Myra Cooke: Transforming Workforce and Workplace through a Strategic Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Approach

The Most Inspiring Women in D&I to Follow 2023

As the Chief Talent Officer, Myra Cooke has guided Scott Logic, a technology consultancy, to adopt a more strategic diversity and inclusion (D&I) approach. This is transforming its workforce and workplace culture, increasing diversity of thinking – the bedrock of creativity and innovation. Scott Logic has always prided itself on attracting and retaining top talent, and these changes have further boosted its performance and competitiveness.

At Scott Logic, Myra looks after the entire people journey. Her team’s focus is on attracting individual talent to the business, recruiting them into the business, and looking after their development and growth in order to retain them. Myra and her team also oversee the internal infrastructure set up around people’s experiences, and all the benefits that come with that, in addition to working on D&I initiatives.

Myra, a firm believer in the concept of servant leadership, likes to serve the space she is operating in through her leadership skills. But, according to her, it is not enough to serve; servant leaders must be convincing, confident, and committed to the cause so that others follow them. And she has always strived to be a good role model who makes a difference.

D&I Is Critical for Software Development

Scott Logic works predominantly with financial services and public sector organisations. Its workforce is largely composed of developers, who build technology solutions for its clients. Myra says that their team of intelligent individuals resolves complex issues by building effective solutions; for example, the identity system they built for the Scottish government and the trading platforms they have built for investment banking.

In recent years, Scott Logic has increased its focus on women in tech. After she stepped into her role at the company, Myra worked out how she wanted to bring diverse talent into the business – the talent attraction process – and ensure their growth. She also initiated a discussion on how they could bring greater diversity in the workplace and build an inclusive culture. “The diversity and inclusion strategy we put in place starts with attracting diverse talent,” Myra says.

Several research reports have shown that diverse teams with diverse ways of thinking are more creative, innovative, and impactful compared to homogenous teams. So, when Myra is looking at the formation of teams, she takes into account the level of diversity in them – diverse in terms of culture, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. She points out that diversity and inclusion are critical for the work they do and the solutions they provide to their clients. “It is because the more diverse we are, the more innovative we are. And innovation and solutioning are key for us,” she adds. “That is why D&I is a big part of our agenda.”

Adopting a Systematic D&I Approach

When Myra joined the company in November of 2021, Scott Logic had no well-defined D&I strategy or roadmap, but the thinking had started in terms of its importance. Myra says that they had begun to discuss why diversity and inclusion were important and the need to be more intentional and systematic about it.

She came in and helped shape the company’s thinking and adopted a more systemic approach to diversity. The first thing she did was determine where they were as an organisation and what they needed to do to build out a strategy that focused on three pillars: workforce, workplace, and marketplace. Myra explains that the workforce is about how to bring in individuals from diverse backgrounds, while the workplace, a critical part of their D&I initiatives, involves culture, enablement, and education. And, marketplace, according to her, is about how they want to present themselves externally – in terms of how they contribute to society and their social impact as an organisation. They wanted to ultimately show themselves to be an inclusive workforce.

There was an external aspect, but Myra and her team’s work mainly focused on the workforce and workplace. “And underpinning all of that, I had to look at what were the KPIs and measures we wanted to integrate in terms of our thinking, so that we could measure the trajectory of our strategy’s success over a period of time,” she says. “We were able to address various things, such as the number of diverse candidates we are attracting to the business, the gender pay gap and the improvements around that, and women leaders and women coming in for senior roles.”

For Myra and her team, D&I is not a separate project or a separate process. It is an integral approach that is a part of the fabric of an entire organisation. And Scott Logic’s D&I approach has now become more systematic. “If you go through our processes and policies, how we train our people, programs we build together, you will notice that every single thing that we do is viewed through the lens of inclusion,” Myra says. “We can now sense the change within the company.”

The Starting Point

Myra has extensive experience in the D&I space. She has championed diversity and inclusion since the beginning of her career, driven by what she witnessed while growing up under apartheid in South Africa. In that era of racial segregation, black people and people from other race groups were denied the political and economic rights that white people enjoyed. The non-white South Africans were also forced to live separately from white people. Born into segregation, Myra, too, lived in a segregated society and went to schools where only Indians studied, and later enrolled in colleges and universities that admitted only Indian students. She recalls going to beaches allocated to Indians. “That is a very unusual way to grow up,” Myra says. “It’s quite complex and not many people can relate to it.”

One of the most vivid memories of her primary school is that of teachers taking her and other students out of the school and into the sports ground. They all had to march around the school, holding placards that said, “We want equal rights.” She was six at the time.

“At that point, my eyes were opened to the fact that there was something different and there was something I was not aware of. I had lived in a very safe community with my mom, dad, and my brother. We were surrounded by a very strong community of people who looked after us,” Myra says. “If I stepped out of my space and looked at the country as a whole, it wasn’t that great, but my space was safe and I was happy.”

Later, when she became a university student, Myra became a bit more vocal, unlike her parents who were much more suppressed. She got involved with the student representative council. She and other students of the council were always pushing and protesting for equal rights. “I was a bit of an activist for equality,” Myra says. “That was my starting point.”

“The lens of diversity and inclusion is unpinned by what I see as part of my DNA. It’s a part of my values, thinking and passion, and my drive for everything I do,” she adds. “It’s because I grew up in a suppressed society, and I know what it can do to thinking and potential.”

