Meet Sharon Byatt & Mandy Colledge

Sharon and Mandy are the Birmingham-based co-founding sisters of Talent Toute, the talent resourcing platform that claims to be changing the way to recruit IT candidates.

Mandy, Co-founder and Company Director, has over 20 years experience in HR and Recruitment. She is on a mission to create a more equitable playing field for all in recruitment. Mandy is extremely passionate and determined to bring about the long awaited change required in the recruitment industry. Mandy is also a mum of twins.

Sharon, Co-Founder and Company Director, is an entrepreneur having managed several businesses with over 20 years experience. She also has previous sales and client development experience within IBM and JBA Software.

Sharon is passionate about enabling a smarter recruitment process for people to be matched with their skills; and is dedicated to digitalise and change recruitment practices for the better.

Sharon is a mom of 2 grown-up children and a grandson and loves to spend time walking with her cockerpoo, Reggie.

Mandy & Sharon, Talent Toute

We asked them to tell us a bit about themselves, their background and current roles

Sharon explains that “Mandy is the primary founder withs more than 20  years of  experience in recruitment and HR. Some seven years ago, she identified the opportunity for the business whilst working in HR in a Tech SME.”

Then drawing on sister Sharon’s expertise they combined forces with a clear mission to mitigate bias in the talent selection process, particularly at a time when firms clearly want to reach a diverse talent pool of IT professionals.

“Sharon has a diverse business background”, explains Mandy. “She started her career in account management roles at the renowned technology and engineering firms IBM and JBA Consulting, she then went on to set up  two small businesses in Assessments and Healthcare and has also worked in the field of Corporate Development Training.”

Going into business together wasn’t a decision either sister took lightly.  Mandy explains, “but we recognised that we had the same motivation and passion.  There has to be a change.

The same-old, same-old IT recruitment models just won’t cut it. How can firms find the best talent, when age old biases are knowingly – or unknowingly – still being applied?

And yet, every firm will tell you that they are under pressure to hire diverse talent.  It may be because the managers and leaders are wise to the potential to out-perform their peers, or it may be because they are told to do it by their bosses or the Board.  When we realised we were both frustrated and could see a better way, we couldn’t NOT work together!”

They may be sisters but as Sharon points out, “we are very different. We bring different work experiences and we’re very different personalities.”  Mandy is the visionary and strategic thinker and takes the lead from a product development perspective.  Sharon would say I’m the networker.  I create business partnerships and manage the sales and financial aspects and we are both highly driven and passionate about what we are doing.  This combination of skills and contributions explains why they are often referred to as “the dynamic duo 😊”

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

“Not really, we have both always been driven to work in customer-facing roles” explains Mandy. “As independent thinkers, people tell us we each have keen commercial mindsets.  Plus, we have both always felt compelled to work for ourselves.” Combine this with each of their educational journeys in  Business and Finance and you can see how they make a compelling double act.

Sharon picks up the thread to trace this back to their childhood, “ I think I can speak for us both in saying that we both had dreams at a young age whether it be to be a dancer or hockey player, but neither of us really thought it was possible or achievable.  We felt the odds were stacked against us and bias clearly had an impact.  However our ambitions and plans have changed based on our circumstances and how these have evolved over time.  This undoubtedly has played into our Talent Toute vision and driven our passion to succeed both as entrepreneurs and as business women.”

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Mandy is keen to jump in at this point. “ Oh yes, for sure!, In the world of  HR I have been exposed to a huge variety of workplace disputes and seen biases at a play.  The most prominent one in my experience has been gender, which I have absolutely experienced first-hand. Even that initially created some degree of trepidation when launching our business in what is known to be a male dominated tech industry.  But we soon got over that.

“It is very apparent that the recruitment industry is steeped in traditional practices, many of which are highly subjective. It’s this subjectivity that wrongfully applies biased personal  judgement and this has a huge impact.  So many candidates are unnecessarily eliminated from the  recruitment process. And how can we possibly afford to do that? We’re operating in a time when we need to reach further and fill our digital and tech skills gaps, and anyone who applies these traditional practices immediately shrinks the potential talent pool for their vacancies.”

You co-founded Talent Toute – tell us a bit more about this

Talent Toute is a digital talent marketplace platform designed to showcase a truly diverse range of talent and enables firms to connect with this talent directly.

As Sharon describes the platform model, “Our vision is to achieve an equal world of recruitment that’s simple and without barriers.

Talent Toute has simplicity and innovation at the heart of all of the decisions we make.

We have a direct business model with a public marketplace platform for businesses to sign up to and search for talent.  We’ve embedded functionality that enables hiring managers to connect and chat with candidates directly, taking the rest of the hiring process from there.”

Mandy is keen to expand. “Think of us as a digital recruitment matchmaker, much like a dating website but for hiring. We believe that CV’s are too subjective and largely out of date, so our product focuses on the core skills and qualifications of the candidates. These are most relevant in the early stage of the selection process, and by focusing in on the skills and qualifications, this in turn mitigates  bias, and from the very start.”

