Why this start-up sees DEI as an organizational ‘superpower’

The “future of work” is a phrase that has been front and center over the past year in HR circles, as remote work and rapid digitalization prompted by the pandemic bring the future into the present. For U.K.-based tech start-up Multiverse, re-envisioning what that future looks like for employees of all backgrounds and skills is at the heart of their mission.

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The organization recently launched its expansion in the U.S., bringing stateside its unique alternative to college and corporate training–focused on an apprenticeship model empowering diverse communities to retain the technical skills they need for career success. Sophie Ruddock, vice president and general manger of the organization, recently shared with HRE how the company plans to revolutionize the hiring of diverse talent in the U.S.

HRE: How is HR strategy for the U.S. expansion of Multiverse differing from the approach taken in the U.K.?

Sophie Ruddock

Ruddock: At our heart, we find unconventional talent with incredibly high potential, and develop the skills and capabilities needed by each employer we work with.

We recruit people from a really varied range of backgrounds but the thing that unites everyone is the determination to deliver our mission: creating a diverse group of future leaders through an outstanding alternative to college and corporate training. That mission is every bit as crucial in the U.S. as it is in the U.K. Every company board and CEO is under pressure to address the growing skills gap as a result of digital transformation and make meaningful progress towards racial equity. Both here and in the U.K., we have a higher education system that is deepening societal divides, leaving students with soaring debts and failing to give graduates the critical skills that are needed in the workplace.

The bigger shift for us has really been going from pre-coronavirus to during and after it; that has reshaped our strategy and the way we deliver training in drastic ways. This has created new opportunities–for example, our coaches now spend more time delivering applied learning and live coaching, with the ability to target interventions at the apprentices who need them.

HRE: How are you finding the pandemic has impacted demand for a training approach like that offered by Multiverse?

Ruddock: We’ve seen demand grow in really exciting ways. COVID-19 has really hastened the pace of digitalization, so we’re seeing this explosion in the growth of tech and data jobs, as we move into a new digital normal. To be competitive, it’s crucial businesses have the right skills to keep up.

Since an apprenticeship happens alongside a full-time job, unlike classroom or college learning, our apprentices benefit from applied learning, where skills are immediately tested, adapted and embedded in the workplace. It’s proven to be an incredibly effective way to develop the skills employees need to excel in their roles, such as data analytics or software engineering, as opposed to the knowledge-focused degrees. As a result, apprentices typically stay twice as long in their first job as college graduates, which gives firms a significant saving on employee churn.

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We also shifted our teaching provision to be remote, but actually that’s opened up all new ways to deliver outstanding training that is actually improving attainment for our apprentices and their employers.

HRE: What are some of the most valuable HR lessons learned from a fast-growing start-up like Multiverse that you think larger legacy companies could benefit from knowing?

Ruddock: Working with a lot of bigger companies and their teams, it’s abundantly clear how important growth is to employees at all levels. Something we’ve prioritized in Multiverse is promoting and developing our people internally, and creating pathways for personal and professional growth–from entry-level all the way up to the boardroom. Just because you’re a new company, there’s no excuse for thinking short-term.

It’s also something we’ve found working with our clients. As every company goes on this journey to becoming a tech company, a lot of more traditional employers are finding their tech talent by reskilling their existing workforce.

All companies should be looking at nurturing and skilling talent they have within the business–this is a way to develop the critical skills needed, whilst retaining their employees. Of course, professional apprenticeships are one great way to do that, and one that delivers a quick return on investment for businesses.

HRE: How does Multiverse prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion–both internally and for clients?

Ruddock: Diversity, equity and inclusion is at the heart of what we do–it’s why we’re incredibly proud that, of the apprentices we place, 52% are people of color, over half are female, and we significantly overrepresent those from the least economically privileged backgrounds. We remain completely focused on both democratizing access, and then providing a meaningful route to the boardroom through the quality of our programs and access to a community.

Whether internally, or for apprentices, we know that recruitment is vital for achieving diversity; we recruit for talent and potential, rather than pure academic attainment, which is often a factor of the zip code someone grew up in. To achieve this, we build deep relationships with community organizations right across the spectrum to access talent who we otherwise might not meet.

Creating a culture that is inclusive and facilitates belonging is crucial to any workplace, so we’re constantly learning and developing best practices, to ensure both our own workplace and our apprentice community is well-equipped to develop and progress.

Related: Why ‘diverse talent and big ideas’ are key to this company’s HR strategy

HRE: What is the best piece of HR advice you’ve gotten?

Ruddock: One of the most important things I know is that diversity really is a superpower. No matter how qualified your team, if they’re drawn from the same narrow backgrounds, you’ll be missing out on incredible talent, ideas and performance.

The evidence increasingly shows this: A 2020 report by McKinsey found companies with the highest diversity earned 35% more than their industry average–but at the same time degree requirements are screening out 67% Black Americans and 79% Hispanic Americans. Companies are aware they need to change, but by and large remain unsure of how to break with convention when it comes to accessing talent. It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited by what we’re doing.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].