How can we #ChooseToChallenge working practices and cultures to improve employee experience and wellbeing

We are collaborating with our partners at Monzo Bank as part of our #AdasListIWD events!

As well as this blog series, we are going live with Monzo on Monday 8th March, for a Q&A webinar featuring 3 experts from the Monzo team and moderated by Shefali Roy — one of our Ada’s List board members.

Monzo are a company who have continued to challenge their own industry by pushing the boundaries of FinTech — from prioritising staff mental wellbeing in and outside the workplace to putting their customers’ health at the centre of their business strategy. More recently, they’ve asked the government to force banks to let customers block all gambling transactions.

In this blog post, we explore how we can all #ChooseToChallenge working practices and cultures to improve employee experience. This blog post is hosted by Tara Mansfield, People Experience Director at Monzo — in conversation with:

Tara Mansfield, Head of People at Monzo

Hi I’m Tara, I am the People Experience Director at Monzo and have helped Monzo scale and define their culture as they have grown from 45 to 1,500. I am a firm believer that a better working world is possible and I am committed to making that a reality.

Today, I’m interested to hear from Bukola, Natasha, Niamh and Caroline on how they think employers should challenge their working cultures to benefit their staff, especially given how the past year has disrupted all our working lives.

Before we go into all of that, Bukola, Natasha, Niamh and Caroline would you like to introduce yourselves and tell us what you do?

Bukola Adisa, founder of Career Masterclass

Bukola:

Hi, I am Bukola Adisa, Founder of Career Masterclass, a career development platform focused on helping professionals, particularly those from an underrepresented background build successful careers. Through webinars, live events and the annual STRETCH conference, I teach practical career tips to a varied BAME audience which has resulted in tangible career progress for the participants. I am also a Senior Governance, Risk and Controls expert and have held leadership roles in global financial services organisations such as Barclays, HSBC, RBS, JP Morgan and Deloitte, in a variety of roles spanning Audit, Compliance, Financial crime, Risk & controls.

I was listed in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 PowerList, the 2017 Empower Financial Times List, and the Financial Times HERoes list of executives who have made a substantial difference to women’s careers.

Natasha Khimji, founder of LevelUp

Natasha:

I’m Natasha Khimji, the Founder of LevelUp, a startup aiming to revolutionise mentorship by creating a platform connecting women mentors & mentees using a streamlined approach based on role, industry, career interests & goals. The ultimate mission & vision is to empower women to succeed professionally and build a community that supports women from all backgrounds. I’ve personally struggled a lot with finding an appropriate professional mentor and started LevelUp to fix this problem. I’m also a UC Berkeley graduate with a B.A. in Political Economy.

Niamh and Caroline: Niamh and Caroline are both Front-End Developers at Elsewhen, they are colleagues and good friends

Niamh and Caroline at Code Club, pre-covid
Niamh McCooey, front-end developer at Elsewhen

Niamh

Hi, I’m Niamh & I’m a junior front-end developer at Elsewhen, a digital consultancy based in London. I joined the team here just over a year ago after switching from a career in publishing. I was lucky enough to have Caroline as my mentor from day one at Elsewhen. Having her with me has been invaluable, especially because learning to code is such a steep learning curve at the beginning. She’s helped me so much that now I’m lucky enough to be teaching web development part-time with Code First Girls too. Now my days are mostly spent maintaining websites & building apps using Javascript, React & Typescript — and googling a lot, of course.

Caroline W, front-end developer at Elsewhen


Caroline:

And I’m Caroline, I’m a Senior Front-end Developer at Elsewhen. I’ve been here for 3 years and a bit, developing front-end features for client projects. I also built the current company website + mentored Niamh who I love. I’m a huge advocate for sustainability + co-started the good-stuff team at Elsewhen, who are in the process of applying for a B-Corp certification for the company.

I’ve been working in (mostly front-end) web development since I graduated from uni 10 years ago. I studied Computing & AI due to an aptitude for IT and an interest in psychology, but at the time AI for business was a relatively new concept + web dev felt a lot more approachable / enabled me to work with a more varied bunch of people and businesses.

Tara: My first question is around Intersectionality at work — how do you think companies should approach intersectionality in their D&I strategy? What does good look like?

Bukola

Intersectionality is what every organisation should aspire to when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion strategies because people don’t always fit neatly into one ‘diversity box’. Also, if we are to move away from D&I being a tick box exercise, organisations will need to ensure that they are intentional about allocating adequate resources and appropriate focus to each area of diversity.

