Hire the people you want to reach: Why diversity isn’t just a buzzword

'Talent Tales' panel at Digital Shoreditch

Ten software developers are sat around a table. At your average company, two of these people will be women. And out of ten tables, only one will be led by a woman. “Obviously then,” says Sara Jones of City University at Tuesday’s Digital Shoreditch Grow event, “software can tend not to be gender neutral.” The issue here, or at least one of them, is that even if a woman manages to secure a place in a software development team, she is much less likely to come forward with her own ideas and opinions when it is so male-dominated.

“Women feel confident in design, but are much shyer about getting stuck into tech,” says Paula Graham-Gazzard, director at FossBox. “Coding is so strongly signified as male in our culture, it doesn’t feel safe for women.”

Graham-Gazzard’s approach to changing this was to found Flossie, an event comprising multi-disciplinary workshops that give women ‘permission’ to code. By receiving the opportunity to make mistakes and learn in an environment free of judgements or stereotypes, FossBox found that a great many women became newly passionate about coding and continuing to develop their abilities in this field.

Knowing where to look

Considering many sectors are suffering a shortage in digital and development skills, it is simply good business sense to embrace new talent, no matter where it comes from. There’s a complacency in most businesses which amounts to “well if there’s diverse talent out there, why aren’t they applying for jobs with us?” The answer to which, of course, is that these environments are unwelcoming to huge groups of people who feel that they don’t ‘fit’. But these disenfranchised youngsters are precisely who you should be looking for.

At one point, Ogilvy was predominantly hiring straight, white, middle-class Oxbridge graduates. No more. The Rough Diamond programme, founded by Ogilvy Labs’ Nicole Yershon, actively seeks out talent which might not have made it through traditional recruitment channels.

“They’re smart kids,” says Yershon, “it’s just a different smart.” Rough Diamond wants the secondary school pupils who aren’t showing up to class, who aren’t feeling hear, and who constantly question authority. “Your attitude changes when you’re not being talked at,” adds Yershon.

Hire the people you want to reach

Ogilvy is also the only creative agency in the UK with a group dedicated to both reaching consumers and finding talent in the LGBT lesbian, gay, bixsexual, transgender) community. Ogilvy Pride is the brainchild of Andrew Barratt, whose own experiences in brainstorming sessions led him to take action. “When everyone in an agency is the same, then they are simply having more of the same ideas,” he says, “and potentially missing out on something great.”

The marketing industry might be inherently conservative, but more and more clients are starting to see the value in telling stories that reach different pockets of consumers. Especially when research indicates that millennials are 47 per cent more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality-themed ad. Case in point, Tiffany & Co. enjoyed a surge in positive publicity when it ran its ‘Will You?’ engagement ring campaign featuring a gay couple.

As organisations like Creative Skillset and the Rough Diamond project set out to find and develop technical and creative talent from the unlikeliest of places, what can young people do to stand out? “Be authentic,” says Yershon, “and have attitude.”

Philip Ellis is a journalist for OgilvyDo.com, Ogilvy’s global thought leadership channel.

The Drum and Ogilvy UK are working in partnership to share the latest thinking from Digital Shoreditch 2015. Read more at The Drum’s Digital Shoreditch hub.

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