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Hilary Stephenson

Hilary is a high-performing leader of Sigma Agency with a passion for user engagement, digital inclusion, usability and social impact.

With a background in technical documentation and business communication she have been involved in user-centered, task-focused information design approaches.

At Sigma Hilary works with a great team of talented user researchers, designers, analysts, developers, UX consultants and project managers where the users are put at the heart of what they do to deliver better products and services to a happier audience and offer an improved user experience for all.

Listen to the episode

Tune in to find out:


  • A quick introduction to Sigma and Hilary’s role there.

  • Some of the specific work that the company does on inclusion.

  • The evolution of how Sigma defines the role that they play.

  • Hilary’s perspective on how to go about building a diverse team.

  • A little about the recruitment process employed by Sigma.

  • What Hillary actually looks for in new team members.

  • Some tips and pointers for where to start including people from different backgrounds

  • Accepting the coming and going of team members in the fluid landscape.

  • The decision and impact of remote work at Sigma.

  • Encouraging creativity and side projects within a team.

  • Hilary’s own path towards her current role and interest in these subjects.

  • Diversity Role Model’s and how Hilary is involved.

  •  Looking forward to the future with Hilary and Sigma.

  • And much more!

[0:00:05.8] ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to Happy Porch Radio, the digital agency podcast for
progressive agency owners and web professionals.
Season Four is an exploration of diversity in our industry, especially gender diversity. This
season your host, Barry O’Kane, is joined by some wonderful cohosts for conversations with
agency leaders and diversity and inclusion experts.
[0:00:32.3] BOK: Welcome back to Happy Porch Radio Season Four. This episode, my cohost
Kelly and I are joined by the very inspirational Hilary Stephenson. Hilary is Managing Director at
Sigma UK and Sigma, a leading specialist in user experience, consulting and design,
information management and web technologies. She is also a role model and a facilitator at
Diversity Role Models which is a charity that actively seeks to prevent homophobic, biphobic
and transphobic bullying in United Kingdom schools.
Let’s meet Hilary.
[0:01:10.5] HS: I’m Hilary Stephenson, I’m the Founder and Managing Director of Sigma
Consulting Solutions. We are a digital agency focused on user experience and digital inclusion.
[0:01:21.5] BOK: Welcome to Happy Porch Radio.
[0:01:23.7] HS: Thank you for having me.
[0:01:25.1] BOK: We’re also joined today again by the wonderful Kelly, who is joining me as
cohost again.
[0:01:29.2] KM: Hello, welcome everyone.
[0:01:30.6] BOK: Hilary, tell me a little bit more about Sigma and the work you do?
[0:01:35.5] HS: Sure, we’re as, I say, a digital agency and because of our work, we do
everything form design, right the way through development and support. But we have a very
real focus on user experience and that means most of our projects, if not everything is informed
by real people. So we interview, we survey, we do usability testing with the real users of our
clients so it’s quite interesting work, it’s very rewarding work, particularly when you’re looking at
people who are additionally excluded or have perhaps lower digital confidence levels.
It’s good work, we probably work more in the sort of information rich web space, so less on the
kind of branding and commerce side, we do have some expertise there but really, we’re working
with kind of solving problems, or interfaces, that are a bit more complex or where the audience
is really quite broad in terms of skillset and access needs.
[0:02:29.7] BOK: Wonderful, that as you know, this season in the podcast is all about or
broadly about diversity and inclusion. What you just described as one of the reasons we really
wanted to have this conversation.
The work — you touched on a couple of things there about maybe inclusion or exclusion and
people with inaccessibility. Can you talk – just describe a little bit more about, I guess, what you
mean when you say those words and the type of work that that actually is in real life?
[0:02:55.6] HS: Sure, I guess accessibility is the more narrow discipline, it’s making sure that
systems can be accessed by people with varying abilities, they might be cognitive, they might
be physical, they might be neuro-diverse conditions. We’re designing increasingly for people
who work on a kind of spectrum of confidence levels and cognitive load.
I think for us though, digital inclusion is much broader, so it starts to turn things like financial
exclusion and education and what people have used in their careers and how you then start to
show them the value of the internet. It isn’t just let’s sit down and build things the right way or
train people to use a computer, it’s actually trying to dig around the reasons people don’t feel
confident or don’t see any meaning in the internet.
I think in this country, we’re still one in five people excluded from the internet and some of that is
