One of our core values at Hackney is being inclusive. In a weeknote at the start of September I shared an outline of the work that we’ve been doing across the whole Council to talk with our teams and hear more about their experiences of working at Hackney and ideas for ways that we can make sure that we are living our values.
Along with other Directors across each of the Council’s services, I held a series of conversation groups over the last few weeks. Across the Council there’s a focus on improving our ethnic diversity in senior roles, so three of the groups were for BME members of our team. Within HackIT we’re also working to improve representation of women in technology, so I held two sessions specifically for women in our team. I also held a further session which was open for anyone in the team to take part so that everyone had an opportunity to feedback and contribute. As well as the group sessions I offered time for 1:1 or smaller group conversations as I’m mindful that not everyone is comfortable expressing their views in larger group settings.
We had wide ranging and really constructive discussions, including talking about ways that people can raise any concerns or ideas about inclusion, how it feels to be part of the team and ways that we can make sure that we are supporting people to progress their careers at Hackney and beyond.
The quick read version
The more detailed notes below summarise the key themes that came out from these conversations. These covered a range of topics and we identified some specific actions that I will take forward to respond to the things that people raised.
Some of the suggestions related to the interactions we have every day. There were some good examples of the positive difference that a smile and a friendly hello can make and also reminders of how important it is to make time for one another when we need a hand with something. We also talked about how managers and the people in their teams can work together to help with developing skills and planning for progression.
There were also ideas for changes that we can make to the way that we work in our team. These included some changes to our recruitment process and giving a bit more structure to our training and development offer so that all teams know what is available and can get the most from that. We also discussed the potential benefits that could be had from making more mentoring opportunities available.
This will link in with the wider work that’s taking place corporately, which includes inclusive leadership training for all managers and the work of the Inclusion Champions who are helping promote inclusivity across their services.
I’ve found this exercise very useful and the most important of my follow up actions will be to work with our Inclusion Champions to think about how we can keep this conversation going, so that we can make HackIT an even more inclusive place to work.
The fuller version
On a personal level, the sessions were very valuable, but also challenging (in a good way). It reminded me that there is always more that can be done to engage with colleagues and make sure that people’s voices are being heard. In the HackIT team we’re proud of our commitment to working in the open and being collaborative, but there were still lots of things which came up in the conversations which hadn’t been discussed with me previously and it was important for me to hear.
Many of the things we discussed were raised by several of the groups. I was pleased to hear positive feedback about some of the things we’ve done over the last few years, such as making our service’s leaders much more visible and accessible, sharing information openly across the team and working hard to encourage diversity through our recruitment. But there were also good suggestions for areas that we can focus on to make sure that we’re truly inclusive. Reflecting on these I’ve gathered them together in some themes:
The little things can make a big difference
It was great to hear from many of the people who took part in the discussion groups (including both long-standing colleagues and people who’ve joined more recently) saying that they enjoyed being part of the HackIT team and found our environment friendly and welcoming. But some of the feedback also highlighted how important it is for us to be consistent in this.
Even if we’re having a bad day or we’re juggling lots of things, it’s essential that we remember to take time to greet one another and respond positively to questions or suggestions. There’s never an excuse to behave rudely or be offhand with colleagues.
Making time to listen and explaining decisions
That doesn’t mean that we all have to be instantly available for one another, but it does mean that we need to explain if we don’t have time immediately and suggest another time that would work better. I posted some thoughts on how I approach that here: https://bytherye.com/2018/12/11/personal-reflections-on-how-i-prefer-to-work/ and I know that others have been trying out different techniques too.
It also doesn’t mean that we have to agree with every suggestion we’re given. But if we disagree it is important to explain why and, as Cate set out in her thoughts on governance last year, decisions need to be made collectively, not in isolation, and then shared so that it’s easy for other members of the team to know what to do (that’s one of the main reasons we’ve created our ‘How to HackIT’ guides).
