Another step towards improving diversity

Bytemark launched its new website at the end of last year, hooray! We spent a lot of time reviewing all of the content on the old site during this process. One area we found that could use improvement was our employment page. We wanted to make sure we were encouraging any and all talented people to apply, as well as conveying our values and what we do at Bytemark. We’ve learnt many valuable things from previous rounds of employing and have also been listening to wider industry discussions about diversity. With these things in mind, we wanted to apply what we’ve learnt to our hiring approach.

Near the start of the website relaunch project, I was hired as a full-time employee at Bytemark. My role is as software developer, but I come from a mostly non-technical background which includes graphic design, marketing, and linguistics; this page caught my eye as something of interest. I wanted to share a bit about the process of writing the recruitment page, and why we have put so much care and attention into it.

In doing research on hiring and diversity — and from personal experiences —  I know that this topic is already well-covered by people who have been in tech or PR for many years longer than I have even lived. I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel here: many people have said things much better than I ever could anyway. Instead, I’ll point out some recent influences on this whole process as we go.

However, if you want to dive in completely, there are a few resources I’d recommend checking out. These are good places to go for anybody who wants to learn more about diversity, employment, and culture in the tech industry:

Why bother?
As Bytemark continues to grow, we’d like to see the range of diversity within the company more closely mirror that of our community and beyond. We’d like to create an environment, internally and externally, that is welcoming to diverse individuals and groups. That means a broader set of perspectives can influence the development of our products and the quality of our communications. From that position, we can support a wider range of customers, using our services for a broader variety of reasons. It also means that the diversity that exists within each of us can be brought forward and valued in ways that may not have been as welcome previously. This is ultimately less stressful for everyone at work — it becomes less about fitting in, scheduling, and downplaying the things that make us different, and more about the work we do and whatever unique viewpoints we can bring into it.

How?
Successfully achieving a more diverse culture within a company is hard work. There are challenges for employers, employees, and applicants at every step of the process. For example, in my case, I know that as an American, being hired in the UK comes with a lot of fun visa paperwork for my employer and me. And it doesn’t end there — there are cultural adjustments, work expectation adjustments, communication, spelling and speech adjustments… heck, there are even keyboard adjustments.

I’ve highlighted just one aspect of diversity — I could have written this post from the perspective of being a short person, or a woman, or raised Jewish, or simply as a junior developer. Other aspects, or combinations of, can make fitting into a work environment difficult, costly, or daunting in ways that are difficult for those who don’t experience those hurdles to understand. It is important to work at removing or minimising those barriers, so that a person’s talent and work contributions are seen first and foremost, and can be evaluated on equal footing with their peers.

Everyone has unique features of who they are and what they do. These are part of our everyday lived experiences, so it becomes important to demonstrate an awareness of and importance placed upon them. In an employment page, it can mean everything from being explicit about benefits that may be already well known to those who are native to this country or culture, to focusing on the work expectations rather than trying to paint a picture of an ideal employee (which are sometimes based on cliché stereotypes, e.g., “come be a coding rockstar/cowboy/ninja”), which may not be clear, attainable or desirable by people who don’t readily fit the norms of current tech culture.

It has been apparent to me that Bytemark cares deeply about creating a welcoming and productive work environment for everyone, and so we should find a way to convey that at the very first step. It was that first impression — and everything that came after it — that led me to feeling comfortable enough to explore this topic in the first place. Ultimately, I ended up really running with it, which has been fun and super interesting. I’ve had the freedom to really consider the wording of our recruitment page, to bounce ideas off people, and not hold back with my personal experiences or perspectives on things. As a result, we ending up rewritting, rearranging, deleting … whatever you can do with content, we did that. That led to a lot of funny discussions about how things might read to others. I got to know my coworkers better, and had the chance to share some of my experiences as well.

In practical terms, we made some necessary changes to the content. We added some things we hadn’t previously thought of including, removed some things that didn’t scan well (despite our best intentions), or simply made some aspects that we care about more prominent.

For example, we now state up front and in bigger letters, the following:

“We’ve hired people in all ranges of expertise —  from those with no  formal academic qualifications or those from fields entirely outside of technology, to people with advanced degrees or who have been career  sysadmins. Qualities such as methodical thinking and knowledge sharing are just as important to us as education or experience. We strive to make assessments by taking account of all the skills you have to offer.”

This is a good example of one way that Bytemark is already diverse, but we hadn’t said this in previous employment pages. It’s important to do so, and the reasons were echoed in all of the recruitment/diversity research we’d done thus far (especially in discussions on Twitter, see link above). Talent is talent, and we don’t want to discourage it —  especially by suggesting that it must come in the form of an advanced degree or some other restrictive and non-inclusive metric; see the Planet Money episode link above for a good illustration of a systemic problem in Computer Science degrees over the years.

Another area that we put more focus on in our new recruitment page is learning opportunities for our employees (directly above the benefits section). It’s unfortunately easy to take these for granted when they are part of your normal, daily workflow. Looking around, however, these things may not be the norm for most companies. It’s something we’re proud of offering, and they signal to prospective employees our desire to make an investment in their interests and development.

Lastly, we removed references to pizza, pinball, and soft drinks. They’re cool perks – and we still have those things available – but they don’t need to be part of why you should spend your days working for Bytemark (or anywhere … except maybe an arcade?). In a time when tech culture is becoming much more self-aware, and other-aware, these things may unintentionally signal something we don’t mean. Hopefully, one day these things won’t matter so much, but thankfully there’s plenty of other great things to say about working at Bytemark. Overall, I think we’ve taken a solid step toward sharing that.

Where do we go from here?
We realise that this is just a start. Recruitment and learning are both ongoing processes, each influencing each other. And changes in culture —  from the local, work culture to the global, tech culture — prompt revisiting our policies, ways of doing things, practices, work flow, and more. And that is a very good thing.

In sum, working harder to find talent is worth it.

PS. We’re hiring — please check out our recruitment page!