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Tech leaders discuss equality, diversity and inclusion


Nigel Wright Recruitment welcomed diversity and inclusion (D&I) expert, Di Keller, to our latest Tech Leaders webinar. Di has led D&I initiatives at various regional organisations including Sage Plc, Northumbria Police and Karbon Homes. Her presentation focused on the different interpretations of D&I and how companies can become more diverse and inclusive. Tech leaders also shared insights into how Covid-19 has changed how they approach D&I in their organisations.  

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

Equality

A hiring process underpinned by equality, says Di, means expanding the talent pool. All other barriers of inclusion should also be removed from the process. These include the way that job adverts are written and where jobs are advertised, to the stripping away of any biases that might exist during interviews. An equitable approach means constantly reviewing and updating materials to support recruitment processes.

Diversity

Organisations have different ways of conceptualising diversity. According to Di, when companies develop diversity strategies, they often start with demographic data. Firms then look for deficits in the workforce – where is the business underrepresented and how will we ensure greater diversity moving forward?

Inclusion

Inclusion is to value and respect others and their differences. You don’t have to agree with everyone’s values or perspectives but you should acknowledge and respect them. We all have biases hard-wired in our brains that prevent us from being inclusive. Being inclusive, says Di, also means taking a conscious approach to adopting an inclusive mindset.

Tech leader view…

“50:50 Future has helped me to rewrite job descriptions to make them gender neutral. We replaced active male words and phrases like ‘driven’ and ‘superstar’ with ‘collaboration’ and ‘teamwork.’ Scrum is all about team success, not individual success, and the response we've had to the new job descriptions is really positive.”

“A candidate that I interviewed during the last 18 months identified as neurodiverse. They indicated in advance of the interview that sitting still for long periods was difficult for them. So, we suggested that they wear a headset and move around their home during the interview if they needed to.”

Gender

A 50/50 split between males and females is not representative of most organisations. There's historical reasons for this, of course e.g. some women didn’t used to enter the employment market. Nowadays, companies are ‘playing catch-up’ with the data to create gender equality in workplaces. If you’re truly committed to the diversity and inclusion agenda, says Di, then you will be playing a part in these efforts.

Disability

There's a significant number of people who identify as disabled but are not limited by their disability. The tendency is to associate disability with severe and debilitating conditions but the data shows that those people represent the minority of those who identify as disabled. Organisations should be aware of this when hiring.

Ethnicity

Ethnicity is diversifying in the North, though, our region is still predominantly white. It's wrong, however, to think just because we live in a comparatively uniform area that we don’t need to focus on promoting ethnic diversity at work. Companies should aim to have workforces that represent the different ethnicities in the region.

Tech leader view…

“An obstacle we’re trying to overcome is the challenges around needs assessment from a disability perspective. We often still use phrases like ‘special needs’ or ‘reasonable adjustments’ when in fact we should phrase things in a more inclusive way that doesn’t make people that they are being singled out because of their disability.”

“Lots of people have had to make reasonable adjustments at home during Covid-19. So, now we have reasonable adjustments that apply to everyone, not just a specific group of people. Examples include providing directional microphones and noise-cancelling headphones for employees who live in shared houses. Reasonable adjustments are also required for those with mental health challenges. Those people don’t need a formal diagnosis of any kind but they are struggling and need support. By applying them to everyone, reasonable adjustments are inclusive. This removes any stigma associated with being treated differently from others. We recognise that everyone has challenges whether they have a label or not.”

National equality standards

The national quality standards demonstrate why it's important for your organisation to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as well as help ‘bring to life’ your ED&I approach.

Legal and regulatory

Organisations with over 250 employees are expected to publish their gender pay gap data. Companies should also follow guidelines on diversity and inclusion or risk legal ramifications if evidence of discrimination is discovered.

Financial

If you employ diverse teams, it encourages different ways of thinking, whereby innovation will occur naturally. Men and women, for example, have different aversions to risk and offer alternative perspectives when making financial decisions.

Market share and reputation

Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace can impact market share and reputation. Analysis has shown organisations with diverse leadership are 45% more likely to improve market share and 70% more likely to capture a new market.

People

Valuing people for who they are and what they bring to the organisation is essential. This is how diversity and inclusion become coded into your organisation, affecting all types of decision making. 

