Hatch Events

The Fight Against Hiring Bias & How Inclusive Practices Are Opening The Tech Industry To Underrepresented But Highly Skilled Talent

Part of the mind the (skills) gap series

There was a study conducted about 20 years ago that asked thousands of respondents whether they would cross the road to help someone with a visible disability.

80% admitted that they wouldn’t.

Why? Because they didn’t want to do something wrong.

We’ve got similar challenges in the workplace today.

Chris Quickfall, CEO at Cognassist


Diversity & inclusion plays an increasingly important role in global corporate strategy, and this deserves to be celebrated.

But true inclusion isn’t just about addressing gender balance, or ethnic minority representation. It’s about creating cultures of safety, transparency & adaptability that transcend bias entirely, empowering people from every type of background to fulfil their potential at work.

To challenge our collective thinking on this topic, the second event in our Mind The (Skills) Gap series brought together representatives of talent communities that still face significant barriers into and within industry.

Neurodiverse individuals.  People with disabilities. Ex-offenders. Veterans. Those from a background of socioeconomic disadvantage. The LGBTQ+ community. And everyone in-between. People with enormous potential, transferable skills & applicable experiences who are so often invisible to traditional hiring practices, but who deserve to have their equal value recognised by employers.  

Over the course of a highly interactive event, our speakers discussed their own experiences, shared tools & best practice for embracing genuine inclusion, and inspired us all to consider whether underrepresented talent communities hold the key to solving the digital skills crisis.


Dr. Curly Moloney, Co-Author and CEO of The Cambridge Code

Curly opened the event by sharing the founding story and inclusive principles behind The Cambridge Code, a tool that measures a range of deep-seated, subconscious traits that make us the individuals that we are.

Many years ago I trained as a doctor, and I had the privilege of working with teams at Oxford looking at the subconscious mind and how it worked.

I left the world of medicine for headhunting, but the power of the parts of the mind that we don’t see always stuck with me.

As a headhunter I saw lots of psychometric tests used by both candidates and employers. In the boardrooms, however, they were using occupational psychology to really get under-the-skin of what made senior candidates tick.

They were looking at subconscious drivers, rather than accepting that what you see is what you get. I’m passionate about that, and the fact that this insight was reserved for those that could afford 4+ hours of occupational psychology drove me slightly mad. Why hadn’t it been digitised? That’s what we set out to do. We wanted to make this lens of a person’s potential accessible to everyone.

Curly then shared with the audience how exactly The Cambridge Code works, and why it’s such a powerful tool in providing employers with a different perspective on candidates.

We didn’t come up with new methodologies or new ways of thinking, but we did distil the very best parts of occupational psychology into a new tool in the form of an online assessment. It takes about 20 minutes, and it’s very personal.

What we are doing throughout the questionnaire is pushing you in and out of your resting state of mind. And it doesn't matter how far down you slip, what we measure is how long it takes you to recover back to your resting position.

It doesn’t ask any questions about CVs, or how many years of experience as person has. What it measures is someone’s capacity to fulfil their potential. What barriers do they have that will stop them from reaching it? What is their innermost drive?

The Cambridge Code allows you to go beyond face value to drive true diversity and to spot talent where you normally wouldn’t be able to see it.

Curly finished her keynote by sharing some examples of where The Cambridge Code has been used to fuel and inform more inclusive hiring practices, with some incredibly humbling results.

We've worked with prison service to look at people who are transitioning back into the workplace, primarily to give them confidence in themselves. They don’t believe they’ve got much of any value to add to an employer, but we can show them an array of natural strengths and drivers that begins to help them form a different view, like their capacity for resilience, or their capacity to reach their potential.

Similarly, we’ve partnered with Hatch to drive different groups of people into the digital and tech space. Some of the clients have been astounded at the results, placing people into their business that they would never have otherwise known had the drive and capacity to succeed.

We're very proud to have worked with Hatch to give people who wouldn’t normally have had a chance, the opportunity to shine. Giving them that agency and the confidence over their own future allows them and their job prospects to significantly increase.

And then for the organisations to benefit from that same insight and to be able to say, ‘OK, so we've got this person that we can see is a fantastic team player. Let's harness that. And we’ve got that person who’s really tenacious and is a natural leader, but they’re not great with authority, so let’s put them in this team under that manager.’

