Hiring your startup’s first employee is a daunting process. So is finding an ethical recruiter and landing the right role in Bristol’s tech industry. Luckily, we have recruiter and STEM ambassador Alicia Teagle to show us the way.
Not many people know the ins and outs of Bristol’s tech market like Alicia. Co-founder of ethical recruitment agency SR2, curator and host for Yena and creator of the Women Rock blog, she’s clearly on a mission.
We spoke to Alicia about hiring for startups, encouraging women into tech and why the recruitment industry needs a shake-up.
Hi Alicia, could you tell me a bit about your recruitment company, SR2?
Our focus is on our social responsibility through transparency, honesty and integrity in our approach, as well as making a fixed profit donation to charity every 6 months.
We want to help increase the number of women in IT and decrease the gender pay gap, which are hot topics in our industry at present.
My mission is to make Bristol the most diverse city in tech the UK by the end of 2025 – and we’re on the right track!
On your website you say recruitment has a bad reputation – why is that?
I could write a long list about the good, the bad and the ugly in the industry, from fake job ads to recently finding a fake profile on Linkedin from a recruiter who made out they were the best ‘Fullstack Engineer’ in Bristol. Really they were just fishing for leads – crazy!
However, I do think the industry has improved massively over the years and there are some brilliant agencies and consultants around. Good recruiters understand that when you’re finding someone a job, that person is putting their future in your hands.
We want SR2 to be seen as a genuine company, where we build lasting relationships, follow our values and do things the right way.
‘It makes me so sad and angry to hear awful stories of women’s experiences in tech and ecstatic when I hear the good ones.’
What motivated you to interview female professionals for Women Rock?
I want to promote women in tech – it’s always been a passion for me.
IT recruitment is very male dominated so I understand people’s struggles and I really want women to feel proud of what they’ve done. It makes me so sad and angry to hear awful stories of women’s experiences in tech and I’m ecstatic when I hear the good stories. It makes me want to share them more widely.
I’ve had real success in getting women hired and I always get asked how. It’s simple – pick up the phone and speak to people rather than looking at a CV and scrolling past it.
Recruiters are awful for looking at a CV and going ‘ugh, they’re a teacher – how are they going to be any good in a startup?’ But when you have a chat with that person you might find out that they’ve been teaching A level computer science for years and have all sorts of brilliant ideas. Many of their skills will be transferable.
What makes companies trust you as a recruiter?
I only work with companies that I would want to work for myself. I think it’s about being a person, being relatable.
Companies like to work with us because of our socially responsible angle and candidates like being represented by us because we work with brilliant companies. If you take the time to get to know a business and its culture and values, you’ll know when you’ve found the right candidate.
‘If we’re going to get the next generation into technology, we need to get them excited about what they can create and build themselves.’
What’s holding back women in tech at the moment?
There aren’t enough role models. There are women who are brilliant entrepreneurs and they’re absolutely smashing it in the industry. But you don’t get to hear about the devs, testers, engineers, project managers, architects – their stories aren’t being told.
If we’re going to get the next generation into technology, we need to get them excited about what they can create and build themselves.
Recruitment is also a problem. Recruiters both agency and in-house are reading CVs and if they don’t have the right buzzwords they’re just not calling people up. Hiring managers need to expand their mindset, pick up the phone and see what skills can be crossed over.
What are the big challenges for startups that want to recruit?
Culture fit is the biggest thing. Say you have three founders of a business who’ve been together since university, the company is their baby but they don’t have all the skills they need to grow. They know they need to hire but they’re worried about ruining the dynamic they have and not finding someone on their wavelength.
That’s where I would come in. It’s crucial to partner with a good recruiter – we can take the stress away and help you find exactly who you need.
Your first hire is your biggest investment. You also have to be really clear about what you’re looking for and the skillset you need. You need to make sure you have enough money for the right person – salary is important and you will have to either pay for experience or offer equity to interest talented people.
Everyone gets excited about their first candidate if it’s their first time interviewing. That first person may seem great but until you get confident with your interviewing you won’t really know if they’re right for you. It’s probably going to be the third, fourth or fifth person that you’ll hire.
‘You need to allow people to cross-skill and learn – if they have the right attitude they can adapt.’
How can tech companies become more diverse?
Please, please remove the level of seniority or years of experience from ads because it puts off people who can do the job but don’t tick every box. Don’t insist they need a STEM-related degree because lots of people teach themselves to code, too.
You need to be open to the idea that someone might not be a complete expert in Python, for example, but they might have learned it in their spare time or at university and are open to going back to it. Those candidates get brushed away because Python isn’t all over their CV or their top skill – or they might have done Java more recently.
You need to allow people to cross-skill and learn – if they have the right attitude they can adapt.
To attract women you also need to offer a work-life balance – people will often take less money to have more flexibility. Not enough companies offer part-time hours. You might need a full-time employee but why not advertise the role as a potential job share?￼
What’s the best and worst business advice you’ve ever received?
To worst advice was to change myself. I speak to everyone as I would my friends and family, I’m not one for long words. My spelling and grammar are awful but if I’ve put ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ in a blog post does that mean I’m bad at my job?
The best advice has been not to worry about what others think. I try to be original on social media, and speaking my mind in my own way helps me stand out in an overcrowded recruitment industry. I love the quote ‘Well-behaved women rarely make history’.
‘Women who are out of work are my inspiration because I want everyone to be as happy in their work as I am.’
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I absolutely love the book Girl Code, because it forces you to trust your own brilliance – ‘If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward you’re always in the same place.’
My inspiration comes from every woman I speak to for Women Rock. I’ve built such brilliant relationships through the project and through the Women’s Tech Hub.
My candidates are my inspiration to do good. From the people who are in work but looking for a new job to those who are out of work, returning to work or trying to break into tech. I want everyone to be as happy in their work as I am, so they motivate me to change the industry.
Can you tell me about your new project?
Our new meetup group, Bristol Tech Volunteers, is for finding out about volunteering opportunities in Bristol.
For example, Code First Girls offers mentoring for girls in school and university and women looking to start a career in tech. But they can’t run their programme in Bristol this year because there aren’t enough volunteers to run it. And no-one knows about that because it’s not spoken about. So I would hope that Code First Girls could come to our meetup and say ‘do you have volunteers available?’ and we could help them make connections.
We also want schools and universities to partner with us over the summer holidays and companies to come to us for help upskilling employees. We’re going to meet once a month, have some drinks and give people the chance to step forward and make a difference.
How can people get involved?
Bristol Tech Volunteers is looking for 20-25 volunteers of any gender. You won’t be committing yourself by joining the group but ideally you’ll see a couple of projects you’ll want to get involved with. Bristolians are very generous so I’m hoping we get lots of interest!