How we work to make Birdie a diverse and inclusive company

Photo by Tolga Ahmetler on Unsplash

We are a health technology company. We make technology, broadly, to improve quality of life for humans. There are two reasons why championing equality, diversity and inclusion are important to us:

  • For the people we serve: tech teams do not often represent the societies they are impacting. We want to make sure we get the views and input of the people who use our product, so that it works well for and supports everyone, rather than just a subset of the population.
  • For us as a company: two of our core values are that “we care” and “we succeed together”. It’s of paramount importance that the people who work at Birdie feel supported and valued, no matter their background, and that we encourage a culture that is able to reflect on its own behaviour. We want to enable everyone to feel safe and confident that they can do their best work.

Diversity, inclusion and equality go hand-in-hand:

Diversity is about recognising the value of difference. Inclusion is about ensuring we get the best from everyone. (The Home Office)

Three of the ways we’re taking action:

  • Encouraging people of any background to apply

For interview candidates applying for software engineering roles, we’ve worked hard to make their technical test as flexible as possible, and impressing upon candidates that there is no time limit.

Software development (a core part of our company) doesn’t have a great reputation for representation. In the 2019 survey by Stack Overflow (the most widely-used developer community), over 90% of professional developer respondents were male; only 7.5% women, and 1.1% non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming. Even outside this survey, estimates on the the non-male portion of the development workforce do not rise above 30%. Different axes (race, age) present with comparable minorities; tech is not a level playing field and we won’t pretend it is.

In addition, the attrition rate of women in tech is generally judged to be double that of men, and technical interviews can have an incredibly negative effect on women. One of the biggest things that can help with a technical test, however, is reassuring candidates that there is no time limit; we simply ask them to have a go, and hand it in when they are happy with it. This is not a trick question. Giving someone with 3 young kids and a sick mother-in-law a technical test on a Thursday afternoon and asking for it back by Monday morning latest will be unnecessarily stressful for them, potentially causing all-nighters and worry. We want to give people the chance to have a really good go at it, on their own terms, working around the myriad other things they have on in their life; if it feels like too much work, we expect you to communicate this so we can open a dialogue. Hopefully, from the rigorous pre-screening, we will have pitched the test at the appropriate level for you. We emphasise that this should work around your schedule and work, and any questions are welcomed. We actively do not want to put anyone at an unfair disadvantage.

  • Ensuring Birdie is an inclusive space to work

Every business is a people business, and we respect and accommodate our colleagues’ lives with our time-off policy. We have a generous, flexible but roughly-parametered time-off allowance (proffering unlimited time-off can actually have negative effects). As the evidence suggests, this highlights two very humanising messages: “We care about your well-being” and “We trust you to get your work done”. Parents, caregivers, those with other commitments: we want you to feel supported and trusted.

We also have weekly e-questionnaires on all manner of things, including inclusion. We promote a culture of radical candour at Birdie — being direct but kind with your feedback, and having an open dialogue with your colleagues. As Karen Catlin, author of “Better Allies: Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces“, puts it: “So many private companies pay lip service to the idea of a diverse workforce, yet hesitate to elevate people from underrepresented groups to management, leadership or C-level positions. A lack of constructive feedback exacerbates the situation.”

All too often, however, the onus of flagging up exclusive behaviours or more widespread negative culture can fall to the minority it affects, or a solution can be difficult to pinpoint. Our weekly questions take just a few minutes, but having your voice heard (you can either leave comments anonymously or not — the choice is completely yours) is unquestionably empowering. Like Toyota’s Andon cord, it starts a conversation immediately and hopes to optimise for resolution. We don’t have a “Diversity And Inclusion Program” or “D&I Lead” as we believe it’s everyone’s job.

Lastly, we offer a monthly subsidy to spend on health (for example, a gym membership, or going to therapy, or both, or something else) for all employees, and ensure that at least one section of each person’s Personal Development Plan includes a goal around a health or wellness-related behaviour that the individual wants to develop, whatever their circumstances. Health is not binary, and most of your life is spent at work. In a similar way, disability is not binary, and is often invisible.

  • Involving the people who use our product

Our work, like our product, is strongly person-centred. We speak to and visit multiple care agencies every single day. It would be remiss of us not to take their opinions and feedback onboard.

Currently, 8 out of the 10 most ethnically diverse local authorities are in London, where our office is, but we support care agencies all over the UK. We have health and care professionals who work on both our product and engineering teams, but one of the reasons we don’t have an “in-house” Care Manager is that we want to continue to hear as many opinions as possible, rather than accepting one voice as a proxy for all possibilities and opinions. In addition to having the fastest customer care response time in the industry, we also go out (daily) to see our agencies and provide data with essential insight. Every single person who joins the company (sales, leadership, HR, engineering, product, customer care, data) visits agencies to ensure they understand a care worker’s landscape. These relationships are supremely important to us.

What we want to achieve

We are always working to improve this - it is a light that never goes out on our dashboard. It’s all of our jobs to champion inclusive spaces and products: not just to make this a healthy, welcoming place to work, but to think about what could make it easier for others to apply, and how we can accommodate people not immediately like us. Instead of announcing a “strategy” and some branding, we’re working to create meaningful and lasting change and hopefully this article has highlighted a few of the ways we’re trying to listen and improve. We are aware there are multiple intersections of inequality. There is no overnight, or single, fix, but we’re always hoping to continue to promote equality and welcome diversity.

If you have a suggestion, a challenge, or you think we can do better, please reach out — I would love to hear from you.

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Lucy Mitchell

Lucy Mitchell

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Technical Writer. Former NHS OT and software developer in health tech. I like bikes and plants. www.ioreka.dev