Panel One

Amidst the growing digital skills gap, are employers thinking broadly enough about diversity and inclusion?

[Kate Daniels] There are the mature organisations that have the bandwidth and the profitability to invest in strategic EDI. And there are organisations that have been growing extremely fast over the last 5 years. So fast, that all they've really done is respond tactically.

A certain amount of skills gap is extremely valuable to this agenda. I would never have had a career in tech if it wasn't for the Millennium bug because they were simply hiring more people. My face didn't fit, my gender didn’t fit, but it didn't matter, which proves that these technical skills gaps are important for diversity.

I think that it’s also interesting to consider where there might be natural synergies in candidates that align to current skills gaps. In my mind, the biggest gap coming up is all around cybersecurity, and you can see how there are synergies there for ex-military experience. Similarly, across tech more broadly, aspects of neurodiversity present clear synergies.

[Will Fraser] Particularly for the ex-offender community that we work with, what you often see when we're going out to find new employment partners is a quick negative judgement.

These individuals often have more transferable skills than anyone else I've ever met. The number of skills needed to deal with those scenarios and situations are things that most employers are desperate for, but they’re just packaged in a very different way.

The biggest challenge is shifting employer mindsets. We're trying to shift mindsets to encourage employers to have a long-term view in a very short term world.

And employers need to show a bit more courage because actually, if you get it right, what that does not only for the person they're employing, but for the employer themselves, is 10 times more powerful than if you just try to plug a hole based on skills & experience.

[Andrew Jackson] One of the areas that we should look at much more closely is cultural diversity”.

’Will you fit the culture of the organisation?’ is something you hear a lot at interview. Well, the risk there is you're just recruiting in your own image, and I would suggest that if you want to change the culture, then bringing people in from a different, diverse cultural backgrounds is important.

Stereotypes consistently get in the way when it comes to the military community for example, as does the lack of understanding of their transferable skills. If you've been a Captain, or a participant in a team sport, for example, those are exactly the skills that most employers are looking for. So, we've got to challenge these preconceived views and look at people on their merit.

How can we better connect the dots between these underrepresented pools of talent and employers?  

[Will Fraser] You get a lot of availability bias where people only know what they're told and what they're presented with. Take ex-offenders; you’re only fed through the media that prison is full of the worst people imaginable. So, you put them behind a wall out of mind.

Far too quickly we make our own assumptions as to how they got there and their reasons for doing it, and that’s often hugely exaggerated. And everything we then consume from a knowledge point of view, we consume to fit those assumptions. Then we start to run in confirmation bias.”

The majority of people in prison are there for very environmental and circumstantial reasons. And the second you start to tap into that and try instead to understand how they reached that point, then you can focus on making sure it’s not repeated. Employment is obviously a huge part of that.

[Chris Quickfall] I approach things from a from a cognition point of view. We're all about mapping variants and how brains process information. Brains are a weighing machine. They're not a measuring machine. Brain processes are informed through synapses, and the synapses’ goal is to send electricity to the next synapse via the most accurate route possible. It does that by introducing resistance or reducing resistance. So, if you come across someone that's come back from prison, and you hire them and they’re excellent, and you do that again and again, your brain recalls that information every time you see a prisoner. You’ll see a positive bias. The reverse happens if you’ve experienced a negative situation.

Our brains are designed to do this full stop. So, when we ask whether we have subconscious bias, yes, 100% we do, because we’re designed to. What we need to do, right from the start of recruitment, is understand what we are, and our own processing biases.

If you can understand your own initial response, then you can start addressing it. But, if you fail to train recruiters to understand what these biases are, you're going to be more susceptible to them when you're interviewing people. If you can address them, the next challenge is to ask yourself, what processes can you put in place so that you’re mining these out as standard?

[Kate Daniels] I wonder whether it’s about relationships as much as it is about success stories. We’ve all got slides with success stories on. But actually, when you sit down and form a personal relationship with somebody, does that break the pathway down quicker? The optimist in me says yes. The pessimist in me brings up the issue of women-in-tech. We were talking about this issue when I was in my 20s. The dial has not fully moved. There’s not a lack of awareness of the issue, and I don’t know a single man that I’ve worked with who believes women aren’t as good as men at their jobs. Yet, here we are.