One easy win is collaboration. I have seen this work well in some organisations we have worked with at Career Masterclass where employee resource groups have teamed up to shine the light on the different diversity agendas thereby ensuring that people who straddle either or both of those areas felt listened to and heard.

Natasha

Intersectionality is so important and crucial to any company’s D&I strategy. Listening to and integrating a diverse range of perspectives is key to the success of a company or organization. Additionally, it is only through approaching D&I strategy through an intersectional lens can companies become more effective as vehicles to fight injustice in today’s society.

When approaching intersectionality, companies, and in particular the HR departments within companies, should consider hiring individuals with multiple and intersecting identities, including but not limited to race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual identity and/or socioeconomic status. Once these employees are hired, companies should work extremely hard to foster a diverse & respectful culture in which all voices, opinions and perspectives are not only heard, but also are put into practice in the day-to-day workings of the company.

In my opinion, a good D&I strategy is one that not only hires employees with intersectional identities, but also actively listens to them and has a multitude of resources for employees, such as sponsorship programs and employee resource groups. Companies with a good D&I strategy ensure that employees are transforming workplace culture from within, as well as fighting injustice in society at large.

Niamh

I get the impression that in recent years, a lot of companies that didn’t have very diverse teams suddenly wanted this to change — and in this quick, neat kind of way. I think the danger here is that this ‘make it happen now’ attitude, albeit coming from the right place, can lend itself to cosmetic fixes (for example when a company hires a few underrepresented people in high profile roles and viola, diversity & inclusion is ‘done’).

While this is obviously moving in the right direction, to me it’s the beginning of a solution rather than an end to the problem. I think a really genuine & sustainable D&I strategy has to do with hiring underrepresented people across the board, in high profile, top-level roles but in entry-level positions too.

It makes sense for companies to think about the long term goals so that in future, it’s not such a struggle to find the right people for any role, regardless of seniority or public profile. Seems to me the solution lies in thinking outside of yourself & your company, and investing in diversifying the workforce at large.

Caroline

Good question! I agree with Niamh in that from my little knowledge, I generally advocate for positive discrimination, but it seems companies that aren’t already diverse in higher roles will naturally have hiccups trying to implement this.

I think intersectionality can get overlooked for similar reasons — I hadn’t even heard of the term until the most recent BLM movement (and had to look it up again to remind myself what it means for this question). I guess even if leaders look diverse from one perspective, they might not be aware of intersectional groups, even if they belong to one themselves.

I agree with the article about looking at diversity from this perspective from the outset. I think a good strategy for this is what I often come back to when thinking about D&I in general which is regular education. It has to be regular because humans are forgetful, but also because as businesses and the world around them change so likely will the needs they must meet. If new and existing leaders take time to (re)learn and teach their employees why it’s so beneficial, but also what diversity means, on a regular basis, that would be good I think. “The beginning of a solution rather than an end to the problem” like what Niamh said!

Tara: Taking care of your mental health is more important than ever and some employers are doing a lot to support their employees. What are the best practices you’ve experienced firsthand or witnessed from afar?

Bukola

The last year has fully underscored the critical importance of mental health and the important roles social interactions and community play in maintaining good mental health. As with anything one size does not fit all but some of the tried and tested practical tips are still the best at maintaining good mental health. These include fresh air and exercise, adequate sleep, intentionally switching off and scheduling catch ups with friends and family. Personally, I have turned off app notifications on my phone to limit social media consumption.

Natasha

Holding one-on-ones with employees and communicating with them in a transparent way that I am available for them should they need anything is one of the best ways to help as an employer. Especially if the mental health-related issues are rooted in something work-related, holding one-on-ones to understand what is going on and see how their problems can be alleviated. Even if the issue is not related to work, it is extremely important to be available as a resource to your employees and have open communication on an ongoing basis to create a supportive environment where employees feel they can thrive. Prioritizing self-care and setting work-related boundaries is also extremely important, and employers should model this type of behavior to their employees as well.

Additionally, other best practices I’ve witnessed from afar include having mental health awareness training workshops and appointing specific employees as mental health champions who people can talk to.

Niamh

Since I started at the company, Elsewhen have always been really serious about starting & stopping work on time. This is major for my mental health — especially now as we’re all working from home. Also, at the beginning of lockdown last year everyone was gifted a meditation app subscription. I thought this was a really nice idea, but in all honesty I didn’t manage to keep it up.

What really benefited my mental health in the last few months though has been the company’s effort to maintain social contact remotely. Every week we all meet up on zoom to catch-up, play games, share Netflix recommendations and talk about life outside of work. This is a huge relief for me personally and definitely a best practice in my eyes.

