The idea that a workforce should reflect the social and cultural make-up of society is still relatively new. Triggered by a rapidly changing social mix in many UK cities, a significant number of companies now have active diversity policies. At SThree, parent company of Computer Futures, Natasha Clarke is in charge of ensuring not just that there are people from varied cultural backgrounds - and a better balance between the sexes - but that the company as a whole is supportive and encouraging of this mix. However, this is not an exercise in ‘tokenism’. There are, she argues, clear business reasons for this approach: “Diversity isn’t about coming into a room and seeing lots of people that look different – it’s about diversity of thinking, opinions and contributions, which people from different backgrounds bring into the workplace”.
These can have two distinct benefits. In the first place it widens the pool of potential insight and experience to speed innovation. Secondly, SThree, like many other companies, must do business in different countries with varying cultures. Clarke notes, “If we want to drive innovation and improve performance, studies show that more diverse workforces perform better in this respect. Equally, in a context where our customer base becomes more and more global, there is a real need for your own organisation to be representative of the customers they are dealing with.”
Inclusivity and meritocracy are perfect partners
There are various ways to bring about a more varied workforce but the vital one, according to Clarke, is to ensure the internal culture is supportive. “For me” said Clarke, “the question is: have you got an environment that supports inclusivity – do you have an environment where people are open and understanding of the biases that they have and stereotypes that they hold?” Bringing about a more open and supportive culture is underpinned by codes and policies agreed with management, to achieve, as Clarke sees it, “an environment where everybody has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of background and where people are valued for the different experiences they bring.”
The role of the diversity team at SThree faces two ways. It looks internally to ensure a broader social mix in their own work force but also outward to help client companies attract the staff they seek as well. For example, the ICT industry has become a challenging environment in which to find the right talent, across Europe in particular. It has never been more important, therefore, to ensure those with skills who leave the industry, for whatever reason, are able to return. In other words, this is about encouraging women to re-enter the workplace after having children or to help re-integrate those with other caring responsibilities.
The importance of effective communication
There are a number of ways to make small changes that can help encourage women back. These start with job adverts themselves. Women often tend to be put off by overly aggressive or competitive or ‘target-oriented’ language. Moreover, they tend to focus in jobs to which they believe they have fully corresponding skills - compared to men who will have a go at applications where the match is less certain. So, more collaborative language in the job description, coupled with attention and confidence building by consultants during the process, can make a real difference. There are obvious benefits according to Clarke. Having addressed some of the unconscious biases working against female applicants among the consultants in their own company, they discovered that, with more help and coaching, women were 30 per cent more likely to be placed in roles with SThree’s clients than men with identical experience.
Encouraging change and creating opportunities
SThree’s efforts to bring under-represented groups into the workplace also takes in outreach programmes like the recent project to coaching and mentor fifty underprivileged students in London, studying STEM subjects at ‘A’ level, to encourage them to take up a role in the technology world.
All this activity is about encouraging change: “I passionately feel that if we don’t feel an obligation to hold ourselves to account - internally and in the way we operate with our customers - then we are not fulfilling our duty of care. We have the ability to make a difference in the world in which we operate and in the service we deliver.”
Computer Futures and SThree are members of the Tech Talent Charter steering group – an