Recruitment and committing to developing diversity at all levels
A major topic that we talked about was recruitment and opportunities for progression. This is an area that we’ve been giving a lot of thought to over the last couple of years. Actions we’ve taken include: designing our service’s structure to support clearer career paths; offering more fixed term opportunities and reducing our use of agency staff; simplifying the application process; sharing the work our team are doing and holding open events so that people thinking about applying for a role in HackIT can meet the team; and making sure that we aren’t using gender biased language when we advertise roles.
But there’s more that we need to do.
As one colleague said, ‘there’s a lot of snow at the top of the mountain’ – we have a good gender balance in senior roles but BME people are still underrepresented. We also need to make sure that we’re not complacent as our gender balance is not consistent across the team. It would be easy for us to say that we’re ahead of our industry norms in terms of diversity, but we need to be more ambitious than that – I see our role as being part of making a meaningful change across the industry as a whole.
A key element of going further will be our support for training and personal development (see below), but we also discussed some simple ways that we can change the way we recruit to help us improve.
One request raised in the discussion groups was to clarify our position on when we will advertise vacancies internally before we progress to external recruitment. In response to this I’ve updated our ‘How to HackIT’ recruitment guide to say that our default will be to advertise internally first (with a few exceptions that I’ve set out in the guide). This is intended to create opportunities for people in our team to progress and grow their experience so that they are well prepared for further progression onto more senior roles.
Another suggestion was that Hackney should introduce applicant blind recruitment across the Council to avoid the risk of unconscious bias when applications are shortlisted. I’m pleased to report that work is in progress to do this and last week I had a more detailed look at the plans. I think that it will be a very positive step forward when it’s introduced early in 2020 and I’ll make a further update to the ‘How to HackIT’ recruitment guide once the new recruitment process has been launched.
Training, development and mentoring
This was the other topic that we spent most of our time discussing. We’ve been giving this a lot of focus recently too, including: launching our sector leading apprenticeship programme (which we’re now expanding through our work as part of the London Office of Technology & Innovation); reviewing our budgets to increase the allocation for investment in training; (paid) acting up opportunities; taking advantage of the apprenticeship levy funding (we have 3 people who’ve starting degree courses this September as a result of accessing this funding, and a couple more in the pipeline); and thinking much more broadly about our approach to personal development so that we can offer a rich set of opportunities to learn new skills. We’ve also been encouraging people across our teams to develop their personal profiles through our HackIT blog and sharing their work at external events.
From the discussions we had, it looks like we’re not currently consistent enough in how we’re thinking about our training and development. Most of our teams are making this an important part of their work, but from the feedback there definitely seems to be variation in the extent to which different teams are taking up opportunities. A particular area that I think we need to focus on are teams whose work is more operational in nature, where the conversations highlighted that people often felt that it was hard to make time for personal development.
We also talked about how mentoring and work shadowing can be a useful way to support personal development. The Council offers mentoring support, but I don’t think everyone is aware of this and we can also look at how we might use our links with the IT and digital teams at other councils and companies we work with to get advice and development support where that might be useful.
We discussed the balance that we need to strike between individuals’ own responsibility for their personal development and the role that managers have in helping their team members think through which opportunities will best help them develop the skills and experience they need to achieve their aspirations for future progression (including opportunities to take on more challenging work where this helps them to develop their experience). The ‘Check in’ process (which has replaced the traditional appraisals we used to do) is a useful tool to help with this, and we need to make sure that these are taking place regularly for everyone across our team.
A very useful suggestion was that we should write up a ‘How to HackIT’ guide outlining the types of training and development we can offer. This will help individuals and their managers to make sure that they are considering all the possible opportunities when they are planning personal development.
Celebrating our diversity
A great strength of the HackIT team is how diverse we are and several of the people who have joined our team more recently commented on how different this was from places they have worked before. One of the groups suggested that we should make sure that we are celebrating this, and while our Pride bunting already makes a great impact on the walls of our office there’s more space available and it was suggested that we could link in with Black History Month to make good use of that. I loved this idea and it’s great to see that the team are already getting moving with that as well as some other ideas for ways that we can celebrate Black History Month in HackIT!
