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“Free to be” – An Interview with Chelsea Dow

No matter how cheesy this sounds, it was a dream of mine to start working with LettUs Grow. Chelsea and myself have been working closely for the last year and whilst they don’t need much recruitment help from us, because so many people would like to work there. We have helped in more ways than just typical recruitment. LettUs Grow are one of Bristol’s most exciting tech companies, still in their early years but have achieved unbelievable things since founding in 2015. LettUs Grow are building the farms for the future making sustainable farming a sustainable business. They have a great team and as a business truly care about diversity. A company to watch for years to come! I am excited to have Chelsea their people and culture manager talk to us about the business, how they hire talent and much more.

Chelsea, can you tell us about your day to day as the People and culture manager at LettUs Grow?

My job revolves around our people, and this means I spend a lot of time ensuring there are processes and plans in place so that every employee feels heard, is cared for and is inspired to do their job. At the moment I’m running interactive workshops with each team to help define our company behaviours and team charters. In a week’s time I’ll be doing another set of workshops with each team to define our OKRS (objectives and key results) for the final quarter of 2020. Lots of presenting, lots of chatting and lots of brain storming!

You have been with LettUs Grow for almost 2 years and been a key part in building the companies dynamic culture. I’m sure many other start-ups are following LettUs Grow as a great start up in Bristol who are doing things right. How have you built such a great culture?

LettUs Grow was started by three University of Bristol graduates who deeply care about the environment, have incredible drive and entrepreneurial spirit. Having these caring and responsible roots is definitely part of what makes LettUs Grow so special. Our founders are present, approachable, empathetic and deeply embedded into all facets of the business, which I think helps in creating a real sense of community.

From the founders, the team has grown to encompass such a diverse and talented group of individuals. We come from all different walks of life, some having worked for large corporate companies and others just embarking on their professional careers. Yet we all have one thing in common and that is the mission of LettUs Grow. Caring for our environment and introducing resilient technologies into our food system is the main driver that glues us together. We care, and it really shows.

The office environment (both in person and virtual) is also just generally a really exciting place. In the office you can always find people tinkering away with interesting inventions in the workshop. Farmers are blasting music while harvesting kale. We often have communal lunches, and if someone goes on holiday there’s always treats waiting for us in the kitchen upon their return. Online we host lightning talks, 10-minute presentations on something that interests you. We’ve had workshops on sword fighting, harmonic journeys and even vegan cheese making.  There’s a real culture of creativity and openness here.

Every company will organically have a culture without putting any work in. The LettUs Grow culture is special because we put in the work. We care for one another, we are open and honest, and above all we love what we do.

You have been super passionate about building and being part of a diverse team, who share the same values as yourself. What do you think companies do wrong when it comes to D&I?

One phrase: “tick boxes.” A black person’s experience, or a trans persons experience or a female experience should never be used to simply “tick a box.” People’s experiences, their struggles, their identity and truth are not boxes. They matter and they have value.

When diversity is simply just a metric used to please a board room, we haven’t done our job. Doing our job is authentically caring about every human being and their wellbeing. Doing our job is providing access to good jobs and fair wages. Doing our job is creating inclusive working environments where employees feel safe, heard and appreciated.

Do you think Covid-19 will have an impact on diversity hiring?

We hired ten people in lockdown. These ten people came from very different backgrounds with different stories and experiences. I think making the recruitment process completely virtual actually helped strip a lot of barriers to entry. For example, candidates didn’t have to worry about making a long journey to interview in person, they simply had to have access to WIFI.

Covid is making a lot of people think “What makes me happy?”, “What do I want to spend my life doing?”, “How can I contribute and actually make a difference?” We have certainly seen a rise of applicants asking themselves these questions, all from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.

Are LettUs Grow doing anything to support the next generation in tech?

Absolutely! We have had placements from Babbasa come work with us. Babbasa is a great Bristol-based company which provides one-to-one mentoring, training opportunities and work placements to youth from Bristol’s ethnically diverse inner-city communities.

We currently have a placement from the University of Bristol on the R&D team and an apprentice on our Grow Team. We started out as three university graduates looking to make a difference through innovative tech. We truly see the value in supporting the next generation to go after the unthinkable.

I’m currently listening to the high-performance podcast – Jonny Wilkinson’s talk was mind blowing. I’m also loving Mrs Hinch’s new book (I love a good clean!) and I’m mid-way through Michelle Obama’s podcast which is stunning. Any books, podcasts, or blogs you’d recommend?

Where to begin? Book wise I’m a non-fiction reader. Michael Pollan is one of my favourite writers, many of his books are written about food and how it shapes our culture and environment. I highly recommend the Botany of Desire. His book “Cooked” is also a series on Netflix which is absolutely worth a watch! I also recently read 12 Years as a Slave which is a timely read given the political climate of the world and Black Lives Matter protests. It was a difficult read given the nature of the story but it’s important now more than ever to read literature on black history and do the work to demand justice and equality.

Podcasts: I’m also loving Michelle Obama’s podcast. She is pure class and realness. I’m also binging a podcast called Ear Hustle which is hosted by current and former prisoners from San Quentin Prison in California. They cover a range of topics including racism, what it’s like to be LGBTQ in prison and being locked down during a pandemic. Another great podcast which is worth listening to (also Bristol based) is Woke and Confused. Similar to the Guilty Feminist in its approach, Woke and Confused details the environmental dilemmas of our time and what it’s like to be human amongst it all.

Blogs: What started as a blog as is now quite an Instagram sensation, I am a HUGE fan of Humans of New York. Being from just outside New York City myself, this blog encompasses what it means to be a New Yorker, but more importantly what it means to be human. It’s raw, real and incredibly emotive. He’s expanded his portfolio as well, having spent time in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

If you could choose one song that reflects you, what would that be?

Resilient by Rising Appalachia.

Who would be your 3 people at a dinner party?

Anthony Bourdain to help me cook and just generally be insightful, Aretha Franklin to sing and Jane Goodall to fill me in on all thing’s chimps and conservation.

What is next for Chelsea and the team?

For me, it’s continuing to expand our team, with more hiring planned for 2021. I’m always working on maintaining our open and caring company culture. And as we are unsure of how the world will look/what restrictions will still be in place in the future due to Covid, I’m working on supporting a workforce that is flexible and agile.

For LettUs Grow, it’s launching our new product line: Drop & Grow container farms. We will be commercialising in 2021 selling our products across the UK. There’s lots more in store for us that I can’t exactly announce yet… so watch this space!

Finally, one quote that you live by <3

This is a quote on equality from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who has recently passed:

“Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers.”

Thank you so much Chelsea and all the LettUs Grow team, keep rocking!

By Alicia Teagle 

A voice for diversity in tech <3

I: @womenrockbristol

T: @womenrockbrstl

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