In in my farming life, I have very strong opinions and beliefs about what's wrong with our food system, but I don't think I can change our food system on a global level. What I do is connect locally, and I influence it on a local level. I think that's what we have to do here.

When we’re assessing candidates for a new role, what are the other sorts of tools that we have at our disposal to make sure that we’re catering to the needs of all applicants, irrespective of whether they have a disclosed or a non-disclosed difference?

[Chris Quickfall] One of the things that we've seen employers doing a lot more is giving questions out before the interview. The concern has always been that if you do that, the interviewee is going to take them away, do lots of research and find the best answers to the questions. So what? If you hire them, that’s a pattern you’re going to want them to repeat in their job.

We used to believe that around 70% of people in society think in a very similar way; one standard deviation from the mean. We now know that it’s actually closer to 10% of people that fit that one standard deviation. So, we’re far more diverse than we ever realised.

Where people have what’s known as a spiky profile, so they sit outside of the 10%, it’s often called a neurodevelopmental issue. There are often processing speed issues associated, where parts of the brain operate much faster than other parts of the brain. And when you're interviewing somebody, what you're trying to do is activate lots of different parts of the brain so that you get the best information out. If you put these people in time bound scenarios, you’re not allowing them to think properly. You’re automatically restricting their ability to access the peaks of their cognition and, by extension, likely ruling out a huge portion of the talent pool.

So, it’s pretty simple really, give candidates the questions first if you want to get the best responses from all individuals.

If you could leave the audience with a single piece of actionable advice to make their organisation more genuinely inclusive, what would it be and why?

[Will Fraser] I've got a very easy one. So, on a lot of job applications, there's a box you have to tick if you have a criminal record. There’s a movement at the moment called ‘Ban The Box’, because a ticked box creates an immediate assumption, and more often than not, that CV gets tossed aside. A really easy way to remove those quick assumptions is to get rid of the box, because then you’re viewing someone for who they are, and you can find out more once you reach the interview.

[Kate Daniels] Mine's counterintuitive. I'm not a fan of LinkedIn, but my assumptions were challenged when we ran the Women in Tech Academy with Hatch. As part of doing that, at NTT DATA UK we were running a social media campaign called #DoDiversity, which up until this point I'd been quite cynical about. But, when it became clear that as part of this campaign we were supporting women into tech, we saw a huge uptick in the number of female applicants to NTT DATA outside of the Academy recruitment. And as a result, we saw a 50% uptick in the number of women hired. So, it’s pretty clear to me now that this generation of candidates is attracted to organisations where they can see their values mirrored, and my advice would therefore be to talk about what you’re doing in DE&I – even if you feel like it’s not enough – because you can quite quickly create a virtuous circle.

[Chris Quickfall] In recognising that everybody thinks differently, we also need to consider what needs to be put in place internally to allow each individual to thrive in the workplace. Especially considering the Women in Tech movement, we all recognise that there’s a lot of neurodiversity in tech roles, but women are far more likely to be undiagnosed.”

So, it’s simple things, like we interviewed someone recently and about three months later, she told me she had ADHD and needed clear parameters to work within in order to work at her best. Now that I know that, I can effectively support. You’ll be surprised how open people will be about their working styles and preferences if they’re just asked.

[Andrew Jackson] My one piece of actionable advice is to really focus on candidate attraction. We’ve talked today about ex-military personnel being aligned to cyber security roles due to the nature of their experience, for example, but they won’t necessarily recognise that in themselves. They won’t identify as ‘techie’. So, there’s work to be done in educating talent about the opportunities available to them in tech.

What's Next

Join us for more insightful sessions

At Hatch, we’ll be running thought-leadership events every quarter as part of our Mind The (Skills) Gap series. Each event will consider a different topic that falls within the parameters of EDI, but that we feel deserves more of our collective attention.  

To register your interest for our next event in September, please register below.

And to stay up-to-date with our events, the write-ups, and to join the incredible network of people already following the series, please join our Mind The (Skills) Gap community on LinkedIn. 

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