Socially Responsible Recruitment: An interview with Paul Forster

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SETsquared Bristol

Socially Responsible Recruitment’s (SR2), Alicia Teagle, had a chat with our Community Manager, Paul Forster about diversity and inclusion (D&I), SETsquared Bristol projects, books and everything in between…

I’ve been really looking forward to getting Paul onto Women Rock and super excited to collaborating with him throughout the rest of this year and beyond. We both share a HUGE passion for D&I and Paul is backing my mission to make Bristol the most diverse city in Tech in by the end of 2025!

Paul thrives on helping people, community cohesion and facilitating joy. Currently working with SETsquared Bristol members to connect them with their programme and the wider business ecosystem and managing the SETsquared Bristol Back Her Business Programme. Also equality, diversity and inclusion advocate. Here is his interview – it’s a banger!

Paul Forster, Community ManagerHey Paul, thank you for sharing your story, firstly can you tell us a bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?

I’m Community Manager at SETsquared Bristol, Hottest Accelerator in Europe (The Europas 2020) and part of the Global #1 University Business Incubator (SETsquared Partnership, UBI Global). I review and track the progress of our 75+ members, build relationships and forge partnerships with local and national organisations, manage our internal projects and spearhead equality, diversity and inclusion in the incubator. I’m also Director For Books’ Sake, a not for profit that champions women and non-binary writers and performers, which includes publishing, writing retreats, workshops and our spoken word event “That’s What She* Said”, that takes place in London, Manchester and Bristol.  A typical day is hard to assert as nothing seems “typical”. During lockdown my days have been structured around a quick morning call with the SETsquared team, then a meeting to track member progress, reviewing and updating workshop content with facilitators and then meeting with potential members to understand their business and products. In the early evening I’ll likely be corresponding with performance poets and curating the line-up for For Books’ Sake’s 10th Birthday party on 21st August.

As SETsquared Community Manager and the spearhead for the diversity agenda, what would you say is the most difficult part of implementing D&I within SETsquared?

That’s a good question, the most challenging part of any EDI work is patience. It’s not necessarily challenging to bring people round to understanding why more inclusive teams good business sense are, however it’s a continuous long term process and nothing happens overnight.

Do you think COVID-19 will have an impact on D&I hiring for tech companies in the South West?

I think the lockdown has had a negative impact in regards to diversity and inclusion worldwide, thinking simply about traditional caring responsibilities that are massively gendered, women are doing even more unpaid work than usual. This has a massive knock on effect in society and in turn on the tech ecosystem where women may be unable to move roles due to extra work (teaching, caring etc), not to mention the impact this has on women founders and their growth plans.

Can you tell me back Back Her Business?

Back Her Business, a Natwest initiative, was originally conceived from the recommendations of the Alison Rose Review into female entrepreneurship and partnered with Crowdfunder to inject cash into idea stage women-led businesses. SETsquared Bristol have been kindly funded by Natwest to run our Back Her Business programme, which is helping 18 idea and early stage women led businesses commercialise their offerings. There are some really amazing entrepreneurs and super exciting products in the programme and we’ll be celebrating them all at the end of October at our end of programme demo day, where we plan to help them launch to the public.

What are some creative ways to proactively source people from underrepresented groups?

I’m not sure you need to get creative to do source people from underrepresented groups, you need to get uncomfortable and challenge your pre-conceptions and those of others. Most importantly you need to find ways to access people from different backgrounds and gain the trust of gatekeepers to those communities and networks. In short, by walking the walk, not talking the talk.

I feel that we are great at speaking about D&I but we are lacking actual change! What can we do to take action when it comes to D&I?

Ha! This follows on well from my previous answer very well. Further to that answer, I’d suggest asking people from underrepresented backgrounds questions around change, as it has to be a collaboration, and actively listening to their concerns and suggestions. Then, you have crowd sourced data that can inform the design of any initiatives or policies around the people you are trying to attract or help.

This is a great question I read the other day so keen to hear peoples’ views. How do you counteract comments from leadership such as “We just hire or promote the best person for the job, regardless of race or gender”?

I’m no recruiter, but I’d suggest carefully looking at their hiring practises and critically assessing whether the currently used processes are actually fit for purpose in actually attracting the best person for the job. E.g. sending your job ads to different networks, anonymising application data and insisting on a diverse interview panel.

Books, I love a good book and mid-way through ‘Why I’m no longer speaking to white people about race’ Reni Lodge and Just about to start ‘Women don’t owe you pretty’ Florence Given. I’m sure you have some great recommendations, could you give us a few?

I really enjoyed ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, it’s important as British people to understand our colonial heritage and it sometimes feels hard to connect to the American centric conversation. Eddo-Lodge’s book puts a magnifying glass up to racism in Britain and it’s so powerful and illuminating. ‘The Good Immigrant’ edited by Bristol native, Nikesh Shukla, complies personal essays from British writers from non-white backgrounds and is breath-taking in its ability to give you so many well explained lived experiences of racism and xenophobia in the UK.

If you could build your dream squad of three, who would be in it and why?

It’d have to be my For Books Sake family. My Co-Director, Jane Claire Bradley and Bridget Hart, our Bristol Events Coordinator, are two of the most amazing, kind and fierce people I’ve ever met and the fact that I get to work with them enriches my life immeasurably.

What is next for Paul?

I’m on leave next week and have a mini festival planned in my best friend’s back garden in my hometown, we have programmes, tickets, wristbands and a map and I can’t wait. Especially as her garden has a hot tub, bar and fire pit. Seriously though, SETsquared Bristol are relaunching our Breakthrough Bursary for the second year running, which offers Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic tech founders a 75% reduced rate of membership in order to access our world class business support programme. Anyone interested in chatting about it please reach out to me. Plus For Books’ Sake are having our 10th birthday party on 21st August – check out our amazing raffle prizes!

Finally, what is one quote you live by or just that one you really like?

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”


Thank you sharing this with us Paul, enjoy your week off, see you soon.

Thanks for reading, keep positive, keep doing you and dream big! x

An interview by Alicia Teagle

A voice for diversity in tech


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