Women in Tech

The pursuit of diversity and sustainability in tech

4th June 2024
Sheryl Miles

“Hopefully I can share my enthusiasm with the world and inspire people to do more.”

It’s a mild Tuesday afternoon when I sit down to interview the 2024 everywoman Tech for Good award winner, Keisha Garcia, VP Digital Foundations, Technical Programme Management and Head of Discipline at bp, and from the moment the interview starts her enthusiasm and dedication to promoting diversity in tech is palpable.

“I want to use this opportunity [of winning the everywoman award], to broaden the platform and to call to action for people to push for more diversity, equity, and inclusion across all levels.  I’m truly trying to make the corporate world a better place for my children – especially my daughter – and their children too, so they don’t have to face the challenges that I’ve had during my career. I’m working on utilising every opportunity that I can to be impactful, to usher in the necessary change, one person at a time.”

Communication is key

With a problem solving and inquisitive mindset and being inspired by her aunt who majored in Computer Science, Garcia initially saw this as an opportunity to pursue a career in technology given her love for understanding the root cause of problems and solving them. With math not being her strongest skillset, Garcia leaned on her analytical capabilities to take a different route in her career.

“At the time, there weren’t a lot of examples of women that I could look to with a Computer Science degree. So, when I decided my major, it was because a former mentor advised me ‘with a communications degree you can use it for anything.’ And it's true. It allowed me to get into a space where I was able to utilise and showcase my analytical skills alongside my hunger and enthusiasm to learn and energy to succeed.”

With a Communications and English Writing degree under her belt, Garcia started her career as a Project Lead in IT at Illinois Power and has since gone from strength to strength.

“I have gone a lot further in my career than I ever anticipated or imagined. Not because of a lack of capability but thinking that I was not going to be able to overcome some of the obstacles that can seem insurmountable at times.  By not seeing examples of what was possible for a career in technology, it was hard to understand the opportunities that could be afforded to me later in my career.”

Championing one step at a time

Garcia’s journey to promote diversity, inclusion, and sustainability within the corporate world, particularly in the tech and energy sectors, is driven by her motivation to see the industry as more accepting of every kind of individual, from all walks of life, race, religion, and creed and with that, she championed the Fellowship Programme at bp.

A labour of love four years in the making, Garcia’s vision was to find diverse perspectives and passionate individuals, providing support for a long and meaningful career.

“We're taking 15 students a year from three HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges Universities) in the US. Typically, the attendance of HBCUs in the US is made up of ethnic groups from other countries, not just black people … I wanted to partner with them to be able to bring in students and start [their career] from the grassroots. It's not enough just to pay for scholarships ... If you want to affect the economics of a generation, you need to make sure that they have sustainable cash, a salary, and a career.”

This deeply rooted passion for change is something Garcia owes to the opportunities that STEM afforded her, and she wants to share those opportunities with others, making a positive and meaningful impact in their lives.

Her family are also huge drivers in her ambition to be the best that she can be.

“My husband and my children hold me accountable, not only for my decisions but for how I treat other people, basically walking the talk and living by example”.

An everywoman winner

Garcia’s motivation to do more and to help more people comes from a place of truth, and because of this, she has achieved incredible feats. However, whilst awards and accolades are things she recognises and appreciates, she also acknowledges that it doesn’t mean she’s achieved everything she wants to, and she uses them as a driver to not sit on her laurels – because there is much more to be done.

“I don't want [these awards] to be about me. We must truly mean what we say, it can't be just for the awards, accolades, or for show.

“At the everywoman awards, as I walked off the stage Adele Baker, Commercial Director – Innovation from RS Group, who sponsored the award category, walked off with me and said to me … ‘your career has gone in all the right places, places that a lot of people would love to get to. And you’ve gotten there. Yet your relentless passion and purpose to continue to bring more people along and do that for everybody else [what you can] is awesome’. For the first time in my career, I was able to feel comfortable celebrating who I am, what I do, and what I've done for people, and what I've been able to accomplish within my career that I never in a million years thought that I'd be able to do.

“As a black female, in my home, the way I was raised, and what I was taught, was to not be boastful because it can be taken as arrogance, so although I do a lot of self-reflection for continuous improvement, I typically don’t do a lot of patting myself on the back.

“I am fortunate to be raised by a mother who instilled in me a strong work ethic, perseverance, and passion for change, and for the many women in my life, from my aunts to strong female friends, for whom we are each other’s biggest supporters, and help each other to be our personal best.”

bp as platform for change

Being a minority female leader in technology at bp, Garcia has a great opportunity to make a real difference to drive change in the industry. She attests that bp is a great enabler for her to do that.

“I know bp is shifting in the right way because I don’t feel those shackles of trying to fit into a box. I can be this crazy, energetic, passionate person who kicks butt at what I do.

“bp allows me a platform and a voice to enact meaningful change.”

At bp, not only has Garcia initiated and assisted with diversity and inclusion initiatives, and established the Fellowship Programme, she also highlights the importance of corporate responsibility towards environmental sustainability, social mobility, and the opportunity to use technology as a catalyst for change.

“I manage large programmes and embrace different teams and capabilities to be able to deliver business needs. This feeds into my passion of looking at different people and not being judgemental, whilst utilising their best skill sets to propel them to achieve their career goals.

“The biggest thing for me [at bp] is when our CEO said that our goal was to get to net zero by 2050 … It wasn't just the words, it was also the reshaping of our company, bringing people in, that really got me excited, and it didn't stop there.

"It also concerned the social mobility aspects, the importance of inclusive progress, and the impact on the communities we engage with. This is sustainability in action, and these factors tugged at my heart. [bp] have shifted perspectives, being open to diverse opportunities, despite the challenges and difficulties we will face along the journey. We've adjusted our operational spend, whilst also continuing to pursue strong industry presence.”

Having worked across various sectors of large enterprises, Garcia understands the important role they play in shifting towards sustainability and cloud technology. By shutting down major data centres and partnering with Microsoft and AWS, Garcia and her team enabled enhanced data handling processes and renewable power opportunities, which align with the company’s overall sustainability goals – ensuring technological advancements to support corporate sustainability objectives.

Garcia knows that bp will sell their product with or without a digital presence, but she points out that the differentiator and catalyst that will get them to where they need to be is technology.

“bp gives you a huge platform to make huge shifts in the world, and so for me, being in this company – I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.

“This [goal] is a call to action for us to really show up as a major player and a major catalyst to be the one that makes the difference. And if bp can do it, there's got to be 50 million other companies that will come along and join in on the journey, as everyone is watching what bp will do next.”

Looking to the future, Garcia envisions a corporate world where diversity, sustainability, and social responsibility are integral aspects of corporate culture, “It's just the right thing to do,” she says.

Garcia’s journey is one of resilience, innovation, and an unyielding commitment to inclusivity and sustainability. Through her story, she not only challenges the status quo but also provides a blueprint for how individuals within the corporate world can leverage their positions of influence to enact meaningful change.

“I'm doing what I wish would have been done for me, trying to pave a way for a better, more inclusive workforce that will not need DE&I programmes, as this will just become human nature.”

This sentiment encapsulates the essence of her mission: to pave the way for a more inclusive, sustainable, and equitable future, leveraging the power of technology and the collective will of the corporate sector to make it a reality.

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