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Interview series: Diversity and inclusion in recruitment, retention and upskilling in health tech

A conversation with recruitment consultant Chris Walker from Digital Gurus Health.

by Alejandra Hernandez

As part of my work in health tech and my interest in equity, diversity and inclusion, I have embarked on a journey of speaking with many inspirational colleagues and innovators. This is the first conversation of my interview series of recruitment, retention and upskilling in health tech. I hope to shine a light on a recruiter perspective regarding the way the market has been reshaping as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opportunities and challenges foreseen in the future.

My conversation is with Chris Walker, Associate Director at Digital Gurus Health, consisting of eight questions and answers in which he shares his experiences, opinions, and learnings.

Can you tell us about your story, and how did you become a recruitment director at Digital Gurus Health who looks into empowering underrepresented groups in health tech?

Having a passion for people and health from my early career meant that when I stumbled into a role I found myself helping health organisations reach their goals and helping people find jobs. I got tremendous intrinsic reward from my work. As I worked my way up through Rethink Group (previous name of Digital Gurus) over the course of 10 years managing various health markets I was constantly learning and exposed to different perspectives on what ‘good’ recruitment practices and service looked like.

Over time it became increasingly apparent that certain demographics were underrepresented across digital health, especially at leadership level. Over recent years the stats have improved, yet there is still a way to go. Research from Inclusive Boards found that just 8.5% of senior leaders in the industry were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), and nearly 75% of boards had no ethnic minority representation.

If I have a platform and influence to balance representation in our “world of work opportunity” then I should use that to the best effect I can. I get we will not change the world ourselves, but by contributing to the overall voice of diversity and inclusion as an ethical recruiter whilst delivering our mission statement which is, simply, “to help people”, then we are activated in the movement. We can’t change the world but we can advise and champion diversity.

What is your perception about the pre and post pandemic digital health job market? What lessons should be learned from the challenging year 2020 for digital health?

When we consider digital health jobs we sometimes focus on the areas most prevalent to us, for example if we worked in the NHS we would think about healthcare digital transformation like EPR or clinical systems, healthcare data and medical devices within hospitals. Conversely, if my tech skills meant I spent my days developing software for a consumer-health company such as FitBit, I would likely be more accustomed to consumer health tech and ‘techie’ jobs. I believe that we will see specific tech skilled people want to begin targeting tech for good companies to apply their trade if given the chance.

The good news for anyone wanting to work in ‘tech in health’ or ‘tech for good’ roles – be that in care settings or profit based corporates - is that the market has never been more buoyant. Covid has sped up health tech use, application and appreciation. We have seen an increase in our client base hiring more data, analytical and infrastructure skilled workers during covid – we expect that to continue. A large uprising in apps and digital services has increased the market needs for those with development and product management experience.

Looking more broadly, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges you see for recruitment of underrepresented groups?

What a great but vast question. Organisations have a very real opportunity to understand the benefits of a truly diverse workforce: business growth, market access, ethical drivers, culture and innovation. In the very near future, the companies that have a genuinely diverse and functioning workforce, which is correctly integrated with all society and its factions, will reap the rewards as we become more woke.

Revolution is always at play and if you look at wider demographic action and recent events of note it’s essential to focus on avoiding natural bias and strengthening roots into alternative communities. Getting this done and done right is the biggest challenge across the next decade. I am not an expert on psychoanalysis, but I do understand the need to attempt to ensure as best as possible everyone feels able to talk to us about our clients. Even when hiring into our own business we pass adverts through multiple checks and readers to make sure we do our best to avoid natural bias – it’s easy to say, but really hard to do when you say you want everyone to feel equally influenced to apply to our jobs.

Again. We will never get it perfect, but its progress.

Do you see people making conscious career changes into digital health roles, and if so, how?

Simon Sinek’s infamous “Start with Why” business talk tells us how to engage with our customers – be that customers who want to buy a new computer or customers that want to book a new holiday or customers (candidates) that want to move into a new career or work for your company brand.

With health tech and health as a career sector the innate sense of purpose is absolutely infallible. I even get it as a recruiter. I see people go into healthtech companies and then that’s it – they want to stay in the industry as they feel more purpose in why they are doing what they do. So yes, I have seen people move into digital health and I applaud anyone that seeks a role that is powered by their purpose.

I fell into recruitment and just so happened to land a responsibility to recruit for health companies, which I have a genuine interest and desire to help. There are really awesome people out there with tech and digital skills that might just feel a strong affinity to applying their trade in tech for good companies, the NHS or consumer health – essentially they want to be part of the larger movement improving people’s lives - I want to help these people achieve that.

