In partnership with EY Fast Growth
Kayleigh McHale and Haleigh Sands have cultivated a truly wonderful community, their #YouEqualTech meet-up was one of the best meet-ups I’ve had the pleasure of attending this year. The panel discussion was much like the weather we experienced; heated but rather wonderful too. The sun began to set over EY’s Fast Growth offices but the panel’s discussion illuminated the room – even if the sinking sun was directly in their eyes.
Kayleigh and Haleigh began by addressing the importance of using the #YouEqualTech community to make connections with others who can support you in your career, how D&I is true passion of theirs and it being their mission to get a more equally balanced workforce. What I love about #YouEqualTech is that it’s by the community for the community, even an alien from Mars could tell that this is a true passion of Kayleigh and Haleigh’s.
We were here to discuss starting-up and scaling-up, and how we ensure D&I is at the forefront of a new businesses’ growth. Kayleigh stated that there were “almost 600,000 UK start-ups launched last year – and that lots of them will fail, so tonight we’ll explore what it takes to build and sustainably grow a business that’s truly inclusive”.
So, just by looking at the panelists, I knew the discussion was going to be very, very reputable. Once we were introduced to the panel, we dove right into the questions.
The panel was asked about ‘focus’ in the initial stages of a fledgling start-up, what was important to them at the very inception of their journey, and why?
Sarah gleefully exclaimed that a ‘pitch deck’ was insurmountably integral to her at inception, which really resonated with me as a content provider! She went on to state that if you can boil down all of your ideas, tag line, product / service, early PNL information, market area and cash flow into 10 or so slides then you have fought an early battle that needs fighting. Sarah stated, “if you can produce that [pitch deck] then you have a strong business outline”. For me, this seems bang on – you will really understand your own business if you can scrutinise it down to a short presentation / pitch deck.
Tamara added that research was massively important to her early doors, explaining that she got as much insight as possible for their product, she spoke of the ‘mum’ test. For those, like me, who didn’t know what this was, it means you actually hurt your business by getting too much internal advice / guidance or, alternatively, your mum loves you but she’s not going to be as critically honest as she could be with you. Tamara said it was key for her to go out to customers, but rather than giving them the old school hard sell, she quizzed them on their ‘needs’, which served to naturally uncover what they require from the product and as such they then realised they needed the product.
Hayleigh progressed the panel on to ask a right corker; “thinking about what you know now and then – what would you do differently?”
Faye Pressley, of Spinks Alumni, now COO at Vanti, wasn’t actually present at her company’s inception, but if she had been it could’ve been a much smoother ride to the top. She went on to mention that her business was born out of passion, there was no research, plan etc. just the drive and desire to create a business in their specific remit. They made mistakes, sure, but remained true to themselves and put their early clients’ needs first – through blood, sweat and tears they coped, survived and then thrived. 10 years on, they realise now that they could’ve put people and culture first perhaps with the right hires early on, perhaps a ‘Head of People’ person, as they’ve lost strong people in their early days and over the years, Faye mentioned that this was their ‘organisational debt’. Now, with a blinding COO, I’m sure their culture is perfect for their business.
Kelly Waters, who regular readers of my content will know is a great panellist, stated that it went really well in first two years so maybe no changes were actually needed from his point of view, this was found hilarious by the audience as we all gave a collective ‘LOL’. Kelly did mention that payment terms nearly killed his business, he could not stress enough that new businesses have to read the small print on when they will get paid from their clients, or else they could be dead in the water very early on. They rectified this in order to grow, but he recommended an early hire of someone with a finance background is kind of key, essentially to not get ‘mugged off’ or left skint.
I make that 2 hires right at the beginning, a people person and a finance person. Simple enough, but really valuable information for young businesses.
Kayleigh then posed a question around scaling inclusively, “with demand it’s a bit of a catch 22, you’re very busy, need more people, crave a happy healthy environment, we see the magic ingredient as ‘values’ – if you know them and work to them, is that the recipe for success? How do you define your values, or how should we define them?”
Sarah discussed that values really enable start-ups hire teams. If diversity is a value of yours and you have the desire for a diverse team from the start then it truly sets the tone for the company to scale – if you begin this way, or start with your personal values, then you are starting from a good place.
Kelly added that his team were just a few people at the beginning, they asked themselves “what is the culture we want” and it was a conscious thought. Your values are part of the attraction of your company so discussions around values are essential. Then he went on to talk about how they grew so fast, circa 50 people in 4 months, then they tweaked the values to reflect their larger team. They tried to brainstorm quirky and fun values but nothing resonated, so they brought in an external consultant to engage with their clients to garner true feedback on what his business represented, how they worked and so on. The feedback suggested that they shouldn’t impose values, but rather embody what their business and people stand for. They found the values that actually enabled them to articulate who they are. So perhaps it’s not about the values you think you want, but rather the values you actually possess.
Faye spoke ardently about her company living and breathing their values. She admitted that they initially hired the wrong people early on and negatively affected the culture, so, when they realised this they came up with an amazing idea, if you send a team to Mars to recreate the business, what would you do? How would you emulate the business on the Earth for the new business on Mars? This gave them actual real values, that were not compromised but real, as such enabling them to hire for the future, based on values.
A willing audience member then cried out – how do you evaluate values based on KPIs?
