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Diversity and Inclusion: an essential ingredient in making the impossible, possible

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

We caught up with Shelley Vaisey, head of talent diversity and inclusion, at Oxbotica.

When I joined Oxbotica as Head of Talent Acquisition in early 2019, we were a team of around 70 people — a spin-off from the Oxford University Robotics Institute. I was excited by the prospect of creating something, more or less from scratch, that would truly contribute to the travelling direction of a business. But not just any business.

I was looking for a business that was making a significant contribution to the world around us. I found that in Oxbotica, which develops autonomous software solutions that aim to change the way humans and goods are moved forever.  

SHELLEY VAISEY, HEAD OF TALENT DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION, AT OXBOTICA.

As a Head of Talent, you’ve got to really believe in what you’re selling and what you’re telling people, because you’re responsible for their livelihoods, for their happiness, for where they and their family live, for example.  

For me, this mission resonates personally. Today I bear the scars of a serious car accident I had when I was young, so working for an organisation that pays forward in terms of making our roads and transportation safer, greener and economically more viable for future generations made me feel like I was giving something back. I bet you have never heard of anyone asking for more single-occupancy ! This is why our passenger transportation solutions focus on shared mobility. More accessibility and equity for people, better for the planet. 

At Oxbotica, we’re trying to answer a globally unanswered question. One of our leadership principles focuses on making everyone welcome. We truly believe that by having a diverse thought stream, rooted in an elaborate fabric of cultures, languages and academic institutions, we can arrive at that answer quicker and in a safer and more reliable way.  We recognised that we need team members that bring different life experience, different opinions, different ways of coding and different ways of talking to clients.  

While I may now be in a Talent, Diversity and Inclusion role that absolutely requires a focus on inclusion and belonging, it is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation to uphold the diversity and inclusion strategy. I believe it’s only possible for Oxbotica to succeed over the next 3-5 years as a disruptive, high-tech organisation if everyone has a voice and if the whole organisation is involved in and contributes to the D&I strategy.  

We value respect, inclusion and transparency, so I’d like to share with you some of the ways in which we drive our diversity activity and nurture our culture of belonging — both for other companies as a source of ideas and inspiration, and for women in tech to know what they can and should expect. 

VOICE GROUPS 

Our voice groups bring together volunteers to use their voices and change the direction of the business. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with us or what your story is, your voice matters to us.  

UNDERSTANDING UNCONSCIOUS BIAS 

We’re under no illusion that each and every one of us comes to our jobs with layers of unconscious bias. The first step is acknowledging this and then moving forwards. We use a gender bias tool for all our content, from our codebase to external communications such as job adverts. They are all gender neutral and maintain our brand integrity.

When it comes to hiring, we work with organisations like Applied, Inclusive Companies and of course, SheCanCode. In order to ensure our hiring processes and workplace are accessible for neurodiverse candidates, we provide take-home challenges and coding-paired programming challenges. We also use audio visual software to ensure that visually impaired candidates have the same experience as any other applicant.  

TRUE FLEXIBILITY 

COVID19 really cemented our belief that we have the ability to empower our people and get the best out of them, wherever and however that may be. At the start of the pandemic, we had people going back home all over the world. Because we are nomadic by the very nature of what we do and have flexible working hours, it really doesn’t matter where we work or when we’re working (within reason). All that matters is we understand that our teams have lives which come with unique pressures, challenges and complications. As long as you live in the United Kingdom or Ontario state, Canada, your working day and location are as flexible as you need them to be.

CREATING A SAFE SPACE FOR ALL 

We take our teams’ mental health seriously; we train mental health first aiders who sit within the business (rather than the people function) so they are always accessible to anyone who needs them.  

We’ve taken great effort to communicate to everybody in the business that it is everyone’s responsibility to create a safe space at work.  

We are proud of our wellness room, which is open to all for a range of activities, such as reading, prayer, mindfulness, and reflection time, or for just taking a moment out and away from the bustle of the office.

It doesn’t stop there either. We run lunch and learns, fire-side sessions, and support cafés on a wide range of topics — everything from menopause in the workplace to spotting the first signs of mental health issues in your team members. We have a diversity and inclusion library, go on walks and play sports in recognition of mental health agility, have online meditation sessions and have overhauled our entire people policies to reflect the team member landscape that we now have. 

When it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, we’re all learning every day. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. If diversity is the goal then Inclusion is the method. It is best achieved through listening first and talking later. We want to listen to each other, share our stories and experiences and ultimately educate our Oxbot community with the aim of further deepening our empathy and understanding of others. I hope you’ve gained some insight into what companies can and should be doing to make tech more inclusive now and in the future.

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