Diversity in the workplace
Our goal was to create the best possible workplace. Equality of opportunity was an important part of this, both as the right thing to do, and for the solid business reasons of recruiting the best colleagues and enabling them to do their best work.
This approach of thinking about the fundamentals meant we worked with a diverse team who were pretty much representative of UK society as a whole. “Diversity and inclusion” was part of this wider project, and our success in this area was the natural result of:
- a recruitment process, which removed artificial barriers by mitigating as many sources of bias as possible, and
- a respectful and welcoming workplace, where everyone could succeed.
Once we realised that diversity was a strength of our company, we used it as a competitive advantage. We found our potential colleagues in places with a diverse pool of candidates, and we made the team very visible in our recruitment process.
But there’s no point in hiring people if they leave quickly. Because we’d put so much effort into the workplace, we retained our colleagues. They were able to progress really fast in an environment which valued and respected them.
Women in technology
We ended up with more women than men working in the tech team, and in the company overall, with over-representation in leadership positions. Just as with diversity in general, this was an inevitable outcome of working towards a much wider goal.
Working closely with my female co-founder, I became keenly aware of the challenges and prejudices she faced in interactions with people outside the company. This made us determined that none of our colleagues would experience this, and we called out behaviours whenever we saw them.
People talk about the problems for women in tech as if all that’s needed is to get more women to join the profession. Our experience shows we need to think just as much about keeping them in tech, primarily by removing the stupidity they face in their working lives.
For this aspect of diversity, I’m convinced that a respectful workplace is a minimum requirement.
Behaviours in a diverse workplace
When you have a team which is formed from people of different backgrounds and experiences, it is especially important to ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard. We expected certain behaviours which ensured this was possible, leading by careful example.
De-emphasise the individual
We only ever cared about the overall output of the team, and considered that looking for individual achievement would be counterproductive. Just as importantly, mistakes were a failure of process, not an individual, because the process should have prevented an individual’s mistake from affecting anything.
Although we expected everyone to be a high performer, we would celebrate the success of the team, and how people contributed towards that success. Performance reviews would put an individual achievement in the context of helping the team.
This gave little opportunity for individuals to dominate, because we valued the way they helped others to succeed.
Learn and teach
There was a strong expectation for everyone to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. We made sure that everyone made time to teach others.
A new colleague was exposed to this culture from their very first day. A colleague was assigned to answer all their questions, and then gently introduce them to the way the team answered questions together.
Leave space in meetings
Some people are “loud” and think by talking. Others think quietly, and only speak when they have a conclusion. Neither is better than the other, but both need to be able to contribute.
We actively looked for the quiet voices. We deliberately left space and silence in meetings, and checked that everyone had contributed their thoughts. When someone accidentally interrupted or talked over someone else, the accident was quickly corrected.
Use text to communicate
Partly because we had an open plan office which needed to be quiet, and partly because it was easier for everyone to be heard, we preferred that ad-hoc conversations were started in a chat room.
If the answers were not quickly forthcoming, the right people would break out in a meeting room to determine the answer. This habit was helpful when we started working remotely in the pandemic, as it translated nicely into chat and video calls with screen-sharing.
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