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Ensuring depth in diversity: Part 2

If ‘normal’ were a circle, diversity would be that which is beyond it. The challenge of ensuring a truly diverse workforce, therefore, is to reach out further and deeper beyond the evolving circle of ‘normal’ and seek out the ‘minorities in diversity.’ This entails challenging the working definition of diversity; questioning whether the boxes we tick on recruitment forms (gender, race, age, etc.) really cover the various forms of diversities that exist; assessing our recruitment models to see if we are inadvertently filtering out worthy candidates. In Part 1 of this series about ensuring depth in diversity, we covered the ThoughtWorks Software Technology excellence Program (STEP) in India. In this part, we explore how the graduate recruiting initiatives in the UK has taken small steps to overcome diversity as a bottleneck in their hiring efforts.

The ThoughtWorks Scholarships

The recruiting team at ThoughtWorks UK made a similar discovery to their counterparts in India, - that of a diversity bottleneck being created due to socio-economic factors (See Part 1 of this series). As Jade Daubney who used to head our graduate recruiting initiatives in the UK says, they focused on women who have a flair for technology but have traditionally been excluded from our hiring processes because they did not have the right qualifications. There could be two reasons for this pattern of exclusion: First, they haven’t had the privileges that the rest of us take for granted, such as a university education. Second, they have had to cope with tough life circumstances which affected their chances of pursuing a career in tech.

Tammy Masterson, for instance, did not have a ‘regular’ life as a teenager. Consider her challenges, in her own words: “The hardest thing that I had to overcome was sexual abuse when I was young. I think it affected my relationships throughout teenage and early adulthood, and I’m only just starting to realize how. Being independent, and having something going for you in life enables you to overcome these kinds of things. A large part of what was not letting me overcome these experiences were things like not knowing what was I doing with my life, having no money, being on the road, travelling, and then having to sleep at various people’s houses because I had nowhere to stay and not thinking that there was anything wrong, feeling bad and not knowing why not knowing that the demands (of abusers) of me were unfair. Basically thinking that their expectation had to be honored or something.”

Thoughtful and resilient, Tam would still have been ignored by typical recruitment drives because she didn’t fulfill the eligibility criteria; she was trying to figure out where ‘home’ was instead of chasing good grades. Or, for that matter, consider Kornelia Szabo’s circumstances which she describes as follows: “My dad had to go to war. We were in this very funny state of being Hungarian but not really being from Hungary… so I grew up as some kind of minority. I experienced a lot of abuse, various kinds which were physical, emotional, sexual as well…” Even Kornelia would have found it difficult to pursue a life in tech because her qualifications, dented by adverse circumstances, didn’t check all the requisite boxes.

It became increasingly important to look beyond the traditional recruitment hubs and modify the recruitment process to include training on the job. This was when the team decided that a scholarship in association with the Makers Academy, one of Europe’s leading Web Developer Bootcamp, and a community partner with the ThoughtWorks’ London office, would be the best way forward

Partnering with Makers Academy

The coding methodology taught at Makers Academy is similar with the ThoughtWorks approach. While dev boot camps are not as expensive as a college degree, their total cost - including the time spent away from work - can preclude passionate candidates from entering the program. The scholarship pays for the Makers Academy program in full, provides the attendee with a small stipend to help cover the gap in other wages during the time, sets the individual up with a mentor for weekly coaching sessions, and offers an interview with ThoughtWorks upon graduation.

Makers Academy publicized the scholarship and received over 200 applications. Jade and her team scrutinized each application and interviewed applicants for months. The process involved getting to know the applicants and understanding their challenges. Finalizing just six scholars out of the hundreds, in Jade’s words, was “ridiculously difficult.” The final decision was taken on the basis of the answer to this question: “Is this going to change their life?”

The six scholars that made it to the Program are Tammy Masterson, Kornelia Szabo, Caitlin Gulliford, Edyta Wrobel, Sara Veal and Charlotte Fereday. Five of them have already graduated and become ThoughtWorkers! Watch them talk about their journey here. Jade adds, “I’m really excited for scholars to have a whole new experience in life. When we met these women, they had a spark; they had a buzz, they had a love for technology. And it was just a hidden gem which we were excited to see flourish.

For ThoughtWorks UK, this initiative has been significant in proving that attaining depth in diversity requires constant innovation. The program’s impact has been unquestionably positive. For instance, Caitlin Gulliford states: “What it feels like when I’m coding, is that a part of my brain is so turned on, that almost as if I’m not even here, and I forget that I’m here in this body, with this history, this past, but I’m just in the code…. No matter what happened to me in the past, I’m still this person here learning things. Watch her complete interview here.  

Building a #HomeInTech

Jade cautions that while the program’s duration is just a few weeks, the actual commitment is lifelong. Inducting scholars into the program is the beginning of a relationship. While they learn the requisite programming skills at the boot camp, they also need emotional support to sustain their growth well beyond the camp’s duration. Many of the participants could suffer from the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ - despite being courageous and resilient, they could doubt their capabilities, question their future, and inwardly battle negative thought patterns. They need an environment where they can feel at home - they need a #HomeInTech.