Caroline

I honestly can’t rate Elsewhen enough for looking after the team on this front from my perspective. Since the day I started, self-care and employee contentment has seemed like a high priority. I’ve been told off several times for not leaving the office on time, and the regular socials make it feel easy to talk honestly about how you’re doing. On a more measurable note — we have a company retro every quarter where we’re invited to talk about what went well + what could be improved in terms of our experience within the company — and discussions from that lead to the free meditation app subscription which I now use every day (unlike some people, not naming names).

Tara: People can often feel they have to become more typically masculine at work in order to succeed whether that be in approach, communication etc. Have you ever felt this way?

Bukola

I think any female who has worked in male dominated organisations would have felt this temptation at some point in their career but I genuinely believe you don’t bring the best of yourself to work if you are channeling someone else or another persona. Authenticity, while a buzzword of some sorts is very important to the feeling of psychological safety at work and I believe the safer you feel, the more innovative and productive you are.

Natasha

I have felt this way before; I think it’s difficult especially navigating male-dominated spaces in tech. I’ve previously worked at blockchain & cryptocurrency startups as well as in venture capital, so I know this feeling all too well.

However, I have learned how immensely powerful it is for you to come to work as yourself and bring your unique ideas and perspectives to the table. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you were hired for a reason, and part of that reason is your unique outlook on the world, so keeping this in mind has really helped me in navigating these spaces.

‍Niamh

To be honest, this was something that really put me off the tech industry before I became a part of it. But there are tons of really amazing communities out there who prove this doesn’t have to be the case. For me, starting out going to workshops at codebar & Node Girls, attending meet-ups like Front End London, giving talks with GCFP & Ladies Of Code, getting my first paid job with Octophin and now teaching with Code First Girls and working at Elsewhen, I’ve been super lucky to work with people who really value diversity & are sensitive to all kinds of personalities & attitudes.‍

Caroline

Honestly, yes. I feel like I went through a phase of realising what it means to be masculine/feminine vs what is expected of either gender. I definitely remember becoming more aggressive for a period to get a word in at the lunch table. But I’ve also since learnt about the importance of not “becoming a man”. There are other areas where I have had to learn to be less “feminine” in terms of what I felt was expected of me, by being more direct about my opinion / things that may have been missed in my work etc. This was really difficult for me as a compulsive apologiser but felt essential to progress.

I have to say I’m really lucky to also regularly notice men I work with making efforts in this area as well, often making a conscious effort to give extra space for women to talk + giving shout outs for achievements.

Niamh

Ok guilty — I definitely recognise the compulsive apologising. It always makes me think of this Amy Schumer sketch (it cuts close to the bone!).

Tara: My final question for you all is around politics in the workplace — companies can often discourage conversations around Politics at work but given that, for many individuals, their basic human rights are at risk — how do you create space for those conversations?

Bukola

Political discourse can be a tricky minefield to navigate especially given how polarizing it has become in recent times. However, I believe that fostering open, inclusive and respectful conversations in the workplace can serve as a catalyst of change. We are not all the same and will not think the same, but I believe organisations can encourage respectful diversity of thoughts and opinions with the aim of building a stronger more collaborative and inclusive culture and that should be actively encouraged. With freedom also comes responsibility so consequences for the abuse of these freedoms should be clearly communicated and swiftly enforced. It is a fine line but with a bit of care, it can be achieved.‍

Natasha

It can be difficult to create space for political discourse, but I believe it is important to discuss these topics in order to bring about change; this can best be achieved in small group discussions. Employees who are interested in discussing and having conversations around politics can join small groups where they talk about these issues. Additionally, speaking one-on-one with employees who feel uncomfortable discussing in small groups is another way to create space for these conversations. ‍

Niamh

Luckily for me, I’ve never experienced this problem first-hand. I think it’s because our teams are made up of different nationalities, races, ethnicities & cultures. Political conversations often arise in natural and welcoming ways where everyone can continuously learn from each others’ points of view. To me, this is just one more benefit of putting diversity at the top of a company’s priorities.

Caroline

I agree with Niamh — at Elsewhen politics is often a hot topic at the lunch table. We have had heated debates and really interesting discussions about current events. This may even be part of why I have got more interested in politics in the last few years. Not to say that any and all conversations can happen comfortably at the lunch table — there are probably some topics where it might be more comfortable for people to create a literal safe space to talk — I might suggest this at the next company retro actually.

Moving women in tech forward. Together.