September 25, 2018 - News

Are We Unconsciously Hindering Our Diversity and Inclusion Efforts?

Aoife Sheridan, Head of Customer Success, Version 1

I grew up as an only girl surrounded by three amazing brothers who always treated me as an absolute equal, be it when playing ‘three and in’ soccer on the street or helping our folks around the house. I took it for granted that I was afforded every opportunity to simply participate. So, upon joining the historically male dominated industry of IT, I never expected anything different, but I did always seek out senior female role models in each company I worked for.

I joined Version 1 almost six years ago and women were a minority at senior management level, but thankfully not enough to send me running for the hills. It did, however encourage me to set my sights on becoming a future role model for the next generations of female staff. To the credit of Version 1 executives and senior managers, I was encouraged every step of the way.

With such a huge focus on Diversity in the workplace over the past few years, I began to reflect on exactly how we would stack up as an organisation if we were scrutinized much more closely, firstly from a male/female perspective. We set about scrutinizing and surveying our workforce to learn more.  We weren’t just interested in males and females, but also age, marital status, parental status, sexual preference, religion and much more.

The results disappointed us. Version 1 is an organisation built on the incredible strength of its people and talent. What if we have been missing potential talent from the candidate pool and worse still, what if we have that talent and we’re not aware of it and supporting it to senior management?

The upside was that we found out where we really stood, and the only way was up from there! We put together a (suitably diverse) taskforce to tackle several themes ranging from pre-recruitment initiatives and training to long-term strategy and governance. It was important for us not only to have Diversity in mind but also to have Inclusion as an equal focus.  It’s one thing to get a diverse workforce in the door, but we also must support them to ensure they stay.

Sadly, developing a genuinely diverse and inclusive technology organisation does not come with a fast-track option.

From the beginning of 2017 up to current date, one of the key areas we have been focusing on is moving the dial in terms of our female to male ratio of new starters, but also our promotional rate of females throughout the organisation. So far, our efforts have resulted in:

  • 10% increase in the female to male new-starter ratio from 2017 to 2018
  • 3% increase in mid-level promotion of female employees from 2017 to 2018
  • 2% increase in women promoted to senior management from 2017 to 2018, from 28% total female management to 30% female senior management

It’s a journey and everyone needs to commit to for the long haul. We’re confident that if we carry through on our initiatives and commitments, that we can begin to make a difference.

Are We Unconsciously Hindering Our Diversity and Inclusion Efforts?

One of the most transformational aspects of this journey so far for me, was something subtle and subconscious. Unconscious Bias. We automatically associate the word ‘bias’ with a negative sentiment, but they can be equally problematic in the hiring and promotions processes i.e. the tendency to overlook potential weaknesses where we identify with a person. Do you hire people who are more like you than not? Same for promotions? Is your inner circle of trusted colleagues very much a similar profile to yourself?

For us, a big part of our Diversity & Inclusion programme is around raising topics and starting a conversation around them. By building awareness, we are already starting to tackle the problem. Everyone likes to the think that they don’t have any biases, but the reality is we all do – it’s impossible not to have them! I also learned that it’s OK to have a bias. We’ve all been absorbing influences and experiences since we were kids and some of those just stay with us as biases. But if you can unlock what yours are, you can take steps to figure out how to tackle them.

I actually had quite a surprise after our Unconscious Bias training. I was interviewing a candidate and we were having a great conversation and I was starting to think, “I’m going to hire this person!”. Upon reflection after the interview, I realised that I was guilty of positive bias – the candidate and I had so much in common, that I had almost forgotten to drill into the important requirements for the role. Thanks to the training, I was able to acknowledge that and get another person to interview the candidate to provide a bit more objectivity.

At Version 1, we rolled out an online course for all staff and it had the highest take up rate of any voluntary course to date. We have now built that training into our mandatory onboarding training for any new joiners. Finally, we have made it mandatory for all recruiters and interviewers to also go through the training. The key things we want our staff to learn are:

  • To understand what biases they might have.
  • Don’t ignore or worry about the biases you have – work with them or against them as needed.
  • To ensure everyone is heard and respected – not just our go-to people or trusted profiles.

Start the Conversation!

We are still on our journey to moving the dial and having our workforce statistics be as fantastically diverse, to help us to continue to be a great place to work that is inclusive to all. Firstly, from what we have learned so far, the single biggest piece of advice I have for any organisations starting their Diversity & Inclusion initiatives is to just start the conversation. Once we started, we couldn’t stop and the amount of creativity and brilliance that flows throughs the Diversity & Inclusion teams’ streams of work is inspirational! It felt daunting at the time, but we have made amazing progress in a very short time.

Where does your organisation currently stand?

Secondly, you need to have a good, honest look at where you stand in terms of your diversity stats the proportion of women to men? Your ethnicity spread? How does that change as you progress through the organization? What’s the gender pay gap look like?

Ensure it’s not just HR’s problem to solve

Thirdly, ensure the initiative is sponsored from the top down and not owned by HR. The HR team will play a very important role in everything, but it’s crucial that it’s not perceived as HR’s problem to solve – it’s everyone’s challenge.

The road to achieving a Diverse and Inclusive workplace is longer than everyone would like to admit, but it is more than worth it.

If you would like to learn more about the DNA of Version 1 and what makes our people unique, discover our DNA and bring your difference to one of Europe’s Top 10 Best Workplaces.