“And that’s not all. We feel strongly that prescriptive career paths hinder a company’s ability to see the potential in candidates because all too often they are pigeonholed into specific roles and categories. There are so many candidates out there with great skills and personal attributes that can bring a great deal of value to a business if only the hiring decision makers could be more open to exploring candidates from different career paths.”

In explaining the platform deployment model further, Mandy adds that whilst they set out to service corporates, the business has attracted great interest in public and private sector training academies.  “These academies are adopting the platform as a SaaS model to turn the table and showcase their talent directly to employers.”

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

“Absolutely!” they both cry! Sharon expands saying, “starting a business certainly brings many challenges. You can’t underestimate the challenges of building our MVP (minimal viable product).  We really wanted to build one that is really focused on the needs of our clients, but also one that is scalable, and that takes time, and capital.

We’re delighted to say that our patience paid off and we have just launched our MVP with the help of SuperTech West Midlands and Million Labs which we are extremely excited about.”

Describing themselves as disruptors  in recruitment, Sharon and Mandy have found that gaining trust and changing mindsets has also presented some challenges.  “We have recognised that while there is an appetite to change among some hiring managers, for others there can be an entrenched reluctance to move away from the practices they are familiar with”, says Sharon.

“For many they need to recognise that they have become dependent on traditional practices.  They may believe they work, but  they may not be the most effective way to achieve their aims.”

Not easily deterred, “ for us, it’s all about tenacity and education”, adds Mandy. “We went into this venture with our eyes wide open.

Ask any entrepreneur and they’ll tell you that there are always setbacks and humps in the road, and we’re very driven and tenacious.

We continue to persevere and always manage to keep each other motivated, even when times get tough.”

Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionised the recruitment industry (video interviews, flexible working allowing for a greater talent pool etc.)?

“For sure”, confirms Mandy. “ It’s really great to see the amount of flexible working options that are now available to candidates. This is something that has taken a long time to change and the working practices in place during the pandemic have demonstrated that a huge majority of employees are accountable and can work independently.”

Sharon clearly agrees, “The pandemic has shown that if you trust people they will do a great job.

Having said that, I feel that there is still a need for face-to-face time in an office environment and we are seeing more of these blended options take into account personal circumstances and individual preferences.

And Mandy believes this only adds to their argument, “And that’s why understanding and counting in those key attitudes, experiences and competencies really matters. Today more than ever before, these skills  are all so important for organisations, yet so often overlooked in the traditional recruitment process.”

Currently, there is a lot of talk around The Great Resignation – how do you think companies can help to retain their staff? 

“Right now it is very much a candidate-led market and this is reinforcing the concept of a war in talent.”, says Sharon. “It seems that a global crisis such as the pandemic has offered a moment of reflection for many employees who have realised that there is a better balance to be had between work and personal lives.”

Mandy agrees, adding, ”Also we have to consider mental health.  When we consider the impact of our individual and combined experiences, this has also led us to conclude that a shift in priorities is key to improved health and wellbeing.  It is good to see that companies are keeping  in close contact with their staff to check in.  You can’t underestimate how important this is from a health and well being perspective and also from an engagement pulse check point of view.  But that said, managers must be equipped to ask the right questions and seek feedback.  And where they see trends in needs and requirements from their teams, they have to respond.”

Sharon concludes that there is also room for better, more focussed talent management practices. “Firms have  to recognise and nurture talent and this changes all the time.  Firms have to be able equally to respond to the differing learning and development needs of each team member.”

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

As Mandy explains, “We are strong advocates for mentoring having both been mentored, most recently in our entrepreneurial journey but also in our corporate in-house roles as well. We are talking to talent all the time, and for us it’s not just about bringing candidates onto the platform, it’s about helping them to showcase their best attributes and that’s where mentoring really makes an immediate impact.”

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

“Recruitment practices,” says Sharon.  “Practical steps that companies can adopt to demonstrate their commitment to change.

Action goes a lot further than words.

Recruitment is only one stage of the employment lifecycle, but it is a great and important start and goes further to ensuring that a diverse talent pool is considered.”

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

“Don’t procrastinate,” stresses Mandy. “When you see an opportunity, go for it, and with fortitude.”

Sharon agrees, adding, “Have the confidence and self-belief to realise your dreams and make change happen.  Don’t be just a bystander.“

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

“We are looking forward to re-launching our MVP with a refreshed marketing campaign, and to go at scale to make a real impact on the recruitment industry”, explains Sharon

“We are really focused on influencing the ways things are done.” adds Mandy. “ We are very  focused on  gaining trust and belief in a new wave of recruitment practices, one that leverages the power of digital technology and broadens talent pools. We continue to build our pool of incredibly talented candidates, bringing them to the fore.”

“We are really turning recruitment practices on their head, making everything simpler and more effective for companies and job seekers. To be the ‘Bumble or AirBnB of recruitment.“