The drive for diversity is nothing new. It seems almost every large business, and most smaller ones, claim a commitment to diversity.
A commitment to diversity is a known motivator for Millennials and Gen-Z’ers entering the workforce, and repeated studies strongly indicate a correlation between diverse teams and a more profitable and motivated business.
But the stats tell a different story, women still hold only around 17 per cent of tech roles in the UK, and a recent Deloitte study found that 92 per cent of workers claim to have witnessed bias or prejudice in the workplace. So if the case for diversity is such a no-brainer, why are so many businesses still struggling so hard to make it a reality?
In large, long-established organisations, cultural shifts can be a major challenge to facilitate. Companies that have long prized a single-minded and competitive approach towards revenue generation, can struggle to inspire trust in their workforce that they now value collaboration, inclusivity and flexibility. It sounds nice on paper, but leaders of large organisations often become more risk averse, which inevitably leads to slower change and hampers their best intentions.
This presents a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs. The founders and entrepreneurs of today are, after all, the big company leaders of the future. By embedding an inclusive culture into their organisations from the very beginning, they have a chance to be part of a movement emphasising the inclusive values that don’t just create a more positive working environment, but have been shown to drive tangible business success.
At the Tech Talent Charter, we collate and curate best practice for creating a truly inclusive work environment that is the fundamental building block for creating a more diverse workforce. Here are five simple ways to build in an inclusive approach from the beginning:
1. Make a conscious decision to be inclusive
The most important first step is to actively and consciously choose to create an inclusive culture. Unconscious bias drives many of the actions that create obstacles to true diversity; without challenging your own preconceptions and biases, it’s a non-starter. Ask yourself what kind of organisational culture do you want to create and what does it look like? Be willing to listen to outside perspectives that are different from your own – that’s kind of the point.
2. Think about how you attract and recruit talent
A significant barrier for many women and minorities accessing tech roles occurs in the recruitment phase. Recruitment practices are rife with unconscious bias and gendered language, that can put off talented candidates before you’ve even begun. Start by considering the language used in your recruitment materials when describing your ideal candidate.
Phrases like ‘assertive’ and ‘go-getter’ have been shown in research to be off-putting to many women, and suggesting that the company ‘works hard and plays hard’ is unspecific, yet suggests that employees are expected to regularly work outside of business hours, which can be counter-productive when trying to attract to those with outside commitments. Phrases such as “resilient, collaborative, creative and must be highly competent” are more likely to attract diversity.
It’s time to ditch the idea that flexibility is something that is only needed by new mums. Multiple studies in 2019 alone have shown that a flexible working environment is a key consideration for employees of all ages, and part of a growing desire to better manage work life balance.
When flexible leave is attributed to women rather than both genders it’s more likely to be marginalised or seen as a blocker to career progression. Flexible working doesn’t just mean part time. It could mean the option to work from home when appropriate, weighting hours to deliver more on fewer days or unlimited holiday policies, such as that implemented by Virgin 2014.
4. Creating an honest and supportive work culture
This sounds easier said than done, but there are some tangible practical policies you can adopt that demonstrate a commitment to supportive work environment. Start by training your management team to be more aware of the issues that hinder an inclusive workforce, and of their own biases. There are many online resources to support you with this at low or no cost, including the Tech Talent Charter’s own Open Playbook for diversity. Good intentions towards diversity are a great start, but unless you’re willing to clear-sightedly challenge your own preconceptions, and listen to other perspectives you won’t be creating the kind of environment where diversity can thrive.
Introduce a mentoring programme. Mentoring involves a development relationship between a more experienced ‘mentor’, sharing their experience with a less experienced person who is keen to learn from them. It is about providing expert advice and guidance, taking individuals under one’s wing and providing a role model to aspire to. Mentoring can be set up very easily internally and thus shouldn’t cost more than the time of your employees. Effective mentoring programs benefit the mentor and the organisation by promoting a development culture, increasing knowledge sharing, driving performance, and expanding networks. They also show that you are open to hearing diverse perspectives and supporting your team.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone in trying to build a more inclusive culture and that there is no reason to start from scratch. Joining free networks like The Tech Talent Charter allows you to learn from others, hear about best practice and build on existing models, policies, etc. By working with others you can more quickly find the practices, models and approaches that you can adapt and customise to suit your own context. And by working collaboratively, there is real opportunity to move the dial on inclusion and diversity across the sector as a whole.
Young entrepreneurs bring an exciting combination of ambition and a commitment to a fairer, more equal working environment. By committing to embed inclusion from the start, they can pave the way for a fairer working world for all.
- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.