by choice, you know, they’re quite anti. They don’t see the value in it. It’s quite broad for us and
it means we get access to working with audiences with very specific wants and likes and
[0:04:03.6] BOK: One of the things that stood out to me is you started the description about
Sigma is about putting the user first and the research and the sort of discovery process a little
bit that you described there. Rather than saying, you know, we’ve got a solution, we’ve got a
magic wand, we will include you but it’s more of a working with the person, is that a fair
characterization of what you were saying?
[0:04:24.5] HS: Yeah, I think things have evolved since we started the company, we’ve been
trading for 11 years now and I think we used to use the phrase, putting the user at the heart of
everything we do and that was well intentioned but we’ve seen probably in the last few years
that, you know, that implies a sense of privilege and it implies a sense of we are helping the
user to understand and make sense of their world which is really not the way to go about things.
You know, the whole concept of designing with — kind of releasing some of your power and
privilege to understand what is meaningful to as a people and getting into situations where it’s
easier for them to describe what they will and won’t do.
I think things have become a lot more sophisticated in the last few years, I guess Kelly, you’ve
probably seen the same, you have to go where the users are and use the language that they
feel comfortable with and that’s quite a skill for people who are you know, who do have a certain
educational level and do have certain design or development skill.
[0:05:22.9] BOK: Do you think that is or how different do you think when you’re working with a
specific focus on trying to include people or that type of work. How different do you feel that is
from — I’m trying not to make the question sound as if like you know, it’s different work from or I
guess that is the question.
What’s the difference between what you’re describing now with that type of audience, with that
type of focus versus what maybe we should as an industry be doing?
[0:05:49.6] HS: You’re right, it implies that people, again, they’re not doing it in the way that we
do it in that in itself is arrogant, that’s not my intention, I just think you need to learn certain skills
around research and empathy if that’s not too cheesy. And you know, just trying to understand
context and meaning and behavior and confidence.
So for us, it’s probably meant that we changed the skillset of our team somewhat so we’ve
brought in people who aren’t from a digital background at all. People who have come from more
of a social psychology, social science, academic background or people who have really
researched user behavior so that we’ve invested quite a lot in that research part of our
And even though I said I don’t want to be dismissive of the work of others, I do think there’s a
kind of like to touch user experience approach that other people take which is maybe more
focused on kind of interface level interactions, you know, conversion rate, optimization, making
sure that the UX is built into the system but it’s very much focused on many data points rather
than human behavior.
If that’s not too willy a description. Really understanding what makes people tick is a psychology
discipline I think.
[0:07:02.3] KM: Yeah, that’s definitely something that makes Sigma stand out way and beyond
other digital agencies that I’ve come across certainly. I guess one of the questions around that
is, how do you go about building a diverse team?
Because some of the projects that you work on and for the people that you’re working on for are
so broad and so diverse, does that change how you, I mean, obviously, it does change how you
look at your recruitment process and the people and the skills that you need to bring in to the
[0:07:32.9] HS: It does and I think previously, I’ve described it as you know, you need to take a
risk or you need to have a leap of faith but even that’s probably the wrong language because it’s
not actually – it hasn’t been risky to us to bring in people from different backgrounds. That might
be different educational levels, it might be people as I say who have come from a very different
industrial background, you know, who couldn’t design, they couldn’t use Photoshop to save their
They never want to code, these are people who want to understand people and situations and
we’ve had to do that. So similarly, we’ve had to bring in people who perhaps are different
skillsets in terms of their own abilities and again, that hasn’t really been a risk, it’s added quite a
lot to the team. But it means from an HR perspective and an employment perspective, you do
need to think differently about you know, your job ads, so relaxing things around, you know,
people must have a business IT degree.
We ditched that, I mean, when we looked at it, we thought why are we asking for that? Because
everybody else always does on the job ad. Yeah, you do need to change things and you need
to probably revisit your policies and procedures. Even down to the environment level to working
pans and flexible working to mentoring. You have to look at all of those things I think in a
modern business.
