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The fact is that diversity and inclusion in your tech team fuel productivity, creativity, and innovation. And it may be that technology itself holds the key for reaching out to a more inclusive workforce
The lack of progress surrounding diversity in the technology sector was brought into sharp focus by dotcom entrepreneur Martha Lane-Fox. Speaking at a recent event held by employee wellbeing organisation WorkL, she said: “I never imagined that now in 2022, some of the dynamics of the industry that I was enjoying building my business in would still be so terrible.”
The statistics largely support her position. TechNationestimates women account for just 26 per cent of the tech labour market, compared to 50 per cent of the overall workforce. People from ethnic minorities fare slightly better, accounting for 15.2 per cent against a UK average of 11.8 per cent, but the BCS Insights 2021 Report suggests 10 per cent of IT professionals have a disability, compared to 20 per cent of the working age population and 14 per cent of the UK workforce as a whole.
Waseem Ali is former chief data officer at Lloyd’s of London and current CEO of Rockborne, an organisation set up to bring diverse talent into the data industry. “When we talk about diversity and inclusion, what we are really talking about is different perspectives and diversity of thought,” he says. “Currently, despite the best intentions of many, approaches to diversity and inclusion too often take the form of benchmarks to hit so it can be displayed on a website. Companies need to focus on attracting people of a diverse background – whether that’s gender, ethnicity or schooling – because of the value they will add.”
Having a diverse workforce makes sense for many and varied reasons, not least the need to fill the huge skills shortage that currently blights the sector.
“Tech talent shortages have been well publicised,” points out Leyla Tindall, managing director at Robert Half Executive Search. “An indifference to adopting initiatives both in the workplace and in recruitment strategies would be short-sighted.”
But this goes beyond just being able to attract people into a business; ADP Research Institute’s People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View found 68 per cent of UK workers would consider finding new jobs if they discovered that their company had an unfair gender pay gap, or no diversity and inclusion policy.
Then there’s the impact on productivity. Digital consultancy OMMAX believes it benefits from having a 50:50 female-to-male ratio and staff from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and countries.
“We see the benefit this balance provides in our projects, fuelling productivity, creativity and innovation, although know there is still work to be done,” says Philipp Ortlieb, chief people officer.
“Diverse teams achieve better results. This is not only true of gender-diverse teams but also teams with diverse ages, cultural backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations.”
There are signs that, in some areas, things are starting to improve. The Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report found that hybrid working is starting to have an impact, with 27 per cent of hires in the past two years having been women, and female leaders now accounting for 15 per cent of the UK cohort, up from 12 per cent in 2021.
Emely Patra, regional vice president and global ambassador for diversity at software firm MuleSoft, says things have improved since she entered the industry two decades ago.
“When I first started, I was the only woman within my department whereas now there are usually a few women or people from different cultures and backgrounds within tech roles,” says Patra. “This is progress but the industry needs to go further, and faster. I’ve often been the only woman within my department so without my input a lot of decisions would have been based solely on the perspectives of men.”
Shereen Baros, global head of diversity and inclusion at digital firm Kin + Carta, also says more needs to be done. “When it comes to ethnicity, LGBTQIA+, socio-economic background and disabilities, a lot of tech companies are running blind,” she says. “A more sophisticated understanding of diversity is particularly relevant for specific groups, such as the trans community.” Her firm holds LGBTQ+ panels to educate teams on what it’s like to live in that community, she adds.
There are ways in which technology firms can help improve their diversity and inclusion. Jinny Mitchell-Kent, chief operating officer at digital agency Great State, believes more needs to be done to encourage applications from different groups in the first place. “Considering where we market roles, what language we use in our job descriptions and what our hiring process is like can facilitate receiving more diverse candidates,” she says. “For example, neurodivergent people may be more receptive to an online job advert that is not on a hugely colourful background with lots of moving components.”
Training existing staff can also help to ensure individuals avoid unconscious bias and become advocates for change, believes Suki Sandhu OBE, CEO and founder of diversity consultancy INvolve and executive recruiter Audeliss. “Training and workshops are critical to contextualise issues surrounding race, gender and LGBTQ+ communities within a workplace, and provide employees with a deeper understanding of diversity and inclusion’s importance and their role in driving action,” he says.
Technology can also help. “Technology supports diversity in multiple ways, whether that’s creating a platform for individuals to become virtual employees when they are unable to be in the physical workforce or through providing those with specific accessibility and neurodiversity needs with the tools to do the job,” says Tindall. Using online tools to assess personality traits can help reduce the risk of unconscious bias, she adds.
The use of data can also help, particularly when initial recruitment applications may be assessed by machines. “Machine learning technologies are only as good as the datasets and algorithms used to train them, and these algorithms are in turn only as good and diverse as the engineering teams that built them,” points out David Field, head of talent at speech recognition software firm Speechmatics.
“Speech recognition technology using a breadth of data, and unlabelled data in particular, could overcome the YouGov survey findings that women are 13 per cent less likely to be understood by smart speakers than men. This issue deepens when you look at other minority groups, from people with speech impediments to those for whom English is a second language.”
Ultimately, the best way to find out where there are any gaps is to talk to people, believes Ali. “Speak to different individuals about why they would or wouldn’t apply for a job at your company, own it and act on it,” he urges. “Go and talk to other business leaders in similar situations or those who are doing well. Companies should never be afraid to have these conversations and highlight their failures if they want to create sustainable growth.”
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