Diversity & Inclusion Alliance

D&I is something we put a lot of emphasis on as both a company and a product and engineering group, having a diverse workforce leads to better product and people outcomes, and is generally indicative of higher performing businesses, as a number of studies have identified.

In the last quarter we have become focused on putting structure and tactics in place around how we can ensure we have a diverse and inclusive workplace for engineering at First AML. This has included establishing a Diversity & Inclusion alliance.

The alliance is made up of engineering staff (5 members of the team, 3 women, and with individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds as well) as well as members from our people and culture department.  Members are encouraged to rotate regularly, so we can get a range of perspectives within the group.

This group meets to discuss opportunities and ideas for improving diversity and inclusion within product and engineering.

Since forming the group has explored a range of topics such as pay grades, our approach to recruitment and how we create, attract and retain talent. 

Gender focus

One particular area of focus for D&I has been gender diversity of the product and engineering team. And looking for ways to improve gender diversity within our group.

We know that a failure to concentrate on gender diversity can create significant organisational challenges to addressing it in the future.

How are we tracking?

We have begun formally tracking gender diversity of our P&E workforce since August, and over that time we have seen improvement from 41% woman and non-binary individuals across Product & Engineering, to our current position of 52% woman and non-binary individuals. Specifically in engineering (excluding product) we have seen an increase from 30% to 39%.

I’m also pleased to note that over the same period the gender diversity of our senior leadership team has increased to 40% Women (from 25% in August).

So what have we been doing to get there?

Conscious approaches to recruitment

Primarily we have taken a conscious approach to our recruitment, to ensure gender is addressed as part of the hiring process and being more flexible to needs of candidates, this has been driven by a few initiatives:

Department voice

One of the things that happens as companies grow and their culture solidifies, is that they begin to establish a “voice” – this tends to be a mixture of style, tone, norms, humour etc.

The tone can end up being a strong attractant (or dectractant) to candidates.  It will often find its way into job adverts, your interviewing process, and the day-to-day life of working in an organisation.  It helps your candidates to imagine if it’s a place they will fit into.

It’s also a great place for unconscious bias to be introduced.  We utilise gender decoders to examine content of things like job adverts for potential gender bias as a first step for each of our job adverts.  But it’s also worth remembering that your job advert should be genuine and represent who you are, and your departmental voice.  If we see language in job adverts that has a masculine bias, and this is reflected elsewhere (career paths, candidate communications etc.) then this is something we aim to address holistically.

Addressing gender-bias in hiring

One of the first things we instituted was ensuring our hiring pipelines always include a gender-diverse interview panel.  We also took the time to coach and socialise techniques to use during interviews to identify potential at-risk behaviours from candidates.

Our team interview panels for software engineers today always have at least 1 woman and 1 man as part of their overall make-up. We also ensure we have representatives from product and design, which can provide a more neutral external opinion.

Job-shares and flexibility

We recognise that many people need additional flexibility to support the needs of their life outside of work (or even to pursue other exciting opportunities in another space), or to provide a smoother transition back into the workforce.  

We believe this is a great way to attract a more diverse workforce.

This included updating job copy and advertising on non-mainstream job sites targeting candidates looking for reduced or flexible hour roles, or job share opportunities.

Equity of opportunity

The approach we have adopted for hiring is to aim for gender equity within our pipelines.  In essence we want to fill our hiring pipelines with an equal ratio of men to women candidates, then select the most suitable candidate for the available role.

We don’t set out with the aim of hiring a woman or non-binary candidate for a specific position, opportunities in our organisation are based on merit, not gender.

Filling pipelines

The whole team is aware that every hire is an opportunity to continue to drive for gender equity within engineering, and we are all as a team conscious of the need to have a different and more adaptive approach to hiring as a result.  The constraint we apply to ourselves as a team is to ensure we drive for equity in filling a candidate pipeline for each role with only 50% men – this has required shifts in our approach – specifically:

  • Reducing our reliance on recruiters significantly.
  • Moving to an internal sourcing based approach for finding candidates.
  • Communicating clearly with candidates the current health of our pipeline in terms of gender equity, and conversely that this may slow the hiring process depending on where we are at with filling the pipeline with more diverse candidates.
  • Ensuring our job adverts and engineering team public persona isn’t adversely effecting our ability to start a conversation with woman and non-binary candidates. Including examining our external comms for things like subtle gender-bias.
  • Heavier focus on employer branding and engaging in a wider range of events that attract a more gender-diverse attendance.
  • Engaging with the team to brainstorm and think about other creative ways we can address driving additional diversity into our candidate pipeline for each role.
  • Hiring for a wider range of experience levels (graduates through to seniors), and focusing on how to then grow those individuals quickly internally.