[0:08:49.4] KM: That’s an approach that you take with Sigma isn’t it? I know the percentage of
your team do work from home or you do flexible working and that kind of thing.
[0:08:59.1] HS: I would be lying if I said that was kind of by design, it was more to do with when
we started the business, it was, who do I want to work with? You know, where are they based?
They don’t live near me but it’s probably more important that we have the right people on board
to build a company than it is to have them all sit in one office location.
I don’t think we were early adopters but we always had people who were 100% based from
home right from the get go, it wasn’t because we couldn’t afford an office, it was genuinely
about having the right people and the right talent in the team. So yeah, we’ve maintained that
and it isn’t always easy, you know, people work together when they are together but we’ve
managed to find a way of getting that remote collaboration up and running as well.
[0:09:45.0] BOK: Yeah, brilliant. I love the fact that that’s tied to the work you do as well. Just to
sort of – there were so many things there, I want to sort of dig into a couple of them. One is,
talking about the recruitment process you mentioned about some specifics about what
requirements you put into job ads and things like that. Is there anything else in terms of the
recruitment process that you have learned or that Sigma are applying to try and improve the
diversity and the strength of your team?
[0:10:12.3] HS: There are a couple of things, we try to do more through our network which is
still hard, you still need occasional support from the recruitment world but we try to build our
reputation through networking, through running events, through running things with local
colleges, we’ve got some great relationships as universities.
We run an annual event Camp Digital, so we bring a lot of junior and young graduate talent to
the day, I think that’s been quite useful to us that we’re kind of looking in different places and
building the network and reputation so people have a good feel for who Sigma is and you know
what we stand for.
There are more practical things that we do and we’ve looked at the wording of our job adverts
as I say, we’ve relaxed some of the traditional standards around educational levels in favor of
richer life experience. There’s a thing out there called, I think it’s a gender decoder, I’ll get you
the link Barry because I can never remember it.
I think Kelly –
[0:11:13.3] KM: I think your recommendation actually Hilary.
[0:11:15.7] HS: It’s academically researched. So I think it has some weight but Kelly and I have
spoken about it, it’s just a way to check yourself, it’s a way to just check the language of what
we’re using in it and as we evolve, even the concept of binary, is it targeted towards male or
females, even that is changing the language we use and I think as business managers, we need
to take some responsibility for that and look at things at that level so yeah, we’ve changed the
way that we write job ads and we’ve changed where we place those job ads as well.
[0:11:46.3] BOK: Yeah, the link to the gender decoder, we’ll include that in the Show Notes in
Happy Porch Radio so listeners can go and check it out.
As well as doing those – the process you’ve just described, well, you mentioned earlier, I think
the word you used was a sort of a risk or there seems to be a risk associated with some of that.
Do you think that or did you use that as a kind of, or that was a perception at the start or what
was that risk that you were seeing there?
[0:12:11.2] HS: I think it was breaking out of this sort of traditional comfort zone of what is a
developer, what is a designer, where should they have come from, what were less easy show,
we needed to break that mold a little bit and again, the language isn’t right but take more of a
chance, some people who maybe got a different life story. Bring people into the team who are
brilliant with people and brilliant in front of our clients but they don’t have the traditional path
towards being a researcher or a designer.
That’s working well for us. Bringing in age diversity, you know, just simple things like you know,
not always looking at the kind of we’ve got our mids, we’ve got our seniors, we need to backfill
with junior talent. Taking more of a diverse approach and looking at people who are maybe in
the upper age bands. Because they’ve got fantastic experience to our team and sadly, may be
Particularly women returning to their careers, you know, we know that’s a problem after child
care. Yeah, just having those considerations in mind when we looking to add new members to
the team.
[0:13:15.9] KM: What is it that you’re looking for Hilary? Because this is quite a different
approach to recruitment in terms of you know, you’re not looking for the standard things like you
said, you’re not looking for the IT degree and that’s not essentially as important to you anymore.
What would you say is important when you’re looking over people’s CVs and what they can
[0:13:33.9] HS: That’s a very good question. I think, I don’t want to dismiss the importance of
technology to our business, I’ve got a dev ops team out there, if they hear this back, they might
be, what’s she talking about? My experience of technology is it can be trained in very quickly, so
