a difference. In this case by making a positive impact to diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions.

Another way is to make it easier for people to live a fulfilling life outside of work. That is why we have implemented a refreshed global parental policy that makes a big difference for any new parent or guardian – not just women.

Initiatives like this make it easier to enable a good range of diversity across board level and in our teams, enabling people to return to work and to bring their knowledge back with them.

This makes staff happier and helps retains talent:  more importantly it is also just the right thing to do as a responsible, purpose-led business.

But as our finalists show, there is always more to be done.

In my business that means placing an even greater focus on inclusivity, reducing the organisational layers that can make it difficult for employees to share ideas. We want people to feel valued because of their innovation and skill-set, not their job title.

It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if we come to work determined to make a difference, just like the F-Lane finalists.

group photo
Kerry Small and the F-Lane finalists of 2019

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