Four practical tips for workplace diversity

I caught up with a colleague a few weeks back for a coffee and the topic of conversation eventually turned to diversity.

I talked about how we are really proud of our diverse and talented team at Axenic. We have a good split of gender (six women and nine men), five different nationalities, a broad spectrum of ages (20s to 60s) and a range of life experiences (ex-career military through to ex-musician)…all within a company of 15 people! This makes for a team that values different view-points, embraces working with a range of people and challenges group-think norms. We think that these attributes combine to make a strong team culture and provide our customers with significantly better outcomes.

While there seems to be an article pretty much every few days on LinkedIn about why diversity is important, we talked about the lack of practical information on how to achieve diversity in the workplace. So here’s our top four tips of how Axenic approaches diversity:

  1. Think – We think of team diversity as a significant contributor to our team culture and as a competitive advantage in the InfoSec space. Within Axenic this mindset influences how we run our business: the people that we hire, the staff benefits that we provide, what team social events we have, and the team input into business decision-making. This also extends into our customer interactions with how we represent ourselves and a ‘sum greater than the parts’ approach to how we resource our consulting engagements to leverage the strengths of different team members.
  2. Recruit – We cast the net wide when we hire new team members and we make sure that the language that we use in job adverts is inclusive. By looking in different places when we recruit, we find that the candidate pool to choose from is significantly more diversified. We also have had the help of an amazing recruiter (Linda Ashton from RoundPeg), who ‘gets’ our company culture and helps us manage the recruitment process. We choose new Axenic staff members very carefully – cultural fit is extremely important to us but we also purposely look for people that can bring new ideas and approaches into our team. This helps us achieve surface level diversity (gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) and deeper level diversity (personality, beliefs, thought process, etc.).
  3. Nurture – We regularly get involved with industry initiatives that support diversity, such as Shadow Tech, Summer of Tech internships and our own sponsoring of up and coming InfoSec professionals. After many years of focusing on hiring reasonably senior InfoSec professionals, we’ve also recently started hiring more junior staff members. These younger folks inject a lot of energy into the team and bring new ideas and questions that challenge our established way of doing things. We are also conscious of our responsibility to help grow the next generation of InfoSec professionals in NZ.
  4. Support – We try to provide a working environment that allows our team to achieve a good work-life balance. Probably one of the main contributors to this is our flexible working policy; so long as our team are meeting customer expectations, we don’t mind where and when they work. This policy caters for early risers, late risers, parents with sick kids, taking a sunny afternoon off, working from home/office/client site, etc. We also undertake regular training that challenges the way that we do things. Each month we run internal team hack days when we take our team out of customer work for a day to work on an internal Axenic initiative. These have ranged from pulling apart how we do risk assessments to see how we can improve, giving our ISMS a boost, doing a writing or presenting course, business team strategy days and creating a new fictious company to use for InfoSec reference examples. Each hack day is run by a member of the team (normally the person who nominates the idea!), and that person gets experience of using the different skills, abilities and combining the team into sub-groups in different ways to get the desired outcome at the end of the day.

While we are proud of our gender diversity at Axenic, gender is only the first waypost of diversity. If you are a hiring manager, I encourage you to seek out new staff members that have different backgrounds from your current team, have transferable skills from industries outside of your own, are younger or older than you would normally hire and reflect the diversity of your own customers. We have, and we think that we are onto something pretty special.

Feel free to email me if you’d like to know more – terry.chapman@www.axenic.co.nz.