Improving software delivery in every organisation

How do we solve a problem like diversity?

Just over a year ago, I wrote about the lack of diversity at Made Tech and how it was something we needed to work on as a business. We’d recognised our ‘ignorance’ had led to inactivity in identifying problem areas, but once we’d accepted our failures, we had to stop being passive bystanders and actually take active steps to address them.

We began by stripping everything back and looking at our core mission: "Improving software delivery in every organisation" and asking, how do we do that? One of the ways is by building software that meets user needs. But users are not one-size-fits-all and in order to understand what their many and varied needs are, we must have people that share them, working on each project. Like the seatbelt companies that failed to test the safety equipment on females or the infrared sensors that can't identify dark skin, we didn’t want a lack of awareness - caused by lack of diversity - negatively affecting our clients and their customers.

At the time of writing my last post, I had hoped that a year on, we would have a team that was better represented in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age etc and that this would be positively affecting our delivery. However even after redirecting our attention and resources - and making diversity a priority focus - we haven’t made as much progress as expected.

And I wanted to work out why.

Institutionalised oppression is everywhere. Common misconceptions, (outdated) societal expectations and reinforcement of racial and gender stereotypes in the entertainment industry have contributed to the ‘white men’s club’ mentality in the tech industry. We too as an organisation have directly or indirectly created a number of obstacles to diverse hiring.

Masculine, military-style wording in our job descriptions had been putting off women engineers, and our employee referral scheme had brought in like-for-like; often white males in their mid-thirties. Always more appealing to choose workplaces where we can identify with our peers. These well-intentioned but ill-advised strategies had increased disparity. So, rather than spend time and money trying to re-do them, we needed to change tactics entirely.

Looking at other companies’ diversity schemes and undertaking further research, it became clear that not only are huge businesses like Google and Facebook - with access to unlimited resources and a wider pool of people - were also struggling when it came to gender and race bias, and under-representation. But a key part of this for them, and us, was the fact we were looking at the problem the wrong way. Diversity, rather than being the issue, is actually the consequence of a working environment that fosters inclusivity.

So, was the problem that we weren’t being inclusive? Or are, but just not enough? It seemed neither. From the top down, everyone who works at Made Tech believes wholeheartedly in diversity and genuine moves have been made to foster a culture that actively encourages it.

Our office has gender neutral facilities and offers a safe space for our LGBT+ and gender-fluid employees to be themselves without fear of being treated differently. We also advocate a hot desking policy so that everyday there’s a possibility to interact and collaborate with someone new and the opportunity to form and share ideas that may not have previously been aired. Similarly, to avoid hearing the same (unavoidably male) voices over again, we rotate who runs meetings to give everyone the chance to choose and direct topics and opinion and give feedback.

Every Friday, the whole team lunches together and takes it in turns to choose the restaurant to widen our experience and cultural knowledge of cuisines. We also have a virtual ‘common room’ on Slack where people can share news, stories, jokes and inform others of the - important - weekly ice cream run. In addition, Made Tech hosts regular socials so we can get to know each other outside of work and avoid ‘talking shop’.

As I discovered through research, “It takes energy to go there and present the opportunity to people that would not otherwise hear about it.” The Made Tech Academy therefore provides us with the chance to find diverse people by ourselves; those who have a genuine interest in development and engineering, but no commercial experience, and upskill them. And although we’re haven’t quite reached gender parity as a company, I’m pleased that our new hiring efforts have seen an academy intake this year of 66% women.

So why, despite our inclusive environment, are we still lacking diversity in the company itself? Put simply, it isn’t easy. To increase it, we have to look beyond hiring and put emphasis on and resources into developing, progressing, and retaining underrepresented employees. The steps we’ve made are progress, but the reality is, much of it is not visible to anyone who isn’t already working at Made Tech.

It’s clear that we need to do much, much more, and then shout about it.

Going forward, plans are in place to start promoting female voices within our company and the wider industry, by offering opportunities and a platform from which to speak. We’ll also be partnering with diversity based organisations, working together to bring new people into tech and we’re very excited to be volunteering some of our engineers to help Ada College students with their coursework in the next month.

To paraphrase, David McQueen: ‘On equality...conflict will occur. Finding the right language to have the right conversations will be hard, [you] will make mistakes, you won't necessarily feel comfortable. Embrace this.’

And we’re absolutely ready to.

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Luke Morton runs a mentoring network providing skills, experience and advice relevant for finding a job in tech. If you’re interested in joining or want to find out more, please get in touch here.

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