Kaylee Parkinson is the head of people at Papercup, an innovative machine learning business on a mission to make the world’s content watchable in any language.
Working in the technology space for the last 5 years with the likes of Google and Expedia, she has a passion for tech start-ups where she can apply her 10+ years of knowledge of people programs, business partnering, and recruitment. I caught up with her for a virtual chat on understanding diverse talent, exactly how we can retain it, and potential challenges digital recruiters like myself may come across.
WHAT IS MEANT BY DIVERSE TALENT AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Put simply, diversity reflects characteristics within your team that are unique or distinct. The workplace definition has previously been pretty narrow and focused on what is known as 'protected characteristics' such as age, gender identity, and ethnicity. Now, we are starting to see some workplaces embrace a broader definition; life experiences, approaches to problem-solving and socio-economic background. The benefits of having a diverse workforce are extensive and impactful. You will experience new and different ways of tackling business challenges, you will understand your clients and customers better if your workforce better represents them and you will be an all-around more attractive place to work - especially to millennials. If that isn't convincing enough there are numbers to back it up - companies who rank in the top quartile of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their competitors. Those in the top quartile ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their competitors.
HOW DO WE RETAIN DIVERSE TALENT WHEN TURNOVER IN TECH IS ALREADY HIGH?
While we would love for there to be a silver bullet that solves both, this is a complex, dual-pronged challenge that may require a parallel approach. Tech has one of the highest turnover rates of any field, the skills are in high demand. Focusing on engaging, rather than retaining is a good way to start building a strategy.
Ask yourself how you are engaging the tech folks you fought so hard to hire. Are you allowing the individuals enough autonomy and creativity in the role? Is there micromanagement due to a lack of understanding of the function? It's also incredibly important to put learning first. The industry moves fast and professionals don't want to get left behind with the latest technologies.
When it comes to diverse talent, a key priority should be to build and cultivate an inclusive environment. We often forget the I in D&I - we focus on diverse hiring to ensure we have the best possible talent but this is only part of the puzzle. We must give at least the same amount of attention to ensure we build an environment where everyone can do their best work.
Education is a key step here, and unconscious bias training is one of the most practical ways you can have an impact. In this type of training, you can really demonstrate the implications that unconscious bias has in the workplace and provide practical guidance on how to manage our innate bias in a way that minimises its impact on others.
Cultivating a feedback culture can also aid an inclusive environment. If you make giving feedback to your norm, it will help promote the idea that all voices are important and valued. Demonstrating this at your most senior levels is a great way to walk the talk. Show your senior leadership giving feedback to the CEO; upward feedback is an indicator that it is safe, and encouraged to share.
PROGRESSION EQUALITY AND DEVELOPING SKILLS
In a study byLeanIn.org and McKinsey, it was found that women had to provide more evidence of their competence, and the rate increased for black women. With that in mind, revisiting your progression criteria and the process could be valuable. These structures are meant to provide a fair way of assessing your talent but they do not always have this effect. The more robust these structures, the better. The tech startup world, in particular, is much more inclined to have a loose structure and go with a ‘gut feeling,’ but this is a fast way to let bias creep in. On top of these structures, you need to ensure fair and even access to training and opportunities. If certain skills or experiences are required to progress in your organisation, ask yourself who is getting access to these and why? These are great steps towards levelling the playing field.
A challenge many of us will face is scaling this kind of culture. We might get a lot of this right in the early stages when numbers are small but as we grow it’s harder to maintain. While there might be an urge to add a policy or ramp up your diversity hiring further, it’s worth thinking about what your non-negotiables are when it comes to behaviours - and back this up. Make it clear which behaviours are not acceptable then encourage, reward, and highlight those behaviours which serve to support an inclusive environment.
Finally, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the things you could do; the first step is to just do something. Everything you do is a step in the right direction so even if you start small and commit, you can build incrementally.
From all at Trust in SODA, we thank Kaylee for taking the time to speak with us.
If you’re looking to build diverse teams, get in touch with me at nadja@trustinsoda, and take a look at our exciting data opportunities here.