Q&A Series: How One Engineer Imagines Access All Areas (I/2)

Bella Ikpasaja
7 min readJul 9, 2021


Image: Courtesy of Zebedee Models

Welcome to my Q&A Series. It’s great to have you here!

I have a passion for creating employee-led organisational cultures where everyone can feel their productive best and collectively thrive. During my last role, advising For-Profit and Not-for-Profit clients about occupational safety I became curious about the often-overlooked intersectional nature of barriers experienced by employees. In particular Ethnicity, LGBTQ+, Gender, Socioeconomic status, Disability, Neuro-Diversity, and Age.

Starting this summer, my Q&A series will consider key factors behind these barriers; explore opportunities, with an aim to providing insights and solutions for business leaders, investors, hiring managers and employees. The events of 2020 undoubtedly sparked a reckoning for brands and organisations pledging and seeking new ways to create healthy working environments, social impact as well as grappling with the Climate emergency.

Over the next weeks and months, I will share interviews with Founders, Writers, Organisational Psychologists, and Senior Practitioners on the topic of Inclusion and Diversity at work, in entrepreneurship, and for future careers.

Today’s Q&A features Jo Stansfield, A *STEM Advocate and Founder of Inclusioneering, a social enterprise specialising in Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) for technology and engineering sectors. In Part I of our Q&A, Jo shares her experience as an Engineer as well as insight from Organisational Psychology to explore opportunities for Inclusion in Technology and Creative industries, explaining how Agile methodologies can be useful toolkits.

*Science, Tech, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

Enjoy Part I of our Q&A..📜

Are you an ‘Auditory Learner’? Hear our Q&A from 21 seconds!

What inspired the creation of Inclusioneering?

Inclusioneering is a social enterprise specialising in solutions and consultancy for technology and engineering organisations. Our vision is to ensure technology is built by, and equally benefits, every member of society, advancing humanity to a more prosperous, fair future.

Inclusioneering has grown from a passion that I’ve nurtured over many years. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is my second career. Before this, I worked for almost 20 years in technology and engineering roles.

I built my first career making enterprise software for industries including aerospace, automotive, energy and infrastructure. None of these fields are exactly known for their diversity. They are all male-dominated, but early in my career this was never an issue for me. I loved the work, and the people I worked with.

Then a nagging question planted itself when I had children, and I realised two things. Firstly, I met other women. During my adult life up until then, most people I knew were men. I learned how much unconscious assumption I’d had about women, their interests, and their skills. I had thought I wasn’t like other women, then for the first time I met groups of women with similar professional interests to me. It got me questioning — where are all the women at work?

What was your experience of the workplace after becoming a parent?

I found that my colleagues and managers made assumptions about me, and their expectations had changed. I was still the ambitious person I’d always been, but the way I felt didn’t match the identity others gave me.

I began to see the systemic nature of the challenges faced by women in male-dominated roles. I got involved in initiatives to increase diversity, and I grew to understand how gender diversity is just the tip of the iceberg. The challenges faced by minority or marginalised groups vary, however impacts to those that are represented in the tech and engineering workforces is similar — with low representation that falls even further in roles the higher the seniority level. This structure is often rooted in stereotyped expectations, bias and discrimination. There are many dimensions to diversity, and it is important to recognise intersectionality of identities encompassing gender, ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+, neurodiversity, age, socioeconomic class, and more. So many talented people are overlooked, and opportunities lost. This impacts not only those individuals, but with so many voices missing, it impacts the ability of the industry to reach its full potential for innovation and growth.

I wanted to make change. To learn more and give myself the skills that I needed, I signed up for a Masters degree in Organisational Psychology. I spent my final year researching gender and racial diversity in tech teams, and was able to pin-point key differences in experience that relate to progression at work. It’s from this research, and my own lived experience, that I have founded Inclusioneering.

How do you see increased diversity impacting business outcomes?

There have been many studies by firms like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group that have been able to link increased diversity to improved business performance. In 2019, McKinsey found the top-quartile gender diverse firms are 15% more likely to see higher financial returns than the median, and the most ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform the least diverse.

But many of these results are correlations, rather than clearly showing causation. They cannot show whether these firms do great work as a result of their diversity, or that they attract more diversity because they are doing great work.

However, moving away from the financial benefits, other studies have been able to show how more diversity leads to greater innovation, resilience, improved decision-making and customer satisfaction. But diversity can’t lead to this all by itself. In fact, simply having a diverse team may make it harder for people to work together. There also needs to be inclusion within the team, where everybody is empowered to contribute and have their voices heard equally.

Building this type of environment requires transparency, trust, empathy, genuine collaboration and reflection.

What are some effective ways to boost STEM skills in the UK for underserved communities?

Image: courtesy of TONL

The best example I have seen is a programme called Tech Up, that’s for women from under-served communities across the North of England and the Midlands. It’s led by the phenomenal Professor Sue Black OBE of Durham University, in partnership with leading academics from Nottingham University, Edge Hill University and York Universities, as well as Industry partners. It is a 6 month guided programme to retrain women in technology subjects, helping them to access entry-level roles or gain promotion in their current careers.

Much of the learning is remote, but with four residential weekends I was able to join the first cohort in 2019 and support in person as an industry partner. I can honestly say I’ve never been in a techy space like it, and I feel so privileged to have been there. The atmosphere was exciting, electric, and full of inspiration — unlike any other tech group I’d ever attended. Not only were all the participants women, those from the least served communities were given preference — women from ethnic minority groups, members of LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities or dependents. The accomplishments of many of the women since are a continuing source of inspiration to me. They have gained roles and promotions in technology firms, won prestigious awards, launched businesses, and won scholarships. Witnessing this diverse group of women go on to such success with their tech careers highlights the huge potential that is out there, and the things that can be accomplished when people are empowered to achieve their dreams.

🔎 You can find more information about the programme at https://techupwomen.org/

What shifts are you observing that could play out over the next 5 years?

There are two trends I am seeing. The first is that events of the past year and a half have underscored the need for DEI in workplaces. Stark inequalities have been exposed due to both COVID and the horrific acts of hatred we have witnessed, and many organisations are responding with increased commitment to building inclusive and equitable cultures. I see this shift accelerating, not only as candidates increasingly expect this from prospective employers, but also as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) commitments become the expectation from corporate boards and investors.

The other shift I am seeing is in the understanding of the social impact of tech. Digital transformation is now ubiquitous. On the one hand, this is one of the things I love about tech — with tools that can be put to use to innovate across every industry, meaning tech skills can give rise to a huge variety of career opportunities. But the downside and risk comes through the increasing automation of decisions that impact people, particularly by artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous algorithms.

These algorithms are not neutral, value-free tools — rather, they embed the worldview of their creators, and are trained on data from past decisions and evaluations. The risk of bias is ever-present, and when these systems are used as gatekeepers for access to finance, healthcare, employment, in surveillance systems, predictive policing and more, we find the impacts of these biases have negative consequences for the sections of society that are already disadvantaged, reinforcing systemic inequalities. As an example, earlier this year Uber’s facial recognition system was found to fail more frequently for dark-skinned drivers, with the consequence to deny them the work assignments upon which they relied.

✨ That’s the end of Part I!

Hopefully it sparked ideas for you. What did you think? And what comments, ideas or inspiring initiatives would you like to share about Inclusion in your industry, or those outlined above?

📌 Check out Part II of our Q&A.

Thank you for reading, listening and sharing.





Bella Ikpasaja

By day, consult w/ leadership teams in toxic/thriving workplaces on EQUITY+SAFETY |Develop employee-led policies |Humanise Corp Gov🎶| By night, VC swotting 🔎