The positive focus that we have on communication across our team was recognised, but we also discussed some of the challenges for effective communication. (My personal experience is that teams usually feel that there is either too little or too much communication, and sometimes I’ve heard both complaints at the same time!)
Some people raised that it can be difficult keeping in touch when you have flexible working arrangements such as part time working and working from home, which can mean that people feel ‘out of the loop’ because they’re not around when conversations are taking place. There is an extent to which this is inevitable, but we talked about ways that weeknotes and channels like Slack / Hangouts can help to make sure that people keep in touch with key conversations and decisions. I don’t think that there’s an easy fix for this, but it’s important that we all keep it in mind.
We also talked about the benefits of teams sharing the work they’re doing. The hard work and achievements of some teams can be less noticed and that can be a missed opportunity to make sure that people know that their efforts are valued. This is a shared responsibility for all of us to make sure that we are showing the contribution that all of our teams are making.
An interesting question that was asked was whether there is space for dissenting voices and if it’s OK to challenge received truths. An example of this would be our office environment, which is open, energetic and collaborative, but some people prefer quieter space for more focused work. I would want to encourage anyone in our team to feel confident in raising issues like this. In the scenario of the office we have been looking at ways that we can make adjustments like allocating separate space for quieter work and also being supportive of home working where that might be helpful. But it’s also important for us to make sure that when we’ve made decisions together we then commit to them. There are inevitably constraints that we need to work around and it’s important that we recognise that it won’t always be possible to arrive at conclusions that fit with everyone’s preferences – the key is the way in which we work together to reach those conclusions.
Inclusion is for all of us
A final thought from the discussion groups was how clearly the whole team’s commitment to being inclusive came through. It makes me proud to be part of the Hackney team and positive about the further improvements that we can make together.
But I’m also conscious that some of the points raised in the discussions are not just about what ‘management’ does. I’d like us all to reflect on these and think about what we can do in our day-to-day work that will help us make sure that everyone feels welcome, valued and encouraged.
So, what next?
After I’d finished the series of discussion groups I met up with our team’s Inclusion Champions to get some feedback from them. They reported that people had been pleased that the sessions had happened and that the Council is demonstrating how important inclusion is. But there were also some doubts about how much practical action will come out of these and they said that a few people had fed back that they didn’t feel confident raising their ideas in the group setting or with a senior manager.
The conversations identified a number of actions that we can take to help make HackIT an even more inclusive place to work and I hope will demonstrate the commitment to following through on the discussions. My personal priorities will be:
- Publishing this blog post to share my reflections on the discussions and the follow up actions that I will take.
- Updating our recruitment guide to provide a clear position on advertising roles internally before we go to external adverts (this is complete).
- Working with HR colleagues to introduce applicant blind recruitment (due in early 2020).
- Making sure that we produce a ‘How to HackIT’ guide for training and development.
- Looking at the potential to do more in terms of mentoring and work shadowing opportunities, both internally and through our links with partners.
- Working with managers across the service to make sure that we are all encouraging our people to plan their personal development and take up the opportunities available. As part of this I’ll also be checking in on how we are using Check Ins across our teams and making sure that managers are remembering to use opportunities to celebrate their team’s work (eg through blog posts, show & tells etc).
- Making sure that as a service we are linking in effectively with the wider corporate work on inclusion, including the inclusive leadership training that all managers will be taking part in.
- Looking at ways that I can make sure we are involving our Inclusion Champions more closely in our future work on developing our service.
I also intend to make sure that these discussion groups aren’t a one-off event and will be giving thought to ways that I can keep conversations like this going moving forward. I don’t think that inclusion is something that can ever be considered ‘done’ and I’ve found it incredibly useful to take this time with people from across the team. I will be continuing that.