democratized, it’s so pervasive.
People who are interested in working with tech tend to invest a lot of their own time in doing
that. I worry less about the technical upscaling of the team than I do about the personal and
cultural fit and are they going to be good with clients, are they going to be good with users?
Do they care, you know? Do they care about the things that we as a company say we care
about? You know, do they want to win over hearts and minds when it comes to inclusion? If they
do, they they’re going to score quite highly when you start talking to them.
[0:14:24.1] BOK: Some of the other episodes in the season, we’ve had really interesting
conversations about that and the sort of biases and that kind of thing, which I think is really
fascinating. What was interesting for me when – I think that’s why I picked out the word risk,
because that’s something that I’ve definitely been through journeys of like perceiving something
as a risk and then actually –
I know this is entirely internal process for me probably to be able to say, well actually, no, that’s
not right, I’m actually, there’s opportunity here.
[0:14:48.1] HS: Yeah.
[0:14:49.0] BOK: Both for the business and for those individuals. I’m thinking exactly like you
mentioned, people returning who maybe are really good with people, more experienced, more
comfortable, more confident in pressure situations and that kind of stuff and upscaling in
whatever the relevant technical skills or updating technical skills, actually is an easier mountain
to climb than that broader skillset.
How would you, thinking about another part of that you mentioned sort of backfilling in junior
stuff and so on, how would you go about advising a team, say, a small team and small agency
who are looking to recruit slowly and are looking to — but also wanted at the same time improve
the diversity and the strength of the team there. Where would you sort of, you know, a few
pointers you might give them to where to start or things to start thinking about?
[0:15:34.3] HS: I think maybe look in places where you haven’t looked before. There is a great
community certainly in the UK now around coding clubs around maybe women in tech
initiatives, boot camps, software development apprenticeships where people maybe haven’t
come through the traditional route but they have chosen or made a commitment to picking up
technical skills and I think we found some really interesting people through those routes.
So get yourself out there to networking groups. It may be out in the traditional business
breakfast type things where you go and pitch to each other and try and workout who is going to
try and sell something first. You know just go to places where the audience is slightly different
and I think that has been quite useful for us.
Maybe take your time a little bit as try and build a propel with people over time. So that you
know that the fit is there and that might be engagement with people while they’re at university.
Maybe bringing them in on internships over the summer that’s worked really well for us. We
have a number of people who have done work experience maybe for one or two weeks and
then they’ve come back for a day per week and they’re finally you’re at uni and then they have
joined as a graduate and yet they might move on after two years but we have had a really good
run with those people. So consider those options working quite well for us I hope.
[0:16:51.8] KM: That idea about being open that people are going to move on as well. That — I
think in the past we’ve felt quite nervous about that, about how difficult it is to find people in the
first place and then bring them in and then two years can actually seem like a really sure
amount of time before they are off again.
But I think it’s an understanding that that’s the way it is now and be happy that they’ve moved
on and you’ve got that time with them is might the best approach to looking at that now.
[0:17:17.8] HS: Yeah, you’ve got to be kind of be very mature about that. I don’t know what you
were like Kelly but I have been completely honest, when people used to leave I hated it. I used
to think that they were terribly disloyal and you know what have I done, what could they possibly
not love about being here and you really used to agonize over it. Did we get the mentoring right,
did we did over promise? It really used to kill me and now I’m just a lot more relaxed about it
because it’s just the nature of our very fast paced industry.
You know it is a very hot market, people get head hunted particularly with young people who
don’t have the kind of commitments like mortgages. They’re going to go and that’s fine and I
think we have stayed in touch with the law and some of it become clients and then you role a
better way to do than the kind of old you’re dead to me they’ll never come back but I’ll come at
the door again and I won’t like that.
[0:18:06.9] KM: It wouldn’t work for you, that approach.
[0:18:07.8] HS: Yeah, I think so.
[0:18:09.2] BOK: That is brilliant there, I have the same thing about clients as well, if I have
clients or a contract ends, you always want to even when it is hard at least the door open.
[0:18:17.0] HS: It is hard because we’re proud aren’t we, we’re proud of the work that we are
