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In 2019, Bluefruit Software signed the Tech Talent Charter (TTC). In 2020, after a discussion between our HR team, our directors, emergent knowledge and further reflection, we decided that we would not renew our commitment to the charter.

Now, of course, we could quietly let this fact slip away unnoticed, but as we start a new year, we thought it would be good to reflect on why we didn’t recommit to the charter.

And the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version is this

We no longer believed that our team’s data could be genuinely anonymised.

The long version?

It’s tricky to anonymise data

Research from Imperial College London and Belgium’s Université Catholique de Louvain has now shown that it’s possible to have “re-identification” of individuals from anonymised data.

The more data sets you have available to you, the easier it becomes to re-identify people from that data. Having even millions represented doesn’t help people get lost in a crowd either.

For as Svea Eckert, a journalist, and Andreas Dewes, a data scientist, demonstrated at DEF CON 25, even big numbers can’t hide individuals. Having gotten their hands on three million Germans’ anonymised web browsing activity, Eckert and Dewes found that they could identify individuals from that data. (Like a judge and their “personal” preferences, and a German MP and their medication regime.)

So, what does this have to do with the Tech Talent Charter?

It’s more than just handing some numbers over

The Tech Talent Charter asks that organisations share their “gender diversity profile data” with the TTC. They ask for data because:

“The belief that ‘what isn’t measured isn’t managed’ is a key belief underpinning the TTC.”

The simple fact is that we don’t collect data on our colleagues which pertains to their protected characteristics, except where it is shared with us in confidence to ensure our team members have a safe and welcoming work environment, and to ensure we are acting within the law.

And while many of the diversity questions the TTC asks are optional, the ones around gender are mandatory. Specifically, the questions around how many employees are men or women.

While it’s optional to provide data on colleagues who may identify as a non-binary person, or don’t want to say what their gender is, this creates another issue. Our business is growing, but we are small by the standards of big tech. Internally, this would mean that we could be dangerously close to outing people to our HR team when crunching those numbers to provide them to the TTC, as what information and hearsay they have would potentially start to merge.

If we were to offer the mandatory and optional replies, aside from making colleagues feel like they must define themselves in a survey, should this data ever be presented at even a county or regional level—people could be identified. It would just take a few more datasets and accidental outing would again be an issue, but more publicly.

So, what are we doing to ensure we are a tech company for everyone?

From recruitment to being a team member, we continue to do things to recruit and support as diverse and inclusive a team as we can in Cornwall.

To do this, we have a hugely supportive HR team and:

  • We practice non-biased hiring practices, meaning applicants are assessed on skill before we interview them.
  • We have invested and continue to support mental health awareness across our business, from having counselling services available as part of our health plan to training team members to be mental health first aiders.
  • We offer flexitime to our whole team so that they can work around their family, hobbies and many more things outside of work, without feeling like they must make sacrifices for their job.
  • We support broader STEM careers and training initiatives, showing anyone that tech can be a career for them.
  • We provide 100% of weekly pay for the first sixteen weeks of maternity leave.
  • We offer paternity leave and pay that works out at 100% of a team member’s weekly average earnings per week for six weeks.
  • We frequently reflect (in an Agile way) on all the above to ensure what we’re doing helps our team members bring their best selves to their jobs.

All of this is some of why we were recognised in 2019 as the Best Tech Workplace in the South West at the Tech South West Awards and the Best Place to Work at the Cornwall Business Awards.

Also, in 2020 we formed a working group within the business to discuss, investigate and offer suggestions on navigating areas like diversity. This group, EDEN (Ethics, Diversity, Environment and iNclusivity), supports our HR team, directors, and Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) by offering deeper, research-based insights into issues which affect our team and our business.

Would we sign the Tech Talent Charter or something similar again?

We would, but the emphasis would need to be on actions, rather than data.

Work for a company that empowers you to be you

Bluefruit Software is recruiting for several roles. If you’re interested in working for a software company that listens to its team, please head on over to our careers page.

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