What diversity means to me – Anish Patel, FYLD COO

For the second instalment of our What diversity means to me blog series, we sat down with FYLD Co-founder and COO, Anish Patel, to discuss his background, the key to developing the best teams and how the industry needs to change to ensure equity and inclusion. 

Tell us about your life journey up until joining FYLD and any specific challenges you’ve had to overcome along the way.

I was brought up in South London, attending one of the worst schools in the UK and ended up focussing more on survival than my actual grades. However, I did achieve some of the best grades in my year group. This survival instinct is still a part of me today – I refer to it as fire in the belly. Despite the hardships (or opportunities!), I am grateful for the lessons I learned during my upbringing.

My route to university wasn’t straight forward either. My dad drove me up and down the country as I applied to numerous universities, which paid off in the end with my acceptance four hours away from home. My friends and family always supported my ambition which is something that I am grateful for. With the work I picked up while not attending as much at school and college, I was able to contribute and managed to get by without a student loan just after they became the norm. The challenges that came my way made me more determined to build a career for myself as I had started to mix with folks outside of my area. 

Throughout my youth I was always seen as a “ringleader”, so I knew this was my biggest strength. After graduating, I landed my first few product and project management roles. After a couple of years, I knew this was the career path for me. I had understood that a product is directly connected to the success of a company. The experiences I’ve had during my career equipped me with the necessary skills and industry knowledge for my role in helping lead FYLD.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are three key pillars of a fair and progressive workplace. How do you feel FYLD implements these three elements in its operations?

It starts at the top. We have three unique executives with equally diverse backgrounds and routes into working at FYLD. This is visible not just with the way we look (which I call V1 diversity) but also in how we approach opportunities and problems (which I call V2 diversity). 

There are three key areas in which FYLD displays DEI implementation, which are essential for both employee and business growth:

1. Use data for hiring

Our hiring process is focussed on using data to create a fair chance for people of any experience, gender, background or ethnicity. We expect to see a pre agreed range of candidates from our recruiters to ensure we are providing equal opportunities. In fact, we have recently stopped working with a major global recruiter because they could not provide data to support our DEI ambitions.

We now ask recruitment firms to provide the following four parameters:

  1. Gender – male, female, other
  2. Ethnicity – white, people of colour (Black, Asian, Latino, other)
  3. Years of work experience
  4. Years of education

This process is ever evolving as we learn. The minimum requirements for these parameters may vary by role, function and geography. As we begin this process, we will work towards minimum requirements for gender (at least 40% female) and ethnic diversity (at least 40% beyond White Anglo-saxon). 

We will update the minimum requirements with further benchmarking over time. 

2. Open chats

Shelley, FYLD’s CEO, has regular one-to-ones with our team. This is crucial in creating an inclusive environment – we want to make sure everyone feels comfortable in their role and that their thoughts and opinions are heard.

3. Language and automation

We keep on top of outdated and complacent language. Old school terms that may have harmless intentions can be hurtful to many people. We commit to consistent and mindful language. Slack’s automated tools are great for DEI and we use this daily to ensure consistency in our language. 

I believe in happy, high performing teams – to achieve this, we take care of our people as best we can. 88% of our latest batch of hires had the ‘best day one ever’ in a job.

I have experienced a lack of care and consideration previously in my career, but at FYLD we want to do our very best for the whole team. The executive team also reflects on every person who moves on from the business, to take on board any learnings which can be implemented for new members of staff. This allows us to provide the best results for our customers. 

You spent a year working in Shanghai, how do you think this experience – along with wider experiences being exposed to diverse people, places, or environments – have enhanced your development?

I believe that diverse experiences like working within different cultures is essential in enhancing my career development. I was 24 when I left South London for Shanghai and it was a huge step. When I arrived, I was worried that I wasn’t ready for it, which turned out to be exactly right. 

I soon realised that being unprepared is normal and can be a positive thing. It was a similar situation that my colleague Oliver Curtis experienced; we were both Brits living in a new country, without a real plan or reason for being there long-term. I feel that being thrown in at the deep end can bring out the best in people. It teaches you to forget your worries and forces you to adapt to your surroundings. You will put code into production on day one at FYLD. You can read about Oliver’s experiences here

The key lesson from my time in Shanghai was that I discovered communication is less about words or speech and more about body language. In China, “vibes” are used to identify emotion and to judge character. By not speaking the language, I had to use other means of communication to get my point across. I try to create positive vibes within our team to create a healthy environment. This has translated into a “mindset” channel in Slack where we talk about things that a lot of companies do not.

How has this perspective been applied to your role as a COO and how do you implement your experiences to improve the workplace culture for your employees?

My experience has shown me how unfair the world can be. As COO, I can use my background to create an effective and progressive workplace for my employees. I know my team and their strengths – I assign problems, tasks and situations based upon who can deal with them the best. 

Not only does this produce the best work, it reduces pressure and minimises stress for the team. I am a massive fan of OKRs, and I let the team work on the ‘how’ while I help coach the ‘what’. 

These experiences have developed my ability to identify suitable candidates, regardless of their background. I can spot the fire in the belly of those who have lived more privileged lives while showing empathy and understanding for those who come from difficult backgrounds. I’ve realised that a team of people who think and work the same doesn’t make the best team. The key is diversity. Ensuring I recruit the right people keeps my team happy and high performing. For example, a member of our team that has been with us for over two years said that the current team at FYLD is the best they have experienced. This is the outcome a considered DEI strategy can provide teams and businesses.

Do you think the tech industry is progressive enough when it comes to DEI? What can be done to ensure equity and inclusion for all working in the sector?

No, the industry needs change. Most companies nowadays think of DEI as a tick box requirement – this idea is naive and outdated. DEI is essential in every part of life and collective change is required to shape the progressive future of the sector. This starts with leaders.

Executive teams can take more responsibility with this issue. At FYLD, DEI is crucial to how we operate. Our team is proudly diverse – in many cases we live thousands of miles apart and yet we are a cohesive unit.

We don’t agree with the idea that the best talent is found in London alone. Recent global events have taught us that talent is everywhere, you just have to find it. A great team can’t be represented visually, it takes time and dedication to find the right people to meet the V2 and beyond of DEI principles.  

The responsibility lies with the people in charge, introducing modern and progressive recruitment processes can provide a fair chance for anyone who has the ability and hunger to succeed. Creating equal opportunity in the sector should no longer be seen as a requirement – it’s a conscious choice and an expectation for industry leaders.

Interested in a career at FYLD? Check out our careers page for more information.