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The tech sector’s responsibility for greater diversity: Tory Kerley on the values needed to improve equality in Northern Ireland’s technology industry

  • The world has come a long way since Tory Kerley interviewed for a General Manager position at a County Antrim department store in 1994. During that interview, Tory was quizzed on both her religious denomination and her plans for starting a family before she was considered as suitable for the role. 
    Speaking now as Head of People at Synergy Learning, the provider of world-class learning technology to a global customer base, Tory tells Sync NI about the need for businesses to establish a strong set of shared values to ensure inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Tory also explains the importance of living out these values to drive change across the tech sector. 
    “At Synergy Learning, we focus on outcomes rather than pure process,” says Tory, “and while we proudly champion diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have always felt that our stance as a company is better reflected in our 1team culture than by tick box exercises or form filling. My role as Synergy Learning is, after all, Head of People - not HR, teams, individuals or resources.
    “1team is our key value at Synergy Learning, meaning that our collective efforts are focused by a common mission and vision into which the rest of our values flow. Synergy Learning is a group of diverse and talented individuals that meld together to create a strong and purposeful workforce. We are all part of 1team regardless of background, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, or ability.”
    “Sadly, our society in Northern Ireland hasn’t always been as inclusive as it is now. When I was told during a job interview in the early nineties that my potential employer ‘wouldn’t want me skipping off on maternity leave as soon as I was given the job’, that was just the norm in business at the time.”
    “We might have come a long way since then, it would be naive to believe that Northern Ireland has made a full transition from the toxic culture that was once more interested in community colours than the quality of CVs. Inequality wasn’t just confined to communities. Not too long ago, females weren’t viewed as a good investment for businesses, and we still have a very long journey ahead of us to make Northern Irish businesses great places to work for every member of our society.
    “Irrespective of our company culture, Synergy Learning’s workforce is currently predominantly white, without physical disability and male. We always employ the most appropriately qualified person for a job, but it is frustrating for us not to see that diversity amongst interviewees. However, until women and minority groups are being given equal access to engage with education and career opportunities in tech, this won’t change in our sector. 
    “To solve the issue of educational inequality, I believe the only answer is outreach. As businesses, we have a responsibility to act as role models and engage with education as early as possible. At Synergy Learning, we need to live out our internal values and shout loud and clear externally about tech being a sector where all are welcome and can thrive. The learning technologies we offer will undoubtedly widen educational landscapes too, offering new methods for individuals to engage with educational content in their own safe spaces.” 
    Tory concludes: “Synergy Learning has always employed people from across the UK and beyond, but we have recently adopted a remote-first working model. I see this as a golden opportunity to increase diversity in our team, given the flexibility this affords for individuals and geographical agnosticism removing all traditional barriers.
    “Our focus is to bolster the values we hold internally with the actions that pour from them. We want to use our teamwork skills and learning technologies to remove barriers and make tech the most accessible sector it can be for the whole of society.”

    This article first appeared in the Winter 2021/22 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to receive future digital editions here.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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