Tech leader view…

“Something I encourage a lot is for people to always try and be authentic and behave in ways that are respectable and personable to other individuals in the team. Everyone should be approachable. A graduate should feel equally comfortable speaking to a director as they do to another graduate. If these behaviours aren’t embedded in the organisation, the impact on culture is always negative. Someone might be technically brilliant but have such poor personal skills that they undermine the team’s capability.”

Conscious exclusion and culture

Exclusion

A lack of diversity and inclusion will lead to certain types of people being excluded from organisations. The CIA admits to having made this mistake when recruiting new agents. Intelligence failings which led to 9/11 are directly attributable to a lack of diversity within the organisation at the time.

Tokenistic

A tokenistic approach refers to when companies hire minorities simply to improve their diversity credentials but then don’t value those people or give them a voice within the organisation.

Conforming

When minorities conform to organisational standards, companies miss out on opportunities to innovate and do things differently.

Inclusion

Conscious inclusion means everyone in the organisation is valued for their differences and unique contributions. If companies fail to embrace this approach, then all efforts to improve diversity and inclusion (e.g. data) will fail.

Tech leader view…

“We've recently taken a conscious decision to change the style of our interviews so that it’s more like an informal conversation between a group of people. And rather than a traditional hierarchical interview, the group consists of the hiring manager as well as one or two peers of the candidates, who have similar experiences and share a similar language about the role with the person being considered for the job. This helps put the candidate at ease. Further, with the candidate’s permission, we reach out to their network and ask people for feedback – what it’s like to work with them, what are their strengths, etc. Not everybody performs at their best in an interview setting. Judging an individual on their interview performance often results in you missing out on some great talent.”

“When running Scrum meetings, our teams consist of software engineers, a QA, a data analyst, a product specialist, an ops specialist, and maybe even an account manager or business development manager seconded from the sales team. Therefore, the team is open to different perspectives and ways of thinking and benefits from diversity. This includes a diversity of genders and ethnicities too, as well as ages.”

Next steps

Not a quick fix

  • ED&I must be embedded into organisational DNA, otherwise, it will appear tokenistic and affect your brand and reputation.

Not a ‘bolt-on’

  • Diverse voices must impact all decision-making. 

Towards conscious inclusion

  • Focus on culture rather than data.

Focus on what you can achieve rather than what you can’t

  • E.g. There's fewer women working tech but don’t only prioritise hiring more women.  

Unlearn, re-learn and change

  • Have the courage to do things differently and start changing the landscape.
  • You may have to unlearn some of the things that you’ve always believed are right.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

  • The diversity journey will feel really uncomfortable at times.

Use the resources available to help you through this process

  • E.g. Tech Nation and GDEIB or consult with an expert generalist consultant, or one that specialises in certain areas such as race and ethnicity.
  • Contact accreditation suppliers such as Disability Confident, etc.
  • North East Autism Society helps businesses understand what it’s like to apply for a job at your organisation as an autistic person.
  • 50:50 Future provides advice for businesses on gender equality.
  • There’s also a free tool called the Gender Decoder and an organisation called Role Mapper that offers end to end support around the applications process.

Tech leader view…

“Young graduates are great for introducing new tools, ideas, and concepts into the organisation. But it’s important to hire older people too  – individuals that have been in the industry a long time, and who adhere to timeless principles that you only learn through having difficult experiences. Rather than hiring to meet a diversity gap (e.g. more women), always think: how do we create a strong team to deliver the best outcome?”

“In my previous job, my two best Devs were a former apprentice bricklayer and self-taught coder and a privately educated graduate from a Russell Group University. Working together, their approach to problem-solving, budgeting and time frames was so completely different that they always came up with the most unique and interesting app solutions.”

“We’ve created a really clear career progression framework that outlines how people progress through the business from graduate to senior level. It covers technical, as well as behavioural, process, and leadership attributes.  This way, people can see clearly what they need to do to progress in the organisation, which deters them from looking elsewhere. It also encourages people to step forward and undertake more difficult tasks that would ordinarily be done by senior staff. By broadening access to opportunities in this way, and pushing people out of their comfort zones, we’re having a positive impact on diversity.”

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