Humanity in technology is the key to meaningful change in the workplace

Tazz Gault, co-founder and director of StateZero Labs talks about the company’s novel approach to start-ups and achieving diversity and inclusion.

Creating meaningful change in the workplace that connects equality, diversity, inclusion and wellness is the “fundamental goal” of StateZero Labs, a solution-led blockchain accelerator.

“For us, that’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have,” says company co-founder Tazz Gault. “And, the start-up route is how you’re going to see improved change across the board.”

StateZero is finding, funding and furthering the potential of new enterprises by exploiting the technological power of blockchain, the database associated with bitcoin. The first cohort of seven start-ups was recruited in January. It’s an intensive three-month accelerator programme, and each founder is given an equity-free grant of up to £50,000.

Tazz explains that she and her business partner, Katie Mills, formed StateZero because they both felt, “slightly frustrated about how start-ups were being treated in some areas, how everything was following a pattern.

“Of course, that’s how business can work, but we wanted to approach things differently. We had also been doing a lot of start-up scouting throughout our careers and kept seeing these buzzwords just being added on the end of a stack, rather than solving real business use cases. Blockchain is obviously one of those.

“But the primary focus was around people and how we could give a different focus and shake up the industry slightly, which is what we’re trying to do.”

Interviews are a two-way street

Staying human is the core value at StateZero, which means not only supporting the potential of start-ups but also the employees and community. The company takes a holistic and transparent approach to hiring, in which interviewing is a two-way process. It includes a half-day on site, which interviewees are paid for. Promising applicants receive information on what to expect from working at StateZero, full job descriptions of everyone in the team, salary brackets and career progression.

“The first experience of us is the most important,” Tazz states. “They’re interviewing us, so it’s not just one-way. We also make sure that, on our job description, we’re not just saying you must have a degree and x amount of experience. Also, we want to open jobs to people who might not necessarily find them in the usual forums; people partnering with relevant organisations and charities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, through to mental health awareness.”

In addition to their holiday entitlement, staff receive four mental health days a year. The idea is for people to switch off completely, no texting work or checking emails. There’s also a budget for their further development, which doesn’t have to be work-related. The company believes that supporting wellness will encourage more inclusion and diversity.

A healthy founder means a healthy business

StateZero champions these values with the start-ups that it supports, although, Tazz admits, that it may not be possible to replicate the values in every business that they work with.

She adds: “But actually, we do believe, and it’s part of our programme as they grow, that they are aware of the advice that we would give in order to keep these values true to them as well.”

During the accelerator programme, founders are offered yoga, meditation, personal training and mental health awareness. There are even cookery demonstrations.

“A healthy business comes from a healthy founder, Tazz argues. “Of course, they don’t have to join in if they don’t want to.  There are certain things that work for some people but not for everyone. We all have a different approach to what wellness means and what wellness means for us individually.”

Transparent hiring

With regards to transparency, start-ups are not necessarily required to follow StateZero’s example. But they are shown the impact that this could have, particularly around values. This means looking at technology, who their customers are and how they propose to change the landscape.

Tazz accepts that the StateZero approach to hiring and diversity and inclusion is easier to implement in a small business. The problem for big companies is they have more people that would be affected by change. Her advice is to go back to the roots – why was the company founded – and identify the key value and how that impacts the team, customers and the community.

“We should always remember that we still buy and sell to people and community is quite a buzzword; it should have purpose,” she says. “Doing that first before you try and implement any change to see more equality and inclusion, would be my first step.

“I also think that there’s no excuse to trying; get people involved, hear their voices and make sure there’s some sort of transparency in your hiring process.”

Tazz and Katie are keen not to be viewed simply as female founders but as entrepreneurs. They would like to see more women in the technology industry as part of an improvement in inclusion as a whole.

“There are certain elements of diversity that we seem to forget,” she argues. “Age is really important; in the applications, we saw 21-year-olds and 70-year-olds. That’s fantastic. We want to see more of that and more BAME.”

Finally, Tazz says that diversity is about balance, hiring the best people for the job, because they’ve “done awesome things”.