So, whenever Myra steps into a new role, she always looks at it from the perspective of how can she and her team create an opportunity and make a difference to thinking, and be more equal and fair to people around them. “That is mostly based on my experiences from the time I was born,” Myra says.

Changing People’s Thinking 

Over the years, Myra has faced a number of challenges. For her, the biggest challenge has been people’s thinking, which, in the D&I space, is linked to their level of understanding and knowledge of people from different backgrounds. Myra says that as people are contained in their thinking, it is difficult to get them to step out of their comfort zones and engage in conversations about things they cannot relate to or lack personal experience in. “So, the biggest challenge was to get people involved in conversations or to expand their understanding and knowledge in this space,” she adds.

Therefore, every time Myra thinks about D&I, it stems from education and having an open mind to what is out there and what makes a small difference. “Unless we make the effort to understand, we can’t make any change, and the initiatives are not going to be sustainable as well,” she points out. “Opening up mindset is actually the biggest blockage as well as an opportunity because you can do it. It is not impossible.”

Women Leaders Require Resilience

Myra has found it difficult to thrive as a woman in leadership. All leaders, she says, face challenges in the form of difficult individuals or micro-inequities that impact what they have to do and can do. But a woman in a leadership position has to have a level of resilience to navigate this journey. “That is because a lot of the time, I’m mostly in rooms with men, and many times, I’ve been the only woman in the room,” Myra says. “So, it’s really important for women leaders to have a voice.”

She also points out that imposter syndrome is really a thing. As she is surrounded by highly intelligent software developers and technologists, she initially felt pressure to add value. “I always used to think, ‘Oh, My Goodness, how am I going to contribute at this level, as these people are super intelligent’,” Myra recalls.

She also points out that men sometimes are louder in the room, and women leaders tend to suppress themselves. “I have personally done that many times,” she says, adding that a woman leader should make sure that her voice is heard in the room.

Myra has learned through experience that women have to work harder at having their voices heard and showcase their capabilities more. They also have a tougher time proving themselves. “So, mentally we have a bigger shift to make as women based on history and based on where we are coming from and where we are going,” Myra says.

However, being an optimist, she does not allow challenges to affect her. “I always believe that regardless of what you are facing, blockades or challenges, there is a way around it if you look just hard enough and try hard enough,” she says. And she remains optimistic about the future.

Discovering and Developing Potential

In the initial part of her career, Myra had some great role models. They inspired her to become better and more successful and make a difference in other areas, not just at work. Now, she has become a healthy role model for emerging leaders who are growing in their journeys. In her view, leadership is primarily about discovering and developing the potential of others. Her definition of success also echoes that view.

As a leader, success, for her, means “looking at the whole human being – the entire self – and then drawing that essence and sparks of potential that you see within those individuals and letting them thrive and flourish in the organisations.”

Myra also believes that a great leader is reflected in the people who surround them. She wants to see individuals who she brings into her teams become experts and great at what they do so that she can showcase them rather than showcase herself. “Good leadership is about utilising talent around you as opposed to trying to be the beginning and the end of it all,” Myra says.

She considers a woman’s development program, developed by her, for a large organisation as one of her greatest achievements. It propelled the organisation toward DE&I recognition externally and it was seen as a great place to work. Myra does not consider the program an achievement because of the reward and recognition it received; she values it more than other awards because she was able to observe the personal development journey of women who were part of that program.

“It was really overwhelming to see women who couldn’t even speak up at a meeting – they were that lacking in confidence – over this period of time, grow to a level of confidence where they were being promoted and identified as potential, and I was able to track their progress,” Myra says. “For me, that whole space reinforced why inclusive leadership, and leadership in general, is so important.”

The Start of a Journey

Scott Logic is still on its D&I journey, which is growing in momentum and traction. Myra calls this initial phase of the journey the foundational build. She points out that they have a strategy, education is happening, and they are building on their inclusive recruitment practices and business processes.

For Myra, the future of Scott Logic’s D&I journey is where she can “literally” see a shift in the percentage and ratio of diversity within the organisation. “I can measure it practically, and I can see the shift in terms of engagement within the business,” she says. “It’s because everyone sees that inclusion is happening and supported within Scott Logic, and there is also the impact externally.” The external impact is important for Myra because they also have a social mission in addition to economic and client missions.

Myra does not want to tap into D&I for a quick fix or a quick win. She emphasises that their process needs to be sustainable, believable, and authentic. “We have our North Star. Now, it is about practically implementing all that and making it come to life for us,” she adds. “But we can see small wins at the moment.”

Message to Aspiring D&I Leaders

When she first started working in the D&I space, Myra was impatient and that trait would come out in conversations. She would become pushy, angry, or emotional. So, in her message to aspiring D&I leaders, Myra reminds them that they have to be patient during this journey. “You need to realise that change takes time because you need to build understanding,” she says.

“As a new D&I leader, think about what level of maturity and understanding your audience are at in the organisation, and after that, focus on where I shall be starting and what conversation I should be starting with,” she adds.

Myra also tells aspiring leaders to look at their personal boardroom and look for people who will play in their place and support them. She encourages them to establish those relationships and utilise them to gain the momentum. “If you get the right sponsors and the right influencers on your side, utilise them to help you drive this [D&I] fully because that is when you will make the most significant impact, as they have a greater network and have more impact in the workplace,” Myra says in her message.