doing and the companies that we have built. So when people seem to turn their backs it is quite
tricky but yeah, you just got to toughen up.
[0:18:28.3] KM: I like to think they come back though, if you leave that door open there’s quite a
few that come back.
[0:18:32.9] BOK: So I also want to go back in touch with something else you mentioned which
and you touched on some flexible work or sort of remote-ish which is something very close to a
very strong impression of mine.
Can you talk a little bit and then you said that sort of just happened, can you talk a little bit more
about how that just happened and the sort of impact of it?
[0:18:48.6] HS: Sure so when we started the company, some of us have worked together at
previous agency. When we were owned by a Swedish parent company, I was given a lot of
freedom to establish the business in the UK, to build my own team to design the services that
we wanted to offer and pick the clients that we wanted to focus upon. So for me, as I said it was
just about picking an initial handful of people around me that I knew I could trust.
Some of whom had worked before, with before. So I really didn’t care about where they were
based but we’ve got still to this day our commercial director lives in Newcastle. I’m based in
Manchester, our HR manager is in Devon. You know he is genuinely that wide spread. I mean
the UK is not a big country when it comes to getting around. It is expensive to get around in the
UK but in terms of time, you can manage it and the tools we have at our disposal in the digital
world means that there’s no excuse for not offering that flexibility and balance and I think it pays
off. I think people do appreciate that.
I don’t practice any hard and fast rules around flexi-time. We offer flexi-time but we allow people
to manage it themselves. You know I don’t have cameras and people’s offices. That is coming.
People are doing that but that would to me seem very, very strange. So there is a lot of trust that
you have to have, in your culture but yeah, it works.
And even now even though the people who are office based, even if they only live five minutes
down the road invariably they’ve got a day from home per week so they can plan things around.
It just works for us. I’d never known it be a significant problem in the business. Nobody has said
“I can’t get a hold of that person,” or, “I wish they were here more,” or “It doesn’t work because
they are never in the office.” It has genuinely not been an issue but some people are afraid in
offering it, still.
[0:20:36.0] BOK: Yeah but for me that’s mind blowing. We are a 100% remote, we don’t have
an office. So I feel very strongly about that and how important it is but the reason from the point
of view of this conversation because there is a black hole of conversation I could disappear
down there very quickly.
But from the point of view of this conversation, what I think is incredibly powerful or very relevant
is like we touched on for example, people returning to work or people with different backgrounds
and different needs building in the flexibility into the team I think actually enables or empowers
or maybe what I mean is it should enable them to empower that team to be stronger because it
allows you to do them more of the diversity part.
So what I was interested and the other part I was interested in what you are describing there is
do you feel that has – that came out because you wanted to work with these people and it just
happened. Do you think that also has any impact on some of this, the conversations around
understanding accessibility and then inclusion and then the diversity of the team?
[0:21:32.6] HS: I think it does. I don’t want to share too much about the makeup of our team.
There are people who have specific needs within our team or health challenges that means
having the ability to flex your hours, to flex your location, to work part time, to do other things
that make their lives important to allow them the choice to work outside of Sigma is a bold move
for some maybe but I think it’s really helped us.
So you know I have never had that many kind of moonlighting clauses in our contracts. We had
some kind of advisory notes around what it means when you are here versus when you are not
here and working on with other things but I have never been strict around saying you can’t have
a separate business interest or outside projects. Because those things make people tick along
and they need them and they know when there is a conflict of interest and people know when
they’re taking the mickey, don’t they? So it is all very self-managed, I think.
[0:22:33.8] KM: That is really interesting what you said about the kind of side projects or things
that people got going on outside of the Sigma world that is something that’s come out quite a lot
with us as well because we have everyone that works in the company is really creative and I
think creative people need different outlets. You know for me I — don’t laugh but I crochet that’s
my creative nowadays but that’s what works for me.
But other people that we’ve had in the team have been they’re really good at illustrating, for
example. So they might have set up a kind of illustration business where they were selling cards
