Makers' pursuit to build a diverse and inclusive tech industry

Adele Barlow, Head of Partnerships & Diversity Initiatives at Makers, discusses inclusivity, invisible sexism and self-salary setting within the tech sphere, ahead of her presentation at Innovation Enterprise's Chief Innovation Officer Summit

17Sep

Makers, a coding training provider based in London, has been committed to making the tech industry more inclusive and diverse since its formation in in 2013.

The company has helped more than 1,500 software developers enter the tech industry, and with its unique approach to self-salary setting, the organization has continually demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to solving issues that have hindered diversity and progress throughout the tech space in the past few decades.

We spoke to Adele Barlow, Head of Partnerships & Diversity Initiatives at Makers, to find out how the organization has had a positive effect in diversifying the tech industry and how it has been helping to cultivate the workplace of the future.

Innovation Enterprise: What can you tell us about the success of Makers since its formation in 2013 and its resulting influence on the London tech space?

Adele Barlow: We've turned more than 1,500 people into software developers and connected them to hundreds of London's top technology companies such as Starling Bank, Deloitte Digital and comparethemarket.com.

In terms of our influence on the London tech space, I like to think that we've inserted a lot of proactive, passionate and curious self-directed learners into the industry – a lot of what we explore at Makers is learning how to learn and teaching people how to find their own way when they're placed in the middle of the unknown.

We also have a strong emphasis on inclusivity – we offer a discount to women to do the course and we run a Fellowship program to make sure that financial barriers do not prevent top prospective coders from getting onto our program. We want to play a strong role in diversifying the industry.

IE: As an employee, Makers has quite a unique approach to salary setting. Since the process of employees setting their salaries was introduced in 2015, how has it fared and evolved?

AB: I only joined the company just over a year ago, so I can only comment on my experiences since then; what I have noticed, however, is that when you treat people like adults, they behave like adults. I think salary self-setting came about because it's always quite complicated to figure out compensation in a startup environment. When you put this onus onto the staff themselves, as long as you hire fairly sensible and responsible people, it's a fantastic way of empowering the team and showing them that you trust them.

When people have to justify why they're paid what they're paid, it forces them to have more autonomy, which I think ultimately increases engagement.

IE: In respect to your computer programming bootcamp, is it really possible to learn all you need to know about coding within a 12-week period and what support does the organization offer coders after they've embarked on their new careers?

AB: To be honest, nobody will ever learn "all they need to know about coding" in 12 weeks (or even 12 years). What we do give our Makers is the basic foundation so that they are ready to be employed in their first role as a software developer. By the time anyone leaves Makers, they know how to make software; how to help a tech team succeed; how to understand various languages; and how to set their own direction.

We offer extensive careers support and have a job offer guarantee. We also have accelerated learning pathways so that even after people have left Makers, they are still supported by our tech coaches and alumni community.


Register today to watch Adele Barlow's presentation at Innovation Enterprise's Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London on October 3–4, 2018


IE: On a personal level, where does your passion for the power of technology to empower and heal derive and what are the best ways, in your opinion, to express and utilize that passion?

AB: Technology is an inevitable part of modern life and how we relate to that technology has always interested me. In some ways, I feel like tech can make us lonelier – it's eroded the need for as much in-person communication as before, which in many ways is sad. But in other ways, it can connect people who wouldn't otherwise find each other, and that's hopeful. I had the experience of working with career change platform Escape the City, which helped me to see how going online and being connected to career coaches and psychologists could help people who were in a lot of pain.

The way I express my passion at the moment is to profile Makers as a place where people don't just learn to code, they learn to become a world-class developer. That means being able to communicate and collaborate – to do that well, you often need to heal whatever's blocking you. Part of our curriculum involves emotional intelligence coaching. I'm trained as a coach myself and I'm interested in helping Makers to create more hybrid online–offline coaching solutions, like the ones I helped build at Escape the City.

IE: Based on your own research, what can you tell us about the main factors behind the disparity between senior male and female leaders within the tech space?

AB: There are pipeline problems in tech, yes ­­– but when it comes to senior leadership, I think there's something much more complex going on...it's not as simple as "just a pipeline problem". There certainly seems to be invisible sexism. A friend commented that tech right now is like finance in the 80s – a lot of unacceptable sexist behavior is being called out, but I fear that only makes some men even more determined to avoid including women in strategic discussions.

What frustrates me is the perception that women simply need to empower themselves in order to solve the issue. Changing communication styles to suit men's working styles might be the start of one possible working solution, but the long-term and sustainable approach needs to include and actually be led by men who are already senior leaders.

IE: What role can the UK education system play in building a more gender-inclusive society and what impact can it have on the approach of future business leaders?

AB: Gender inclusion starts with gender intelligence – recognizing that there are differences in masculine and feminine communication and working styles. It's difficult to get into this area without drifting into stereotypes, but Avivah Wittenberg-Cox has carried out some fascinating research in this space.

I think schools could start simple – make it okay for boys to have feelings and make it okay for girls to have ambition. Boys should be allowed to cry; girls should be allowed to have big dreams.

IE: In your view, do you find in that, in general, there is a disconnect from many tech startups in understanding the value of a comprehensive marketing plan, and what advice would you offer to startups in respect to their marketing strategies?

AB: No, I would say that most tech startups I've worked with understand the value of a comprehensive marketing plan. Whether they have the budget and resources to execute on it is another story, but they understand the value in a conceptual way.

The advice I'd offer startups in terms of marketing strategies would be to speak from your materials to an actual human (not an illusory audience). Think of an example of an actual customer you are targeting and speak to that one person in all of your materials ­– don't talk like a company, talk like a human. I'd also say that having an outstanding, life-changing, praise-worthy product is the best form of marketing there is – even the best marketer can only spin an average product so far.

Adele Barlow will be speaking on Day One of Innovation Enterprise's Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London on October 3–4, 2018. To attend and hear more great insights from some of the biggest brands in innovation and the most exciting startups, register here.

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