Profusion is a Data Consulting agency that specialises in predictive modelling, email marketing, business intelligence and customer satisfaction. It aims to help businesses become more effective through the innovative application of data science.
Profusion also has wider ambitions to change the landscape of the digital sector. It has established a Data Academy to train the next generation of data scientists and engineers from under represented groups and established Profusion Cares, a philanthropic foundation that supports local communities by helping charities and schools to use data for social impact. It offers work experience and opportunities to young people from under-represented backgrounds to support them into careers in tech.
If young people understand the offer early on – that this sector has a great offer – it’s not only for nerds and geeks, anyone can do this. It’s not only for boys, it’s also for girls and it’s not only for White boys sitting in the cellar, never seeing the sun – it’s a normal job. This is basically the message that we’re trying to send. So we do understand that we need to start really early on with that messaging to help people understand you do not need to do the job your parents did, because when they went to school, there were no data scientists.
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The Journey so far
Diversity for Profusion is not just a moral imperative, it is also a commercial necessity.The diversity of their workforce offers up a wide range of skills that enables Profusion to deliver great work for their clients. Profusion believes that diverse teams drive innovation and produce better data science. The company also believes that diversity helps prevent unintentional bias in the algorithms they create.
The Black Lives Matter movement was a catalyst for change and Profusion set up their diversity and inclusion working groups to have a more listening and action focused approach and to exchange ideas.
Profusion recognises the under-representation of people from diverse backgrounds, in particular young Black men in the tech and digital sectors and markedly in technical roles such as programmers, IT support roles, data science, data engineering.
Commitment from leadership has been key to the changes at Profusion, with them deliberately keeping ED&I at the top of their leadership and company meeting agendas.
The focus and commitment from senior leadership is not just on increasing representation of women or BAME communities in the staff demographics, but also to establish a culture of belonging. It seeks to create an inclusive environment, focusing on education, conversations, and discussion, listening to and involving the whole workforce.
Gender Representation – The Challenges
Profusion is relatively early on in its ED&I journey. It is only three years ago that diversity data started to be formally an purposefully collected on characteristics such as gender and sexuality. Prior to this, the approach was to ‘take the best person for the job’, but there was no evidence to prove that this was actually the case.
Profusion is a growing company. It increased staffing by 24% in 2020/21 and a further 35% in 2021/22. By collecting data, Profusion was able to see significant gender disparities across all levels of the organisation. In 2020, the ratio was 78% male to 22% female.
With further projected growth, current small scale inclusion initiatives will become harder to sustain, and current limited human resources will restrict the pace and implementation of the company’s strategic plan.
Profusion is reliant on artificial intelligence and data science to help give their customers and clients a competitive edge. However, the company recognises that AI can be inherently biased if those programming and creating algorithms themselves are subconsciously biased in the actions they take and the things that they do. Hence the need for a more diverse workforce.
The company set a broad target to bring the gender balance in line with the UK population to ensure their workforce represented the communities/customers they served. However, it was clear that the recruitment pipeline related to policies and processes would need time to change and adapt to support this move.
Profusion implemented several initiatives to create change and address the company’s gender imbalance:
- It introduced gender balanced interview panels, that included diversifying the shortlisting, and interview panels to reflect gender, race and disability.
- The company recruited from much wider networks – actively placing job adverts in sites such as ‘Women in Tech’, ‘Ada’s List’, disability specialist websites and with community groups.
- It set out to de-bias the recruitment process; for example having name blind applications, not using CVs to make decisions, instead using cover letters, experience, and skills.
- Shortlisting panels were given training as they could no longer subconsciously make decisions based on a person’s name, heritage, nationality, location, or previous job title.
- Profusion standardised the recruitment and selection process to use the same tasks, questions, presentations and briefs.
- Family friendly policies were enhanced, with initiatives such as offering unlimited annual leave to all staff.
- The website was reviewed by a diversity specialist to ensure a broader appeal. ED&I was linked to the career page celebrating Profusion’s diversity and commitment to inclusion, while core inclusion statements ensured the messages and approach was appealing to potential applicants.
In just two years, Profusion has seen significant ED&I changes, particularly in gender representation. The CEO and COO have significantly changed the diversity profile of the organisation – at senior management level there is a 55% to 45% female to male ratio in their leadership team. Profusion has an international team with about 22 nationalities represented and over 30 different languages spoken, with an age range from 19 to 60.
The enhanced family friendly policies have resulted in recruiting more people returning after maternity leave and to retain staff who want to have families. The introduction of women only forums has also been effective.
“ ..the small incremental changes, when you look back over a couple of years, have actually shifted the dial – not as much as we want. but in certain areas … the male female ratio in particular…Kevin Ronan, Profusion
Profusion’s strategic plan will ensure that local plans, policies and work plans are aligned and will also link to the commercial strategy.
Addressing the gender and ethnicity pay gaps is part of the strategic plan. Monitoring the progression of women in the company is a next step in ensuring women not only stay at Profusion, but also progress into management roles.
There is also an ambition to do more around cultural diversity and setting realistic DE&I targets beyond gender and to include ethnicity and young people. However, the company has to note the demographics around the country and the social and economic landscape in certain locations which mean an aggregated target might not work. For example, the BAME demographics in London are different to some northern cities, or even the UK average.
How we move forward
ED&I strategies need to have a multiple prong approach, including proactively promoting recruitment through specialist organisations, utilising initiatives such as the Kickstarter scheme and engaging with schools.
- Recognise that the change and fruition will not happen overnight – this is part of a longer term strategy.
- A whole scale change in approach impacts everything – job adverts, language, images, challenging bias on panels, outreach.
- Take steps to de-bias the recruitment practice.
- Make sure that external facing channels highlight the commitment to ED&I.
- Review and ensure that the images and the content on the website are inclusive, encouraging and welcoming to different people.
- Check job descriptions are welcoming and open, making it clear through advertising that applications are welcome from people from diverse and different backgrounds.
- Think differently about how to recruit, where to advertise, for example in Women in Tech, and consider how to open the person specification requirements for the job. Profusion does not require university experience or specific qualifications in its job descriptions and is open to the experience people bring, in whichever way they have gained it.
- Have an honest reflection – where are you and what can be done to increase diversity, equality, equity, inclusion and belonging
- Dedicate time and resources
- Consider zero tolerance, with clear performance evaluation methods aligned to ED&I