Diversity in a new business, a challenge…and an opportunity

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    September 27, 2022
Diversity in a new business, a challenge…and an opportunity

I’ve been wanting to share some views on this topic for some time. When building our content to talk about the type of business we are I saw many organisations put a bland diversity statement on their careers site. I was thinking about doing the similar but struggled. Why?

Its an important and emotive subject and one that sometimes I don’t feel comfortable talking about, perhaps as a white man in a field dominated by white men. Maybe that’s why its even more important to post about. For the purposes of this article I focus on gender but there are many other facets of diversity of course.

It matters to us

What has pushed me to share is that in my new role in a smaller, growing business I am ever more aware of its importance but the challenges to achieve building a diverse team. There are many benefits to diverse teams, creativity of different experiences and backgrounds is certainly one and applying this to accessibility as people who build software is very important. We are about to hit 10 people here. All 10 of us would identify as white men. There is of course more to diversity, we are from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ages and even different countries but that counts for little. From day one in my role I have tried to have diversity in mind, so why has it been so difficult? And what are we doing about it?

Having worked in tech recruitment for most of my career diversity is something the industry has always struggled with. My background is mostly in large/medium sized firms and this has been a topic to a greater or lesser degree, even more challenging when I was hiring network engineers who needed city and guilds qualifications in cabling!

There is opportunity

As a new business its refreshing that there is a blank slate. You can form a culture, have some guidelines, processes and mindsets in order to achieve inclusivity. Its hard to test but those things can be built in to how you hire and operate. It’s also refreshing to have a whole team believing that it is important, the hardest thing can be when leaders who resist change or don’t see the benefits of a focus in this. Achieving diversity though is a whole different ball game.

Given the type of organisation we are we have some misconceptions to dispel. Traditionally consultancies have been seen as organisations where there is little work-life balance or flexibility, potentially lots of travel, challenging work with difficult clients. Apart from the right level of challenge none of these things apply to us! We are remote, offer flexible or part time working options and are careful about customers that we choose to engage with. I have tried to create a page to talk about these things: https://lifeat.sandigital.uk/

There are things you can actively do, running your branding/recruitment materials through gender decoding software to make sure the language you use avoids putting people off. Then you are at the mercy of applicants and your usual attraction budget. As a small business we spend some money on LinkedIn but otherwise rely on advertising via there, Indeed and our website. We have had very few women apply for roles here through those sources despite trying to consider making ourselves as appealing as possible. The next stage is headhunting, I spend a lot of my time on LinkedIn and approaching them about the virtues of working at our organisation. I have spent time focusing specifically on candidates from more diverse backgrounds who I think could be a good fit for our roles. We are currently focused on specifically engineering hiring, in other fields within technology such as design, delivery management and business analysis the number of females is higher which helps larger businesses achieve higher levels of diversity.

Uphill struggle

Patience required

Tech organisations all want more diverse teams, creating very high competition for those candidates who represent a small proportion on the market. Looking at the numbers it appears an uphill task. A record number of female students applied for computer science degrees in 2021, 17%. With our current focus on experienced candidates (whilst we are small and growing) its likely that we’re looking at less than 10% of our potential pool of applicants being female. To support future diverse talent we want to partner with organisations to support things like Women in Technology events and students from diverse backgrounds getting into IT. This not only gives us the ability to pipeline future candidates ourselves but shows others looking for roles that we take this seriously and want to support diverse talent in the industry generally.

As we grow, we want to continue to further enhance our flexible and part time working as well as introducing leading shared parental and return to work options. We will also be able to take less experienced candidates once we have a big enough team to have the right support and environment available. As this journey continues I hope to increase our diversity, be able to share learnings and (fingers crossed) some progress.

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