How can we improve diversity and inclusion in tech?
Charlotte Goodwill, head of apprenticeships at The Institute of Telecoms Professionals, explains why employers need to challenge perceptions.
We know that the lack of diversity in tech is not a new issue. According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, women make up only 18% of digital technology roles. However, in our industry this lack of diversity extends beyond gender, and there is still much work to be done to build an inclusive workforce for the future.
While data on gender disparity is somewhat easier to find, it’s not as straightforward to access data that offers a true reflection of the state of diversity in the industry. Firstly, not all businesses record or publish data, and where there is a reliance on the employee to disclose personal information, some may wish to remain private.
Similarly, broad categorisations mean that cultural differences are harder to distinguish. Nearly a quarter of organisations are not using self-identification surveys to gather data about the diversity of their employees. Self-identification is when an employee discloses information about their identity to their employer, which is more accurate than conducting a visual survey or using employment records and can bring about cultural and social awareness.
However, some of the data out there offers an interesting insight.
• In a sample of the UK’s top 16 technology companies, of the 152 board positions only four were held by someone from an ethnic minority background. Of the 39 positions held by a woman, only one of these was from an ethnic minority background. (Source Colorintech 2019)
• 20% of the UK working population has a disability yet only 10% of IT specialists in the UK have a disability. (Source BCS Insights 2021)
To understand why the industry is still facing an issue, we need to understand what the barriers are. What are the obstacles that prevent candidates from applying for roles, and what should employers be doing to recognise and incorporate diversity strategies into everyday working?
What are the barriers for creating a diverse workforce?
A recent survey by Hackney Council identified that underrepresented and low-income communities face barriers to opportunities in the sector. In its survey, residents reported that their top three barriers to digital tech careers were:
• Not having the right skills or qualifications.
• Needing work experience to apply.
• Not being confident enough to look for opportunities in this sector.
Work by the Mayor’s Academies Programme (MAP) is tackling the issue of retraining and employment for underrepresented groups within London. Unsurprisingly, one priority sector is digital. A total of seven London colleges and adult education centres have created specialist hubs, supporting residents into a range of digital roles that are facing skills shortages, including software development, programming, web development, cyber security and data analysis.
How can employers focus more attention on diversity in the workplace?
• Recruitment: organisations are changing practices by which they promote diversity and inclusion when they interview and recruit new employees. Many are looking at ways to remove bias, including anonymous CV screening (removing names, ages and dates), ensuring a diverse screening panel and using more inclusive language in job descriptions and adverts.
• Creating an inclusive culture: this means implementing a culture which will help to retain staff. Examples include creating a BAME network or appointing diversity champions. Mentoring and coaching can also have a positive impact, particularly reverse mentoring where more senior employees are mentored by younger members of staff from different backgrounds.
• Consider apprenticeships: these are being used as a credible way to offer equal opportunities to all and a level playing field, irrespective of background and gender. The business benefits of hiring an apprentice are huge; 86% of employers say their apprentices have helped them develop skills relevant to their organisation.
• Accessibility: making the workplace open and accessible to those with disabilities, hidden or otherwise. For example, having the right systems in place to support those with hearing or speech difficulties or helping employers to understand the different support available for employing someone with a disability.
Ultimately, we know that careers in tech are well paid, satisfying, world changing and accessible for everyone. To gain true diversity, employers need to challenge perceptions. Believe in what you are doing, embrace differences and give an opportunity to someone you never would have before. The tools are there for us to make tech an appealing career choice but now we need to work together as an industry to make it a priority.