From a company (start up, firm, NHS Trust) perspective, what are the most important changes they have undertaken or planning to undertake as a result of the current pandemic? What could be the effect on underrepresented groups like women or ethnic minorities?

Safety and wellbeing of the employees is always priority number one. Remote working environments were built rapidly and collaboration took new forms. Companies have incorporated pandemic planning considerations into existing resilience management activities to provide a comprehensive response and to provide continuity for their most critical products and services. As a result, my team were called into rescue many projects that suddenly needed contractor assistance or control of delivery of objectives ahead of schedule. .

The pandemic affected BAME people more than others according to various sources – ‘Hope Not Hate’, a campaign group, reported from polls taken from the public sector bodies that up to 13% more BAME people were likely to have hours slashed and twice as likely to lose their job compared to white or non-BAME groups.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you became a member at Digital Gurus Health?

The power of social media and online communities has come a long way in my ten years as a recruiter. It is no longer simply about having a LinkedIn account, or throwing your weight around on Twitter. We have communities, such as OHT, which span regions and even countries and help bring together better access to many more groups and populations. If anything, I wish I had took residence with some of these online communities earlier in my career, but there is no time like the present! We run a number of initiatives within Digital Gurus like our Women in HealthTech lunchtime virtual seminars. Its mission is to provide a safe place for networking, empowering women in tech.

How has the pandemic changed your thinking about how to approach, recruit and empower candidates, and what advice do you have for those in hiring positions?

Recruitment is hard! Building your business whilst giving everyone who comes into contact with the company a positive experience is no mean feat. Think about your employer value proposition (EVP) and don’t fall foul of a poor recruitment process and focus on candidate experience as best as you can. An interview process can relay company tone, expectations around culture and showcase leadership traits - as a hiring manager this is your opportunity to secure brilliant talent. And if you don’t, then that candidate walks away with a good experience that ripples into the candidate market place. Some of the placements we don’t make aren’t lost efforts for our client as we know the candidate has had a good experience and we often get referrals of people who turn out to be brilliant fits.

When interviewing here’s a few tips to improve your game:

· Push your candidates to be the best they can be. A level playing field is absolutely essential in terms of process for all candidates being interviewed for a role. But by empowering your candidates by not putting them through an arduous box ticking exercise, not pigeon holing them into a overly prescriptive script and give them a chance to be themselves and shine. Let them show you… don’t tell them what you want them to be like.

· Don’t ask ‘what’s your biggest weakness’ Get creative with your questions! If there’s one thing candidates want to do it is impress you and weak questions that don’t encourage proper engagement around the role, the company and the people that are sat in that interview is a wasted opportunity. Use situational as well as skill based questioning techniques, keep questions open and ensure a two way dialogue across discussions on experience. Use the answers to your questions to paint your own picture of that candidate doing the role and push yourself to ask follow up questions that aren’t on your script.

· Connect. Build rapport from the moment you meet eye contact. Treat each interview (no matter how jaded you are by the end of the day) as if you are interviewing your own icon. Use comforting tones and body gestures and get to the common ground as quick as you can – you both like travelling? You both used to row in University? On weekend you both like to paint rolling hillsides in watercolour? Awesome! Once you build that rapport the transparency and trust in the interview then takes a new level and quality will increase.

· Think about the long game. I like recruitment to Lightning McQueen from that awesome Disney Pixar film Cars - The flashy side of workforce management that everyone wants to get involved in. But don’t forget about the old reliable motor called retention. They are closely related and often not enough balance goes into the latter.

Markets in tech are tight! Make sure you are ensuring retention by hiring the right people in the first place for your organisation so that you aren’t onboarding as fast as you offboarding. Examine your on/offboarding and attrition in great detail, trends and data give a real picture of your organisations workforce. Candidate representation and fair opportunity is something that is too big and important a topic for us to ignore.

What changes would you like to see in the digital health space job market in the coming years? What changes would you like to see in the way recruitment is done to empower underrepresented groups?

There are a few initiatives I would like to see championed including:

· Inclusive recruitment for all seniority, skills and industries. Geography seems less of an issue for us all nowadays.

· Reskilling for adults

· Responsible technology in hiring processes . It is essential that we scrutinise the tech use and the potential built-bias of the tech (which could be a issue if designed without thought to underrepresented groups) to deliver opportunity to all men and women from all walks of life.

With over a decade in Health and Tech recruitment, Chris is a known expert within his field and supports the NHS and wider Healthtech organisations with their workforce management. An advocate for health and fitness across his commitments outside of work, Chris also is a passionate leader in business employee engagement and workplace mental health. Chris’s team run a number of localised and national initiatives which look to champion Women in Tech, support charities and the like.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and his guest contributor.


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