That last point around a wider range of experience is a really important call-out.  There are statistically less women in senior engineering roles than men. This is a lagging indicator of inhospitable environments within engineering roles in the past (and is more acute the further back in time you go).  This is why it’s both incredibly important to create hospitable and equitable environments for all candidates within your business, and then become part of the solution by hiring those less experienced diverse individuals and growing them into great future senior engineers and leaders within your business as fast as you can.

We as a business get so excited about the opportunity to invest in growing someone internally, and it’s become a fundamental pillar of our company-wide culture.  It also creates a much more manageable and strategic approach to succession planning and hiring for senior roles in the future as we grow.  As a side note – if you are an engineering leader and have yet to read “An Elegant Puzzle”, then I strongly recommend buying a copy and reading the chapter on system thinking (stocks and flows), as it provides some compelling ways to model and think about topics like recruitment or growth planning – or checkout out the article on Systems Thinking on the Will Larsen’s blog for a quick taster, and this helps inform why we think growing staff internally is so vital).  Applied to the topic of increasing diversity within a team you can use it to model out the impact of different decisions you might make over time.

Recruitment approaches

In particular we have established a better understanding of the intrinsic drivers of external recruiters over the last 9 months, and where best to apply them in filling pipelines – ultimately this means they have a role to play in helping fill some of our pipeline (to reduce workload) but largely so we can then invest the time and energy internally on sourcing more diverse candidates to achieve pipeline equity. 

Navigating that journey with our recruiters is a blog post all of it’s own, which I hope to cover in more detail in the future!

Sourcing candidates definitely has been a “take a village” approach, with our people & culture team working alongside engineering to identify potential candidates through a variety of sources.  We are finding that sourcing is definitely more of a long game, and sometimes a “polite no” is really just a “yes, but in 3 months time”.  Spending time chatting to those people who are no’s can help a lot to both polish your message / unique points of difference, and understand the market better.

We know there may be ebbs and flows

Keeping up morale is important – I won’t lie, sourcing does take a lot of effort, and you will get a lot of people who are politely not interested.  Also the market of potential candidates is complex, the “great resignation” following the lock-downs in 2020 means many people shifted roles in the last 6-9 months, and may not be ready for a move yet, but yet is not ever.

We have begun instituting a process for follow-up reach out so we can come back to candidates on their own terms, and finding ways to keep them abreast of how things are going at First AML so they can be informed (and potentially excited about what we are doing as a company) makes future recruitment efforts easier too.

The ebbs and flows is why I think it’s important not to be chasing a “target” – what we are focused on is equity of gender in our hiring processes, and creating an environment with a diverse range of staff who feel comfortable and enjoy coming to work and making a difference.  The ratio of gender will naturally flow up and down a bit, but these changes we have made around focusing on addressing gender inequity in hiring never go away, it’s just part of how we do hiring from now on.  We rely more on culture surveys and conversations to take the temperature across our organization to ensure we keep D&I front of mind, not targets.

This is just the beginning

This is just the beginning, I’m incredibly excited about the momentum and organisational passion for investing in diversity and inclusion at First AML, and how readily the entire team gets behind it.  We know it will help create a better environment for all our staff, make First AML a more fun and interesting place to work, and drive better business outcomes.  What’s not to like!?

As we continue to grow I’m sure our strategies will need to evolve, but it’s an exciting Journey to be on.

Want to know more about P&E?

To learn more about our awesome P & E team head to https://firstaml.dev/

Also if you are interested in joining our awesome team, then go and check out the roles we are hiring for here, of if you are just interested in discussing what kinds of opportunities might be available now or in the future we can be contacted via email on careers@firstaml.com or LinkedIn.

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