The tech industry has a duty to fight ‘anti-woke’ ideas
Industry Voices

The tech industry has a duty to fight ‘anti-woke’ ideas

Hilary Stephenson (1).jpg

Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Nexer Digital, says we must defend the growing criticism of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The high-profile crash of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) caused significant media attention earlier this year. However, at the same time, and unexpectedly, its social values also came under fire, with some critics even blaming its ESG commitments for its downfall.

SVB received significant backlash for its diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies, with some even blaming its “woke regime” as a reason for its collapse. It is frankly ridiculous for the media to mock SVB’s Pride celebrations and support of LGBTQ+ projects while it fell on uncertain times – the link is tenuous at best.

Everyone’s a critic

It seems that greater criticism now comes from the media, social media and the general public, as businesses try to tackle the inequality that exists within the sectors they operate. But this should not deter the organisations that want to make genuine change. Instead, support and meaningful action towards D&I should be unconditional, regardless of financial standing or small sections of society. It is not something that can be balance sheet permitting. In fact, shows of support, businesses practices and inclusive policies don’t have to cost anything at all.

By standing together with other organisations that are enabling equality in business, the tech industry can begin to turn the tide on these matters. Even if they become politicised or subject to unjust media attacks.

However, having genuine motivations for change when approaching the topic of D&I is paramount. If companies are honest in their pursuit for a better working world, they are less likely to be discouraged when criticised, or if their efforts are weaponised against them.

We encourage companies to introduce strategies that make a legitimate and positively motivated effort to increase equality and inclusivity. Research even shows that they can also make a positive difference to a business’ bottom line, with diverse companies enjoying 2.5 times higher cash flow per employee, according to research from Built In.

Where to start

It’s important to not fall into the trap of disingenuous diversity policies. The public will see straight through them, and criticism will quickly ensue. A successful and appropriate diversity strategy should take into consideration the interests and concerns of people across all levels of the business.

Surveying and consulting all team members, stakeholders, and seeking the advice of an expert or partner organisation can help to develop an authoritative and informed strategy. Listening and talking to the needs of people that are vital to the success and growth of the company will ensure business leaders the legitimacy and importance of the strategy. This makes them less likely to backtrack and remain confident should any criticism occur.

Furthermore, a business needs to be set up to allow employees to thrive in the first instance, from both an accessibility and workplace culture point of view. This includes implementing mandatory D&I training for all employees to raise awareness of and take steps to address conscious or unconscious bias in the workplace.

A workplace accessibility audit can also be beneficial to address physical barriers and get a professional insight on the areas that need improvement. This should consider everything from building accessibility features to implementing assistive technology.

Again, ensuring that the business is prepared by taking steps to recognise any existing inequalities, business leaders will be more confident in the strategy.

Additionally, a diversity strategy needs to extend beyond existing employees to consider prospective future employees too. In the context of access to work and inclusion for disabled people, there are programmes such as the Disability Confident scheme, which helps organisations to provide employment opportunities and support for people with short or long-term disabilities.

Future proofing your strategy

Diversity is broad and complex. Organisations require comprehensive understanding of the current inequalities, the needs of current team members and future prospects before making an effective strategy. Failing to do so can leave the business open to criticism over the authenticity of the strategy and leave senior team members reluctant to further the initiatives that have been implemented.

Criticism will always exist when businesses take a stance on diversity issues. However, if the plan is developed in a considered way, with transparency at its core, they become harder to criticise.

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