Sheree Atcheson talks Demanding More, Racism & Inclusivity

DESIblitz spoke exclusively with global diversity and inclusion leader, Sheree Atcheson, about her debut book, ‘Demanding More’ and equality.

Sheree Atcheson talks Demanding More, Racism & Inclusivity - f1

"A timely and urgent call to action."

Multi-award winner and inclusivity enthusiast, Sheree Atcheson, has released her groundbreaking debut book Demanding More (2021).

Listed as one of the UK’s ‘Top Most Influential Women in Tech’, the book aims to teach readers about how deliberate exclusion has been in systems and society.

Backed up with data and an analytical approach, Sheree hopes the book emphasises the demand for sustainable change.

The foundations of Demanding More stem from Sheree’s upbringing and experiences within her field.

Adopted from Sri Lanka by her Irish parents at the fragile age of 3 weeks, she felt the full force of exclusion in a dominant white society.

Persevering and achieving an overly impressive career in tech, Sheree used her unfortunate experiences of racism to examine the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

The reality and struggle of working in a white male environment catapulted Sheree’s motivation to incite change.

Her ambitions led to the expansion of Women Who Code. This an international non-profit organisation dedicated to helping women in tech.

Sheree’s remarkable work ethic along with her honourable values has led to the culmination of Demanding More. 

DESIblitz spoke exclusively with Sheree about the state of the tech industry, addressing racial tension and her vision for the future.

Why did you choose to share your personal experiences with racism and sexism?

Shree Atcheson talks debut book Demanding More & Inclusivity

I chose to share my experience because they’re my experiences.

People do not exist in the world in a vacuum for the most part and sharing my own personal background is key to helping others understand my perspectives.

Alongside sharing how I am also ensuring I listen to experiences outside of my own.

Experiences shape our values, morals and everything in between.

Have women of colour living in Ireland ever reached out to you to discuss their experiences with racism?

Women of colour around the world have reached out to me to share their experiences of racism, and yes, some have been from Ireland.

Ireland is a wonderful place, but that doesn’t mean that it also doesn’t have racism in the same way many places do.

There are regular occurrences of “othering”, of being asked where you’re really from and the consistent awareness of being “the only” in an overwhelmingly white space.

“Many women of colour in Ireland share that experience.”

Was there ever a time you felt like giving up?

Shree Atcheson talks debut book Demanding More & Inclusivity

Of course, who hasn’t? People are human and energy is finite. It’s important to recognise that.

Certainly, earlier in my career, I’ve had many thoughts of giving up due to resistance (especially when that resistance was from senior women when I was junior).

But I continued to push through because 1) I am an incredibly driven and determined person and 2) no one gets to decide what I do or don’t do, with the exception of myself.

How can the technology industry encourage more women of colour to study and work in this field?

The tech industry must address the inherent and ingrained bias which exists in the industry, in the products it creates and in the ideologies it upholds.

White supremacy isn’t just insurrections at the U.S. capital and outward hate speech.

It’s the ability to know that you’re accepted (or that you won’t be accepted) because of your ethnicity.

It’s known that the solutions developed for society have been tested and considered with your user needs in mind and so on.

The tech industry must recognise the harm it has caused, so as it can move forward positively, with everyone in mind.

You say many people become defensive when discussing racial/gender privilege. Why is that?

Shree Atcheson talks debut book Demanding More & Inclusivity

Because it’s uncomfortable.

It’s difficult to reckon that your life could have been harder because of X, Y or Z because it unearths the view that you’ve had things easier, even if things have been difficult for you personally.

For me, privilege is nuanced and intricate, and all too often, people take a hard view of it being 1 or 0, this or that, and it isn’t.

“That’s why privilege is such a huge focus of Demanding More.”

What would you say to companies who believe diversity is not needed?

To wake up and start living in the real world.

Diversity of teams, businesses and leadership create better solutions because it brings together different perspectives and ideas onto the one problem or solution.

Without that, we create solutions in an echo chamber. And society is not an echo chamber, so solutions are not fit for purpose.

The book is useful for companies and CEO’s, but can employees also learn from this?

Shree Atcheson talks debut book Demanding More & Inclusivity

Yes, the book is for everyone – regardless of whether they’re in leadership or not, in business or not, etc.

I wrote this book for everyone (even those who also view themselves as experts in this field) because I wanted it to be accessible and to break down complex issues in a way that we all could understand.

So, we could all start Demanding More and be part of the change.

What led you to start writing about diversity and tackling racism in the workplace?

I began my career as a software engineer and moved into D&I leadership relatively quickly due to my expansion leadership of Women Who Code, the world’s largest non-profit globally dedicated to women in tech.

Having a varied lived experience alongside an unexpected professional background gives me a unique insight into these challenges and how we must address them.

I write about what we need to address because I feel like new perspectives and new approaches are needed.

“My work is accessible, easy to understand without masking the complex topic at hand.”

For me, that’s key. And it’s why I write about this.

What advice would you give a young woman who wants to pursue a career in technology?

Shree Atcheson talks debut book Demanding More & Inclusivity

Get ready for an exciting journey, always listen to your own voice and be prepared for bumps in the road.

Whilst those bumps may be frustrating and stressful, keep your eye on the end game.

Remember that working in this field allows you to shape and create solutions that affect so many people and societies.

Doing that is incredibly exciting and rewarding!

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I want readers to take away actionable insights to start Demanding More.

I want them to recognise how nuanced this work is.

Regardless of whether you’re from an underrepresented background or not and to be able to take that knowledge and use it to implement powerful, sustainable change.

Listed as one of the Financial Times’ ‘Summer Books of 2021’, Demanding More has been a monumental hit with readers.

Raju Narisetti, the founder of financial Indian newspaper Mint, wonderfully describes the novel as:

“A timely and urgent call to action.”

“Atcheson makes a compelling case on moving diversity and inclusion from a ‘nice to have’ and strive-towards target, to a must-have imperative and achievable goal.”

The recognition of this insightful book is undoubtedly deserving as it personifies Sheree’s experiences, circumstances and vision.

Her inspiring aspirations and profound expertise have led to superb contributions to notable companies such as Forbes and Deloitte.

In other words, the tech industry is on high alert to evolve and innovate its standards.

Demanding More is another milestone in Sheree’s pursuit of change and inclusivity. Experience the uniqueness of this book here.

Balraj is a spirited Creative Writing MA graduate. He loves open discussions and his passions are fitness, music, fashion, and poetry. One of his favourite quotes is “One day or day one. You decide.”

Images courtesy of Sheree Atcheson & Kogan Page.