and we’ve always really actively encouraged things like that because I think that again helps the
team to be more creative and more diverse.
[0:23:17.4] HS: Absolutely and if you get the culture right they will name check you. They will
appreciate that they are doing that and when the situation is appropriate, they will tie things
back to Sigma or to Rubber Cheese and we know that because we know that they care about
the brand and being associated with it.
So yeah, you need to be relaxed around these things and there are things in the contracts
around poaching staff and poaching clients when people leave because that is just standard
business practice but I don’t think I’ve ever had to enforce any of that or worry about that kind of
thing but yeah, touch wood.
[0:23:48.2] BOK: And it will definitely bring the broader benefits that you are describing there. I
mean it is just more a bit stronger or more variable stronger team. Everything is better and then
that leads into the work. It is like a virtuous cycle.
[0:24:01.2] HS: There is a bit of trust there. I think because that trust is there, they will know
that I will say to them, “You look really tired, what have you been doing?” But we have that
rapport if I do think things are getting in the way of work. I don’t mind having that conversation
with people.
[0:24:15.7] BOK: And that is an appealing thing for people who are looking to work, looking for
places to work as well, looking for a change.
So I just wanted to change tracks very slightly, Hilary and ask you a little bit about your
background. What led you to Sigma and why an interest in this type of work?
[0:24:32.7] HS: Yeah, my background is I studied English at university and I knew I wanted to
write. But I didn’t want to teach and I didn’t want to be a journalist and I got involved in
copywriting and technical editing, purely because there was a science park just down the road
from where my mom and dad lived and I needed a job.
So I got involved in I think quite early stage user centered design by writing things about
systems. So I was always involved with users either because we were writing training content
for them or we were documenting systems that they were using or I was helping to make sense
of quite scientific or statistical reports for the layman audience.
So I think kind of UX for me stemmed from that. It wasn’t called that then but I was very involved
in technical communication and user centered design from that job onwards and then I went
agency side. So rather than working in house for one products there, I went agency side and
have remained in that kind of environment.
So worked through documentation, manager roles, project managers, delivery managers until I
was fortunate enough to be asked to set up my own company and set up a company on behalf
of Sigma and when I did that, UX as I said wasn’t really known as a term. We’re just on the cusp
of usability and HCI merging and becoming more UX oriented , so that the domain and
knowledge that we have in usability and accessibility was really timely.
And that is something I still think a lot of people aren’t practicing accessibility enough but it’s
been a really solid thread throughout our trading history. So it’s great that we are still known for
doing that kind of thing and that we see this having some expertise around inclusion.
[0:26:22.2] BOK: And I also know that you do — outside of Sigma that you are involved in –
well I will let you share a little bit of what you are involved in that is outside of the work of all that
amazing spare time.
[0:26:34.9] HS: Yeah, got loads. So I have a young family so that keeps me a little bit busy but I
do some voluntary work and I am not doing that all my charity stuff. I have been engaged with a
charity called Diversity Role Models since they started and it has been hugely rewarding and it
has ties to what I do here around inclusion and thinking about diversity and language.
But it is essentially they’re a charity there that go into schools with LGBT plus allies or LGBT
plus community members and we share our stories for primary school children right away up to
six four man, in some cases trainee student teachers.
And it has really built my own confidence. It isn’t necessarily about giving them a lot of time. I
can only do what I can do but it is really helped me think about my own story and my own
background and just how different people’s lives are. You know really thinking about the
different histories and yeah, it’s been amazing.
I would like anybody to check them out because they do brilliant work and I have been very
proud to help them. And Sigma looks after their website as well I should say. So we are quite
closely involved with the charity.
[0:27:40.4] KM: Well I guess it is so positive for you to be able to go in as a role model into
those schools and really showcase where you’ve come from and what you do now and I think
that’s fantastic.
[0:27:52.2] HS: I think so, my life has been great and I haven’t had any problems but when you
hear the stories of other people you start to think about just how hard it’s been particularly
friends that have made in the trans community who are older people and their career history.
When you hear what’s happened to them you just say, “Wow, how did these people made it