Faye jokingly retorted “we don’t”. Growth and progress got in the way previously, but it was still ingrained in their day to day activities. They used a product called ‘Hive’, she went on to say, that puts a value against something positive they’ve done – Faye admitted it was low level human feedback but as valuable to her as more stringent KPIs.
Kelly added that it goes against the ideal of values to measure it, which I really liked – quantifying values seems too corporate and rather mechanical.
If employee growth is impending, Tamara stated, then it is important how you communicate values externally and internally. Much like Kelly’s business at start-up stage, culture was loose and formed naturally but more recently it didn’t seem true to their business today. They had a group of contractors come in and existent staff said, non-maliciously, ‘they don’t work in our way’ – so from this they uncovered how they work and as a result core values were bred. She then raised my favourite point of the event, her business adopts a ‘total football’ approach. The Dutch football team of 70s, with Johann Cruyff as their ambassador and best player, invented this model. I won’t go into detail about it as a quick Google will give you better information, but every month at Tamara’s company there is a ‘total football’ award! She ended her point by saying “do it; value by value, bit by bit, and do it organically as a team, rather than unnaturally at the start”.
Haleigh posed, “understanding why diversity and inclusion is important to your business is key to getting it right, so why is D&I important to you, and how are you striving towards a balanced diverse team?”
Sarah, right off the bat, told us all that it is proven that more diverse teams = higher ROI. She gave an example: she hired a diverse team for a fintech, that saw them migrating from servers to cloud. The company is making a lot of money, why? It’s a very diverse team, including a lot of women. Initially, she was challenged on hiring female techies by the higherups of the business, what was obvious was that these women were actually the most technically skilled people they had.
Kelly mentioned all forms of diversity are important, and honestly admitted that sees a lot of male techie contractors and that, from his point of view, more women are seemingly in permanent positions. He guessed that roughly 1/10 contractors, he has seen, are women. This point needed applauding for its honesty, and it is why meet-ups like YouEqualTech exist. We know there are more women out there, we know there are female contractors, we just need to ensure we’re sourcing in the most inclusive, wide-spanning, way possible. He added that he feels there’s not just a problem with a lack of women entering the industry, it also the number of women leaving it.
Sarah challenged this point, stating the women are there just we are not doing enough to find and attract them. Kelly joked, that Sarah was almost certainly correct and that he is, after all, and Kelly I hope you don’t mind me saying, “I’m a white middle-aged male” – but he does totally care about this cause. After 33 years in tech, he saw teams with mixed gender are definitely better. Think of your customer base, more or less is 50/50 men:women, right? So why wouldn’t you want a balanced team?
Kayleigh and Haleigh then asked for some quick tips from the panel.
Faye; culture fit is important, as important as retention of your best talent
Tamara; make interviews better, 1st screening interviews, at ‘Live Better With’, are the same questions so anyone from the business can interview prospective hires – male or female. She added that a business doesn’t thrive on hiring ‘mini-mes’, stating “we want originality and diversity of thought”.
An audience member added that Silicon Valley hires on culture, aka hiring mini-mes, and that is why there is a lot of diversity issues over the pond.
Sarah raised the point that we should hire people with potential, even if they lack certain areas of proficiency as more often than not these people usually meet and exceed expectations. She added the women are out there! But the tests / screening stuff, that clog up the selection process, are just archaic and need to be abolished.
We then spoke around the pertinent piece of evidence that stated women require an 80% fit for a new role, whereas men only 50% fit, and as such over sell themselves and are more willing to ‘have a stab in the dark’.
The audience retorted that it is a change needed in sourcing techniques to find more people! And that the need to embed inclusivity into your culture is paramount.
Textio, Kayleigh mentioned, highlights inclusive language, but quoted research suggesting you have a higher chance of hiring a female – more quickly, if you use words appealing to a “growth-mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset” in your job specs or adverts, rather than focussing on gendered language. I have said this before; neutral language is needed – my issue with Textio is that to say a word is more resonant with a female is a massive generalisation and actually not the best way to ensure equality and inclusivity.
100 white men applied to my advert, admitted Sarah, so she tweaked and re-wrote it, once she consciously realised it was not attracting diversity, then she engaged a large focus group to help her shape this.
Then, came a true start-up question for specifically Tamara, what was the hardest question from VC?
She replied that it was when they demand rigorous data on both growth and profitability, it’s easier to describe one without the other, when both, Tamara admitted “it’s very hard to answer”.
Haleigh then went on to ask Faye, what relationships most critical for your businesses?
Faye explained that she is in a unique position and has a non-traditional relationship with the founder of her business, it is her partner – so a lot of pillow talk helped progress them (the business, not their relationship!). Also, Faye also accredited the “reinventing organisations” book by Frederic Laloux.
As the impending end of the discussion was arriving, Kayleigh and Haleigh ended the truly riveting session by asking, “in a nutshell, what is your best advice to fledgling founders”.
Kelly; “a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you”, we loved this point – he went on to explain that you need to stick to your principles, if they are right you’ll build a flourishing business. Do not compromise your principles for money – let principles guide your decisions.
Sarah came full circle and reemphasised that important of a pitch deck!
Faye stated it was a case of confidence building and that there is a difference between confidence and bravery. So, be brave, but also be vulnerable and be “yourself”, “believe me,” she said, “it goes a long way”.
Tamara talked about the fact that diversity is ultimately valuable, but so is keeping your people and identifying how to manage your teams effectively in order to get the best out of them.
Wow. What an event. We learned a lot, and the sun was still up by the time we all began networking.
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