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Doughnuts for diversity: Simple ways to promote an inclusive culture

March 08, 2018

Leila Powell

“What have doughnuts got to do with diversity?”, you ask. Well, you can get plain or iced, icing sugar or sprinkles, jam inside or custard, deep-fried or vegan… but more on that in a moment.

Doughnuts for Diversity

First, let’s go back a couple of years. I’d recently joined the data science team at Panaseer and was acutely aware that there are not many women in security (or tech in general). I wanted to leverage my position in a new, open-minded startup to try to “bake-in” a woman-friendly culture from the very beginning. But there were no resources for this, no HR team and I had no experience of doing this, so where to start?

The first step turned out to be remarkably effective, even though it seemed very simple at the time. I set up a Slack channel called #diversity-in-tech (because diversity is about way more than just gender) and invited everyone on the team to join it. Initially, I just shared a few links to resources, but now, 2 years on, many people regularly contribute articles, events and talks — the most recent being a link to a seminar on diverse hiring posted by Charaka, our CTO.

Nearly a year later, I kicked off our own internal women’s group PanaWomen, which had a grand total of 4 members in the early days! Again, I started with a slack channel (the slack is mightier than the sword!). This one I kept closed, as I wanted it to be a place the women on the team could discuss challenges or frustrations they had faced, such as being asked “Who’s your husband?” in place of “Who are you?” at a recent external event. Sadly, I’m not kidding. We started to meet monthly to discuss how to make our work environment more woman-friendly, particularly as the company grew. For example, we noticed there was some confusion around parental leave and after we raised this, Al, our commercial director, stepped in to give the whole team a quick primer.

As well as looking inwards, I wanted us to reach out! With the other PanaWomen, I created the Women in Cybertech Initiative — a small group of women all working in other cybertech startups we had met around London. The idea was we would all have other people to connect with and could share what worked and what didn’t in our own companies, in terms of encouraging diversity. My dream here was also to try to capitalise on the influence a whole new generation of companies, with a more inclusive culture, could have on the security industry…but we have to start small!

The next area for attention was our recruitment process, as we were struggling to attract women to certain roles — this was truly a whole team effort. We scanned job ads for gendered language with Textio, reduced the number of skills that were “required” (research shows long lists typically discourage qualified women) and generally followed any advice we could get our hands on! We also get out there and recruit directly, showing up time and again at Silicon Milk Roundabout, where we get to meet candidates face to face. Recruitment processes are still a work in progress, and always will be, but we noticed we had more women in the pipeline after taking these steps.

And finally, we get to the doughnuts. One of the issues we had identified in PanaWomen was a lack of any company statements on diversity. We wanted to put into words what our company values are so that we could celebrate our positive work environment and make sure we attract new team members who wanted to help us maintain and improve it. We held a “Doughnuts for Diversity” team session where everyone could add their contribution to a board describing our company culture and read and review our diversity statement while enjoying a doughnut. It was such a great session as everyone was so engaged, chatting openly about what diversity meant, learning a new language and discussing how discrimination might affect people differently. Very different from our usual coffee time discussions which seem to revolve mostly around food!

Our new staff handbook was unveiled in January, complete with our company culture statements, diversity statement and anti-harassment policy. This now goes out to all potential new joiners so they can see what we stand for before they sign up.

Coming back to the present day, we recently hired Thordis, another woman data scientist, meaning we’re now at 50% women in data science and 33% across the business.

It’s always hard to pin down exactly which actions had the greatest effect on the outcome, but in the words of our newest recruit on why she wanted to join the team, “it was clear that diversity was highly valued here and that absolutely played a part”.