INTERVIEW: Diversity, like security, should be built in from the ground up
Rimonda Ohlsson knows diversity is key to the success of fast-growing Secure Code Warrior.
Secure Code Warrior (SCW) has grown rapidly in recent years, evolving from an ambitious startup into a global Australian success story by producing secure developer learning tools that have tapped into the global awareness of the importance of building cybersecurity into products from the ground up.
In a similar way, Rimonda Ohlsson, the company’s director for people and culture, recognised early on that building the right culture – of inclusion and diversity, among other things – required building from the ground up, and support from the top down.
That support was already present under the guise of founder and CEO Pieter Danhieux, who hired Ohlsson 18 months ago to lay out a long-term people strategy after short-term contractors helped the fast-growing startup find its footing.
Danhieux “was always about creating a new kind of people culture agenda that is modern and evolutionary and creates a place where people can be successful,” Ohlsson says, noting Danhieux’s long engagement with gender-equality efforts such as the Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN).
The overall goal, she adds, is to “create a place where people can be successful, feel supported, and feel like they want to come to work every day – supporting them to be successful and not bound by rules or bureaucracy.”
That culture has resonated with workers and helped drive SCW’s growth: During 2020 through the pandemic Secure Code Warrior has seen continued growth with 63 additional hires across UK, US, Sydney , Iceland, India and Belgium, bringing the total to 165 employees globally.
“It has been really exciting but also very challenging,” she says, noting that after years in large institutions she had become “passionate about culture” and was attracted to the potential of “more niche businesses where I felt I could make a difference”.
Company culture as a guiding light
Her work to help make that difference has driven development of a range of initiatives specifically designed as a “north star to people” – a ‘Warrior Code’ that includes five guiding principles “that talk to the way we like to treat each other, what we stand for, and how we work together.”
Ongoing awareness and engagement campaigns ensure the Warrior Code’s messaging remains prominent in the office and on the minds of employees, with whom a dedicated employee experience team engages continuously, as well as with the new recruits that the company actively courts and hires.
“I’m quite creative and I like thinking in new ways,” says Ohlsson, “and I like thinking of ways that we can engage our people… I think everybody has some great ideas, and we want to involve everybody in that journey.”
That sense of universal engagement pervades everyday working environment, where employees are invited to provide feedback and policies are adapted based on that feedback.
“The culture comes from the top, and then it becomes a place where everybody contributes to it,” she says.
“You need to have some kind of focus in your people and culture strategy to give clarity to people – and that doesn’t mean more rules or policies. It just means having a place where they can feel and navigate their way through the business, feel supported and where they can go to talk to someone if they need to raise a problem.”
SCW’s workforce is around 41 per cent female at the moment – well ahead of industry averages – and the company this year introduced initiatives such as in-office school-holiday programs for employees’ children, and a gender-neutral global parental leave policy available to all workers around the world.
Yet that achievement is just a stepping stone towards an overall diversity strategy that has, Ohlsson says, been aligned “from a cultural perspective”.
“We look at these life experiences that influence the way we work, how that impacts how we build our product, and the way we grow our teams.”
This focus has driven engagement with organisations such as Australia’s Indigenous Literacy Foundation, as well as internal staff-development opportunities and an ongoing roster of partnerships to support workplace diversity.
“We’ve gotten to where we are through diversity,” Ohlsson says, flagging the coming launch of a careers page showcasing just how diverse the workforce is. “It’s really about taking people on a journey and telling their unique stories.”