through?” and for young people to hear about that I think is really vital particularly in today’s
political climate.
So I think must inform I have been doing here at work in the last three years as well in terms of
thinking about richer life experience that you have the most of an impact.
[0:28:28.7] BOK: That is something that I hear a lot actually is exactly what you just said, it is a
two way street like taking part in something like that is valuable to you as well as the amazing
value that you are offering to young kids as well. And then tying that back to the work you do.
[0:28:43.7] HS: Anybody, so if you get chance to volunteer, I mean I am lucky that I am able to
do it and some of the team get to volunteer for the charities well but I think it is just hugely
rewarding. It really does help you understand what life means to other people. So if you can do
it, if you can sponsor it as a corporate then fantastic but if you can give people time to do it as
well that is really good.
[0:29:04.8] BOK: So that is and again, we’ll link to those to that in the
Show Notes.
[0:29:10.2] HS: Thank you, they’ll all appreciate that, I’m sure.
[0:29:11.8] BOK: Yeah, definitely worth checking out. So I just wanted to dig a little bit deeper
and so it is going into schools and doing workshops and talks, is that right? Can you tell me a
little bit more about the actual work?
[0:29:21.6] HS: Yeah, it is a really easy format. They go into schools, they do a lesson, a
workshop per lesson and you have a facilitator. There is always a member of the teaching staff
in the classroom and they will have two or three role models down to just share their stories for
five minutes to just tell a backgrounds whether it’s a family, their identity, their sexuality. They
will talk about their jobs, they’ll talk about their hobbies and it just gives young people exposure
to the things that maybe they are not hearing about at home or they’re not hearing about in
It gives the teachers a huge amount of confidence as well around the language that people are
using in schools. Teachers get quite a lot out of it as well. We’ve had governors sit in the
workshops and well up by the end of these session because they know that this is something
they now need to encourage in the schools. So yeah really, really rewarding and it is everybody
under that kind of LGBT plus banner whether they are family members whether they are
colleagues or whether they’ve had experiences themselves. So it is really interesting.
[0:30:25.9] BOK: A pattern I have noticed a lot actually with people who are in leadership roles
or founders of agencies that also have a passion or an interest in the broader something like
diversity inclusion and accessibility that you touched on that they’re also like it is a very
complete rounded thing and life is not just this-that is what we do at work.
And I am really interested to see if you think that that sort of mindset that the sort of complete
life experience thing is something that also allows you to encourage and build that trust within
the team. So instead of saying, “You must be in the office for minute by minute. I am going to
measure everything you do.” You are interested in the broader who they are as well.
[0:31:04.9] HS: I think so. I mean as I say, I know all the members in the team have outside
interest just like what I have described and I think it does make them rounder individuals as well
and I am interested. So we know that some of the team volunteer for homeless charities and
that meant a couple of years ago, we got involved in the homeless act movement in Manchester
because I thought this is something that people are engaged in outside of work.
Maybe we can help to bring that back in and as a company, we can get behind something that
has a slightly bigger impact. So I think you should always be aware of what people are doing
providing you are not prying and the other thing it brings as well is we have talked a lot about – I
talked earlier about getting people to care about the things that we stand for. I don’t want that to
be one homogenized everybody at Sigma looks and thinks and believes the same things.
Because then you haven’t got diversity, so if your politics have to be the same as my politics,
then that defeats the objective of being diverse. So it is a fine line I think. You need to know
what else makes people tick outside but you don’t need to try and police it or think well actually
that clashes with my own belief so our corporate culture. It is tricky I think to get it right and I
don’t know if we do but we try.
[0:32:18.9] BOK: And I think it is the trying which I think is really valuable for it. Allowing that
space to enable people — touching back on flexibility of work and not trying to micromanage
every other aspect of their lives in terms of what we touched on some of the work and side
projects and things.
And from my point of view, I think that all leads back into the reason for an agency to have and
build a diverse isn’t just because that’s a thing to do but because that’s how you make stronger
teams more valuable, more enjoyable at workplaces and therefore produce more better work.
[0:32:51.8] HS: I think so. I think sometimes you have to be explicit about why you are doing it. I
think that is quite important. So it is not enough to just people in the team will be like, “Oh look
