It’s a tough question to answer. Particularly when you’re looking at a sector as typically male-dominated as tech, with all its ingrained biases.
But having joined as social media manager at REPL two years ago, I’ve experienced first-hand how it can be done, with an inclusive culture, that encourages all of us to have a voice and bring our unique experience and insights to the table. It’s why we were all thrilled to find out the company had picked up a Great Place to Work For Women award earlier this year.
So, given how critical it is that more tech companies follow suit, I wanted to take this opportunity to find out what lies behind the difficult job of creating a truly inclusive workplace in the tech sector.
And who better to get the answers from than our own CEO, Cerys Johnson and People Director, Sarah Wright .
Cerys, you joined the business in 2011, before being promoted to CEO in 2017. How high up was gender diversity on your to do list when you took on that top job?
When I moved into the CEO role 22% of the people working at REPL were women. On some teams, there were no women at all. Those stats shocked me and made feel pretty ashamed. So improving that was very, very high on my list. I’d had some lived experience of being one of very few women myself too. I was the only female on my degree course, then when I began working at a power station I was the only woman apart from those in admin roles, and then when I moved into aerospace manufacturing that too was very male-dominated. So I know what it’s like to be the minority and how that can inhibit you bringing your true self to work, and stop you performing at you best. There’s such a huge untapped market out there for talented women. That’s why it was very high on my list of things to take action on.
And other than it being the right thing to do, why is this something other businesses in tech should take a similar stance on? Why should they care too?
We’re a business that’s grown really, really rapidly, and we wanted to attract the best talent, and cast our net as wide as possible. If you make a career in tech accessible to as many people as possible, you have a better chance of getting talent that’s out there in a really, really competitive marketplace. On top of that, if you have a homogenous team you’re far more likely to get decisions nodded through. If you have diversity, one of the things that we pride ourselves on at REPL is that people will speak up and speak out and they will challenge and that’s positively encouraged. And when you get that diversity of thinking and the ability for people to feel that they have a voice that’s heard, you end up making better decisions.
Which is definitely something I’ve benefited from. I love to ask lots of questions and that’s always been really encouraged.
I wondered if I could ask you a bit about recruitment, Sarah. I know when I was applying having a visible role model like Cerys as CEO really mattered, as did the fact that 50% of the leadership team at REPL is female. What other changes have you made when it comes to recruitment to attract more diverse talent?
For me, the most important thing is the fact that a lot of our recruiters are women. A lot of the people who are the hiring managers and decision makers and role models in our organisation are women. That just puts a different spin on things. It makes it a lot easier to say to female candidates, look what you can do. But it’s not just about getting people through the door, though that’s very important. It’s about getting them through the door, giving them fulfilling careers, and making them want to stay for a long time. And that’s something that I think at REPL that we do very well.
The first thing we did actually was to look at how we were as an employer for the women that were already working at REPL. We took away some of the barriers, such as introducing flexible working. I did a four day week myself for a few years, so we made sure it was something that was shared and promoted. It was important to convey that you could be a mother and also pursue your career. For the same reason we introduced shared parental leave, with our COO taking extended paternity leave for a few months. It addresses some of those barriers, and perhaps some of those unconscious biases toward women in the team.
I know too you also looked at simple tweaks to job ads, like switching ‘essential skills’ to ‘desirable ones’ – which I know subconsciously probably made a difference for me when applying.
What about culture? How do you create an inclusive culture, do you think?
Part of it is just making very, very clear who you are. We recently updated our company values, we only have six, and one of those is “we are diverse”. That’s how important it is to us. It underpins everything we do. We’ve created an environment where there’s no macho attitudes. People are encouraged to learn, and to share where they’ve made mistakes, and what they’ve learned. It’s seen as a strength to admit that you are finding something daunting, or that you’ve made a mistake, or even that you’re just having a bad day. That helps to create an incredible team spirit, and an atmosphere of trust.
Another one of our values is that we’re brave. Things are not perfect all the time. But we’re brave enough that when we see something that’s not right, or that feels uncomfortable, or we feel that there’s an injustice, everybody feels empowered and comfortable enough to say, hang on, I’m not happy with that. Which is really true. I’ve never felt unable to share an idea or concern on what I think about a project.
So, given all the hard work at REPL on getting better at diversity, what would your advice be to other companies looking to improve their own track record?
Do it from the right place. Don’t do it because you’re trying to get an award. Don’t do it because you’re ticking a box, or because it’s what’s perceived externally as the right thing to do. Do it because you are, you genuinely wholeheartedly believe in it and do it from the right place.
I couldn’t agree more.
Want to learn more? Watch the video below from Victoria Place, our Global Consulting Lead, who shares her experience of working at REPL as a woman and lists her top three reasons why she believes REPL is a Great Place to Work for Women.