Improving diversity in science and engineering is something I’ve always found it very natural to get behind. I think primarily this is because I am a woman but have always enjoyed doing what people often (bizarrely) think of as “male” things; I was regularly mistaken for a boy when I was a child, tinkered with engines with my Dad rather than playing with dolls, and later studied maths at university. I also had an amazing role model in my mother who was a research microbiologist. She studied for her PhD alongside a full time job and three young children; it wasn’t ideal but it was what she needed to do to keep up with her male counterparts and excel in her career, which she did.
When I was a student, a job candidate and an employee it was very easy for me to get behind the idea of improving diversity. But I’ve found that objective incredibly difficult to put into practice in my own company. The new academic year is the start of our recruitment season for internships and graduate developers, and I have had to face up to my failure to hit my own diversity goals once again. This is particularly pertinent in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I’ve come to recognise a few uncomfortable truths:
- Not everyone cares. The idealist inside me assumed that everyone I worked with would see the benefits of a diverse team and get behind my diversity goals. The truth is that not everyone shares my belief of why it’s so important and perhaps that’s because I’ve not done a good enough job of explaining it.
- If you’re just recruiting graduates from STEM courses at top universities (our exact recruitment model) it’s hard, bordering on impossible, to get sufficiently diverse applicants such that the balance of the team can naturally shift. This seems quite obvious in retrospect!
- Just because it’s harder to talk about racial diversity than, for example, gender diversity, doesn’t mean we should ignore it. As someone who is often paralysed by the fear of causing offence, this is probably the biggest obstacle for me to overcome.
It’s never too late to try harder though, and we’ve taken some new steps towards improving our diversity which I’m really excited about. Firstly, we’ve started a Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Not only is it great to give people in the business who also feel passionately about diversity a voice, it’s also a group that will hold me and the business to account for our diversity goals. I don’t feel like I’m just talking to myself about diversity anymore!
The second thing we’re doing is reviewing our interview process and interview techniques to reveal any unconscious bias that might be going on. This is just good housekeeping but our processes have changed a fair bit since we last reviewed them so it’s definitely due.
Our third angle is that we’re looking more closely at the pool of potential applicants that we’re targeting with job ads. We’ve already widened the pool and increased its diversity just by reviewing basic stats from target universities. We plan to go further with this but this is a small win and a good start to the new recruitment year.
There is not going to be a quick fix for diversity in the tech sector but I’m really excited to be making strides in the right direction and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve in the next year.