there’s Hils out doing some feminism again or she’s banging on about gay people.” That I think
to sometimes for some people make an explicit link between why you are doing it and how you
think it helps the business that I am a part of because not everybody is just, as I said some
people don’t care about those kinds of issues.
They care about other things so sometimes, you have a responsibility to explain, “Look I have
signed up to this networking group.” Or, “I am on this board because of these reasons and this
is what I hope it would bring back to Sigma.”
[0:33:33.9] BOK: Yeah, that is really good insight actually.
[0:33:36.1] KM: Just on that I think it is nice to actively being encouraging and supporting other
people’s outside interests and like you said that you’ve got members of your team that they’re
volunteering for other charities as well. I think them knowing that you are actively encouraging
that as well is a way of – I didn’t know if you feel that is the way of actually retaining your team
for longer as well.
I know recently we’ve had a member of our team come to us and talk about some of the things
that he’d be really keen to do outside of Rubber Cheese and we have said back to him that we
will support you to do those things, we’ll encourage you to do those things. Because we know
that actually we might get to keep that member of the team for an extra year if we do that kind of
thing. So I don’t know if you get that as well.
[0:34:22.1] HS: Yeah, we do and I think it is okay to say that. I think when you are having that
discussion, you could say, “Look this is what we expect in return.” You know I had a guy years
ago when we first set the business He met somebody who lived in Argentina and we let him go
work out there for a year which actually was probably a bit crazy but we did, to be fair, I have
clients out there that he would do an excellent job of supporting.
But you know just giving somebody that space to sort out their personal situation and he is still
with us. His wife now lives over here with him and little things like that where you can just relax.
You’re kind of, “Oh what’s the risk to the business? What’s it going to cost me?” If you can just
think differently about those then I think It’s positive in the long run.
Similarly for kind of long term travel, you know, particularly popular, I don’t want to be kind of
generalist but we have seen a change in kind of graduates joining then, maybe after one or two
years, they want to travel because they didn’t do it before university and I think there’s a way we
can allow that and hang on to them a little bit longer.
[0:35:22.7] BOK: Really interesting and very amazing conversation, thank you so much.
Unfortunately, we’re starting to run out of time. I wanted to finish up on what’s happening next
for you and for Sigma, do you have an extra vision of what – where you’re going to take things
from now?
[0:35:34.0] HS: Yeah, I mean, even though I’ve talked a lot about people working remotely, we
have just redesigned our studio. So we do have an office and we’ve just really invested in
crazily we’re UX focus organization and we never designed our own space, our own
environment, we just added desks as we added people.
We’ve changed that, we’ve moved in last week so it’s the same office but a very different feel to
it. I’m really interested to see what impact that’s going to have, both on the current team and
also our ability to hire people into the team, whether the environment has a positive effect there.
I think when it comes to our services, and our kind of tech focused and I think we’ve got to start
embracing inclusion and usability around kind of modern tech. So we’re getting more involved in
conversations around chat and voice and sensor based technology, you know, the kind of smart
home, smart building stuff.
Then inclusive service design, we’ve seen fantastic investment in public sector, digital teams
over the last few years, you know, there’s some amazing people working in the public sector
and we’re trying to do more and more with them to bring some of the kind of usability and
accessibility. Things that we’ve done in the private sector into the public sector which bizarrely,
everybody thinks the public’s out to get accessibility right because it’s legally required to do so
but it doesn’t. We’re branching out into that.
[0:36:57.2] BOK: Outstanding, that’s really exciting stuff and very finally, for anybody listening
who wants to find out more about you or check out more about Sigma, where should they go?
[0:37:06.1] HS: Okay, we are sigma on Twitter so – and then I am hilaryonline on twitter
because it was just a really lazy way to settle my account. It’s very easy to find me. I can’t
promise this quality on there but yeah, that’s where I am.
[0:37:20.4] BOK: Awesome, thank you so much, we’ll share those and all the links we’ve talked
about on the show.
Thank you so much Hilary, really appreciate your time today.
[0:37:27.0] HS: Pleasure to speak to you both, you take care.
[0:37:34.8] BOK: You can get all the links and notes from this episode on
where you can also find out how to send us questions, feedback and get involved in the
conversation about this series.
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