Shane Ryan of the Avast Foundation talks diversity in the workplace

Emma McGowan 16 Feb 2022

This Black History Month, we highlight the impressive work that our own Shane Ryan is doing and has done.

If anyone truly knows the value of a diverse workforce, it’s Shane Ryan. Ryan came to Avast by way of work in the private, public, and voluntary sectors and was part of the senior leadership team at the National Lottery Community Fund before landing at Avast. He’s worked with companies in the US, Japan, and his native United Kingdom and is now the Global Executive Director of the Avast Foundation, which has its origins in the Czech Republic. 

“Part of my learning journey at the Avast Foundation has been understanding the various cultures of those I work with, including spending extended time in the Czech Republic in an attempt to really understand the journey of the organization (and eating lots of trdelníky),” Ryan says. 

This Black History Month, the Avast Diversity & Inclusion team wanted to highlight the impressive work Ryan is doing and has done, as well as talk a little with him about his own experiences as a professional Black man. Here’s what he had to say. 

What does diversity mean to you personally?

My parents are of African-Caribbean descent. The Britain my parents lived in was very different to the one I live in today. Often seen as second class citizens even though they worked hard and tried to contribute to the wider community, they had to endure prejudice and racism, including verbal and physical attacks as well as being excluded from certain jobs, housing, and other opportunities. Over the years, there has been a significant movement and steps taken to create and promote a more inclusive Britain, but there is still a way to go. 

I am so pleased that Avast has made a real commitment to diversity and inclusion as it signals intent and creates an environment that aims to be free from exclusion and oppression. In 2020, organizations like Goldman Sachs announced that they were only taking organizations public that had at least one diverse board member. 

This kind of decision is based on a weight of research suggesting that diverse and inclusive organizations perform better than those that are not. Diversity of thought brings new thinking, insights, and ideas to boardrooms and leadership teams around the world, to this end, we are collectively more productive and expansive when a plethora of different voices are heard. The current situation we find ourselves across the world due to the pandemic gives us an opportunity to pause for thought and curate a very different future in which we work to dissolve longstanding inequities and strengthen our communities. 

What is the Avast Foundation’s mission? We know that diversity and inclusion are important pillars for the Avast Foundation — could you please elaborate on the foundation’s plans in this area?

The Foundation was established in order to promote digital freedom and citizenship around the globe by breaking down barriers for digital access and inclusion. I wouldn’t say we’ve established specific plans around diversity and inclusion per se, because these values are embedded in everything we do. A more equitable and inclusive world — both online and off — is what we are working toward. 

One of our key operating principles is that of inclusive co- design, which means creating programs along with community members and beneficiaries and valuing their inputs, experiences, and viewpoints as primary. 

Within the Foundation, we include diverse viewpoints in our decision making. For instance, when we established a global Youth Leadership Board to help guide our youth strategy and agenda, we deliberately sought out youth from a variety of backgrounds and who represent many parts of the world. We don’t have perfect representation and you’ll never be able to get that, but having that diversity of perspectives will always open up avenues for asking better questions and seeking deeper insights, which leads to better work and better results. 

We also know that it’s important to signal to the wider world that we value diversity and inclusion as paramount and to support other organizations which are also making strides in this area such as the National Diversity Awards in the UK. These awards are now in their 10th year, celebrating people and organizations that are actively making their communities more inclusive for people of all backgrounds, races, and abilities. 

February is Black History Month. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Due to having friends, family, and colleagues in the US I get to celebrate Black History Month in February (US and Canada) and October (UK and Europe). 

Dr. Carter G. Woodson (founder of BHM) knew that continuing to understand our history is essential for understanding what is happening around us now in the world and not replicating past mistakes. As Black people we are often seen only via the lens of oppression and slavery, Black History Month provides a focused opportunity to explore Black excellence in a way that has often been hidden, ignored, or overlooked. 

This year's theme of Black health and wellness allows us to celebrate all of those that have made breakthroughs in health and wellbeing, which is all the more poignant in light of the disproportionate effect of Covid in the Black community. From Mary Seacole to Charles R Drew — Don't know who they are? Black History Month is a great opportunity to find out. 

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