A diversity initiative that works: mthree’s Aspire programme

Becs Roycroft explains her firm’s award-winning initiative and why it stands out

With the pressure to create fair, inclusive and equitable workplaces at an all-time high, and the business benefits of diversity proven, it has never been more critical for firms to establish effective initiatives to make this happen. Through its Aspire Project, one tech reskilling business, mthree, has brought in more diverse talent to their workforce and aided in their career development.

Below, Becs Roycroft, Senior Director at mthree, details mthree’s programme, which recently won DEI Recruitment and Advancement Initiative of the Year at the Women in IT Awards UK.

Why did mthree start the DEI Recruitment and Advancement Initiative, what is your role in it, and what does it seek to achieve?

As Senior Director of Global Emerging Talent and Reskill Operations at mthree, we launched the Aspire project in 2020 to help our workforce reflect the diversity of the global population and tackle tech’s lack of diversity. The Aspire project aimed to drive engagement from minority groups in tech, both with mthree’s external partners and internally. One of the first key objectives of the project was to grow the gender diversity of mthree’s flagship Alumni graduate programme from 25% – already higher than the average in tech – to 40%.

Why is there a lack of diversity in tech? What are companies getting wrong?

Diversity in technology is a persistent challenge. Issues include a lack of role models, ongoing recruitment bias, and businesses only hiring from small talent pools, which often mean companies fail to reach a broad range of candidates. This failure has meant that there has been little improvement in diversity in the sector compared to other industries.

To change, companies need to find ways to increase the number of applicants coming from underrepresented backgrounds. They need to level the playing field and use assessments that focus on someone’s true potential rather than the prestige of their educational or socio-economic background, educate internal teams and hiring managers, and provide support to minority groups within their organisation to improve retention of diverse employees.

Is there any point in having a diverse recruitment initiative without an advancement/retention one too?

Our Diversity in Tech report showed that more than half (59%) of young people aged 18-24 working in tech have left or have wanted to leave a tech-based role because the company culture made them feel uncomfortable. If diverse young people are leaving businesses, and in some cases leaving tech altogether due to a lack of support and empathy, we’ll never be able to make a real change regardless of how many people we manage to attract.

We recognised that creating an environment in which people from all backgrounds felt comfortable, and working with our clients to do the same was an essential part of the project to retain graduates from the project and to give them the best platform to advance their careers.

As a result, each of our graduates now receives tailored onboarding, orientation and ongoing support, a training stipend has also been implemented to ensure underrepresented students can afford to attend our Academy, and regular performance reviews too, which ensure they are being supported and treated fairly.

A greater emphasis has been placed on a sense of belonging and community, through the appointment of a new head of communities and by hosting various events for our graduates, such as Women in Cyber and Women in Data.

How can employers be convinced to stop looking at only the top universities for recruits?

Employers ultimately will be convinced by the results. Alumni from our graduate programme are an example of the social and business benefits of a re-focus on potential rather than a background-based approach. These success stories can be used to show employers the positives of looking at a wider range of institutions. It is a process that is already starting to gain speed and it will only accelerate as more and more employers begin to see the real business case for a workforce with a diverse range of backgrounds.

Can you outline the most impressive outcomes of mthree’s initiative in terms of diverse representation?

Through driving attraction engagement and retention strategies globally, we have grown our Alumni graduate base from 400 Alumni in late 2019, to over 1,000 in October 2021.

Gender diversity in the Alumni graduate programme has risen from 25% to 35% globally, and 39% in the UK, with the programme now at nearly three times the UK national average for women in technology and four times the BAME diversity statistics.

We have also launched mthree’s emerging talent business in India, which in one year has grown from 0 to 330 graduates, with diversity statics of 50% female, 19% economically challenged, and 24% first-generation graduates across 16 different states.

What early-stage advice can you offer to tech firms looking to start their own DEI Recruitment and Advancement Initiative?

To start, firms should look internally to assess where the bottlenecks are occurring that block people from diverse backgrounds from thriving in the organisation and tackle each one from there. Coupled with a data-based approach that allows you to see tangible results, this approach will give you the opportunity to keep tailoring your processes to get the best outcome.

What are your plans regarding the initiative for the next year?

We want to continue the work we have done to improve our diversity both internally and in our Alumni profile. Beyond this, we want the thinking behind the Alumni programme to create real change in the industry as a whole. We want the results to show the tech industry that building diversity through looking at a person’s potential is not only beneficial socially but also that it has real benefits for a firm through diversity of thought and greater access to talent.

Is learning tech skills on the job the new way to develop diverse talent in tech today?

Learning on the job is certainly one way in which diversity can be improved in tech, and recruitment firms should be looking to move away from strict job specifications. mthree always look to the potential of a candidate rather than solely their academic results. Often looking entirely at a rigid set of job specifications and prestigious academic institutions creates a blinkered approach that builds a rigid employee profile. Our approach is designed to move away from this and cultivate a better range of candidates through diversity.

mthree’s programme won ‘Recruitment and Advancement Initiative of the Year’ at the Women in IT Awards UK 2022, what made your firm’s application stand out and why are awards like this important?

I believe mthree’s results we have had both internally and externally have spoken for themselves and helped change the conversation around how diversity in tech can be tackled. Furthermore, awards such as ‘Women in IT’ have a really important role in not only highlighting the work that women have done in the industry but also in terms of fostering new conversations around diversity in tech industries and how it can be improved.

To find out more about the Women in IT Summit and Awards Series, click here.

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